The last match report I wrote was the dismal opening day draw with Sunderland. That’s because shortly afterwards I jetted off to sunny Cyprus for a holiday, very pessimistic about our prospects for the season.
Soon I was sat in a beach-side bar wearing flip flops and cursing as we struggled to break down the vile neanderthals of Stoke. I then spent deadline day hitting refresh on my iPhone before tossing it aside in disgust when we failed to replace Song. So it was with little hope that I came in early from the pool to watch us play Liverpool, but 90 minutes and a couple of drinks later I was much happier — we looked like a cohesive team working for each other, sharp at both ends of the pitch. Very encouraging, and after today’s performance I got over excited and checked out our title odds.
According to a few sportsbook reviews and more sports information we’re at 10/1 which seems pretty generous considering the inconsistent start shown by our rivals.
Of course it’s as easy to get carried away after a home thrashing of what’s basically a Championship side as it is to get downbeat after a lacklustre stalemate with Sunderland. The truth is it’s still too early to tell whether we can mount a sustainable challenge, but the early signs are good. The old adage is not to bother looking at the league table until 10 games have been played and I’d concur with that, especially when you consider that after match 10 we’ll have played Man Utd (a), Man City (a), Chelsea (h), Liverpool (a) and Stoke (a). That’s a tough, tough start and if we’re still there or thereabouts after those fixtures I’ll really start to believe.
It’s easy to imagine us as contenders after watching today’s game though — the sheer brilliance of Cazorla, the discipline of Arteta in his new, more defensive role and the quality and workrate of Podolski, who sweated as much today as Arshavin did in the whole of last season. Indeed the German’s attitude created the opening goal when he outfought two Southampton players to dig the ball out from beneath them and run at the retreating backline (his determination reminded me so much of Dennis Bergkamp outmuscling Francis Benali at the Dell in 1997 before ripping a shot into the net from 20 yards). Podolski then picked a perfect pass for Gibbs to smash a shot at goal which was parried and turned into his own net by Hooiveld.
Two in two for Podolski and he's not even playing up front
So 1-0 after 10 minutes and I was delighted to see that we didn’t sit back and think “we’ve won this now, let’s take it easy” like we did a few times last season. Instead we pushed on again and totally dominated the Saints, going further ahead when Podolski curled in a free kick to start a spell of three goals in six minutes to kill the game. Gervinho ran onto Arteta’s cute chip and lashed in number three before Gibbs made another swashbuckling raid down the left and saw his cross deflected past his own keeper by the hapless Clyne.
The only sour point of the half was Szczesny’s uncharacteristic howler when he dropped a routine cross at the feet of Fox, thus ending our perfect defensive start to the season.
The visitors abandoned their 4-5-1 formation in favour of a more attacking 4-4-2 for the second half as they had a go. This coupled with Arsenal relaxing meant there were a couple of hairy moments at the back, particularly when Lambert should’ve made it 4-2 on 56 minutes.
But any worries of a Newcastle-style collapse were banished when Gervinho tapped in after Ramsey was unlucky to see his effort hit the post. Sub Walcott then put more gloss on the scoreline when he stroked home number six after Vermaelen’s shot was pushed away and the deserved thrashing was complete. 6-1 did not flatter us.
The only concern arising from the match was Szczesny’s form. He was jittery today and his error clearly affected his confidence in the second half when he kicked wildly and looked unsettled. I wonder how much pressure he’s feeling from Mannone. This is the first time anyone has truly challenged him for the number one spot since he came into the side two years ago and it’ll be interesting to see how he plays in the next few games. For the record I think he’s top class and miles better than Mannone and Fabianski put together, but he has been wobbly since his nightmare Euro 2012 campaign and we’ll need him at his best for the two tough away games we’ve got next week.
Jenkinson also concerned me slightly with some wayward passing and general nervousness, but overall he’s done brilliantly so far this season and it would be harsh to slate him. He is only young and the mistakes he is making are expected of a rookie, so I’ve no long term fears there. I would obviously much rather have Sagna in the side to face Montpellier and Man City though.
Somebody who does have my full backing is Mertesacker. He looked very dodgy last season and people were quick to slate him, lazily using his lack of pace as a stick with which to beat him as he struggled to settle in. But now he’s adjusted to the speed of the game in this country his anticipation and tackling skills are there for all to see. I think when Wenger bought him he envisioned Vermaelen and Mertesacker being his first choice pairing and it was only the emergence of Koscielny that disrupted that. Well, now the big German is keeping Koscielny on the bench on merit and that’s no mean feat. It’s great to have three excellent centre halves in good form at the club and this summer was the first time in years we hadn’t been linked with every decent centre-back in Europe — Wenger has finally sorted that problem, although he took his sweet time about it.
One problem Wenger does have though is who his main striker is. When Giroud was left out I think everyone (including Podolski probably) thought the German number 9 would be up front, but he started from the left as he did at Anfield with Gervinho playing through the middle. It worked today and I can understand Wenger playing Podolski out there because his tracking back and workrate are excellent and he can get involved in midfield more (especially with Cazorla — those two look like they enjoy playing with each other). But Gervinho playing centrally is not a long term solution so I hope a permanent candidate for the van Persie role can be found sooner rather than later. Still, it’s good to see we have adaptability within the squad — who knew Gervinho would bag himself a couple of goals playing up front?!
So we’re up to third and have the best goal difference in the league, which was pretty unthinkable after those two 0-0 draws. Both Manchester sides failed to deal with Southampton as efficiently as we did while Chelsea have yet to face anybody decent, so there is no standout team for me so far. Stoke drew with Man City today proving that our point there was a good one, while not many teams will win at Anfield despite Liverpool’s current form. As I said, we’ll know more after we’ve been to Old Trafford in gameweek 10, but we’ve come a long way in a short space of time since the Sunderland disappointment. Long may it continue and I actually fancy our chances at the Etihad next week — bring it on Nasri!
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