There’s good news and bad news to come out of this match. On the plus side was the excellent performance of Gervinho and how well he has slotted in already. Despite only playing 29 minutes before being forced off with what Wenger later described as “minor knee damage” he scored twice and almost set up Vermaelen for a third with some neat play. However, this must be balanced against the woeful performance at the back that allowed the hosts numerous chances to have drawn or even won this game.
Let’s concentrate on Gervinho first. Starting wide left, it took just seven minutes for him to open his account when he drifted inside as Wilshere received the ball in midfield. When Jack looked up for a pass, Gervinho was already ghosting onto the shoulder of the centre half as he lifted a perfect through ball for the Ivorian to race onto and lob the keeper with aplomb. It was a move reminiscent of Bergkamp to Ljungberg to the net and Gervinho’s movement and willingness to get into goalscoring positions reminded me of Freddie at his best. This was perfectly illustrated for his second goal 10 minutes later. Gervinho made a similar run and was found by Gibbs, but he had to check back as the pass was slightly behind him. The ball eventually made its way to Walcott in acres on the right wing and Gervinho had positioned himself as any good striker would between the two centre halves to expertly convert Walcott’s perfect low cross from six yards.
Those two goals told me two things. Firstly, even though Gervinho will be deployed out wide by Wenger he still thinks and moves like a striker, as Ljungberg used to. Secondly, his finishing and composure is excellent as you’d expect from a man who scored 15 goals for Lille last season and he’s a better bet than Arshavin or Miyaichi on the left flank because of this.
Nice finish Fredd... er, I mean Gervinho
His runs will provide Wilshere and Ramsey with an extra target to hit through the middle. I don’t feel Walcott has mastered this art yet as he too often hugs the touchline, so if Wenger has unearthed someone comfortable coming inside from out wide to get on the end of through balls then credit to him.
Wenger’s first half team was pretty close to our starting XI. Sagna and van Persie were the only likely starters against Newcastle on the bench (assuming Nasri and Fabregas will go) and the midfield was our first choice trio of Song, Ramsey and Wilshere. What was noteworthy though was that in the absence of Nasri and Cesc, Wilshere got forward a lot more. He made two excellent mazy dribbles as he glided effortlessly past defenders and maybe the sale of Fab and Nasri will see him express himself more as the main man in midfield. I hope so because he could easily get 10 goals a season and is a real handful when he runs at defenders.
At the back we had Szcesny in goal with Vermaelen and Koscielny at centre half. Now if we don’t sign another centre back (a real possibility if Wenger continues to make silly £10m bids for £20m players) those two will be his first choice and that really worries me. Vermaelen was sound but Koscielny’s decision making and positioning were shocking. Twice he committed himself when he should’ve hung back and Cologne had plenty of openings in the first half. He is a promising back up in my opinion (as is Djourou) but we MUST buy a quality, experienced defender to slot in next to Vermaelen or the defensive lapses of last season will continue. Cahill, Samba, Jagielka – take your pick Wenger and make it happen.
It wasn’t just Koscielny though. As adept as Gibbs is going forward, he was caught upfield too many times and struggled to get back leaving gaps for Cologne to exploit. Song should’ve been plugging them but on occasions he too was caught in attack as they broke on us, still seeming to think he is Paul Gascoigne instead of doing a disciplined job sitting in front of the back four. Wenger needs to get hold of him and tell him to do his job.
What were you thinking? Forget it and move on.
On the other side I was impressed with Jenkinson at right back for 44 minutes. He looked comfortable and composed and will do a good job as back up for Sagna. But he showed his immaturity when he attempted a wild clearance on the stroke of half time that ballooned off his instep and over the helpless Szczesny. I felt sorry for him but think Wenger has found another rough gem to polish.
Up front we had Chamakh deputising for van Persie and on this evidence Robin has nothing to worry about. The summer break hasn’t restored the Morrocan’s confidence and he looked nothing like the player of last Autumn. I believe he has quality and will come good if he gets a decent run in the team, but he needs to show more backbone when he’s not playing well as his game disintegrated from the moment he had a bad touch. Walcott on the right had his moments with a couple of great crosses apart from his assist, but he needs to deliver all season long now to show he can do it consistently.
The second half was a non-event. We made 10 changes at half time and the game turned scrappy. Arshavin looked bright but lightweight and spurned a few chances. Frimpong showed he could be an able deputy for Song, but we learnt nothing we didn’t already know in truth, namely that Squillaci and Vela are poor and should be the next deadwood to be shown the door.
So the main positives: Wilshere and Gervinho. The main negatives: our defending. It doesn’t look like we’ve worked on it at all and a good side would’ve scored five against us today (no, I’m not exaggerating). Stewart Robson was co-commentating on Arsenal player and I thought he was going to have a coronary so worked up was he getting by our defensive play. It’s only pre-season though so I’ll give the guys the benefit of the doubt and hope we have a new centre half and work hard at defending by August 13th otherwise Newcastle will stick four past us again.
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