August 19, 2012
Seasons change. Not much else does.
In yesterday’s pre-match Q&A with Simon from Roker Report he made a pretty accurate assessment of what we’d have in store for the opening day:
Expect us to be defensive and sit back. I know some ‘big’ clubs see this as anti-football and parking the bus, but it’s just sensible from our side of things.
I’m going for a cautiously optimistic 0-0 draw. Shut up shop and just get through it.
Say what you like about the tactics but the man knows his own team.
Yesterday was another classically frustrating case of watching an Arsenal side desperately struggle to break down a resolute eleven man defence. If it was ever going to happen we’d need to take our chances. Yesterday we didn’t.
Credit to Sunderland I suppose. They came with a game plan. They stuck to it. They got the draw they wanted. And at the end of the ninety minutes it was the away section bobbing up and down and celebrating the final whistle. But bloody hell. I think I’d rather be where I am today – desperately disappointed at our inability to pass our way through those massed ranks of defenders – than having spent my afternoon cheering our throw-in count and hoping that our goalkeeper has found new exciting ways to delay taking a goal kick.
After three months of excitable build up a nil-nil home draw against Sunderland couldn’t be much more of a damp squib I suppose but while I loathe starting a season with anything less than the statistical perfection of three points on the board I’m not reaching for the razor blades just yet.
There were positives.
Santi Cazorla does not look like a man who’s going to need a season and a half to get used to the pace of life in the Premier League. He may look as though he could blow away in a strong breeze but the boy can compete. And yesterday he looked by some way our most accomplished player. All of our best chances came through him.
There was the rasping drive in the first half well saved by Simon Mignolet but if that had been a couple of feet left or right I don’t think he could have done much about it. There was the little ball that he fed through to Walcott which was turned back for the onrushing Podolski who couldn’t quite direct it home. There was the shot from a rebound that went a foot wide in the second half and then there was the chance of the match eight minutes from time. A cheeky little reverse ball which found Giroud in space with just the ‘keeper to beat. Giroud rushed his shot which most people seem to have failed to notice fell to his weaker right foot, but the pass was so good it demanded to be put away nonetheless.
Giroud will be disappointed but he did look lively when he came on. Podolski struggled to impose himself in an admittedly isolated position up front but Giroud’s presence and movement caused problems and gave us more of a target to aim at. Judging from the Koln game and his stats from last season, Giroud’s a man who will miss a few chances – his 21 goals last year came from a total of 161 shots so he requires about 7.5 shots per goal – but he’s also a man who due to his smart movement will get a lot of chances. I think he will score goals but in a game as tight as yesterday’s we need to be more clinical.
Gervinho did well in patches I thought. He’s got the rare ability to beat a couple of defenders from a completely standing start and get into that byline to cut the ball back. We didn’t see it too much as last season wore on but his confidence seems up again and against a team that defends like Sunderland did it’s a valuable asset. He still lacks that composure in front of goal that could turn him from a good player into a great one but hopefully that will come. Too often yesterday he beat a couple of men before panicking and slamming a shot straight into a defender’s midriff. He needs the confidence to take a breath and assess his options.
After the match Le Boss blamed our inability to score on our slow passing. It’s a familiar refrain from him but he was right. We looked just a tad too sluggish and therefore too predictable to break them down. You especially noticed how slow the rest of the team was when Cazorla got on the ball because his little first time pinged passes upped the pace significantly. Unfortunately the rest of the team weren’t quite on his wavelength. Yet. Hopefully that will come.
I noticed a couple of times Cazorla’s frustration at the movement of the players around him, screaming at Walcott (who was not at his best) to come inside and look for the pass. He knew what we could all see. That playing in such tight spaces you need to beat players with quick one-twos and overlaps and too often that wasn’t possible with the wingers clinging out to the wings and Arteta and Diaby often playing a little too cautiously deep. Cazorla looked isolated.
Opting for two pacy wingers against a side like that was always going to be difficult. Walcott thrives on running behind into space but space was the one thing at a premium yesterday. Frustratingly it would have been the ideal game for a bit of Oxlade-Chamberlain but unfortunately he didn’t make it back from that ankle knock he got against Koln.
I’m sure the media are keen to make a story of how things might have been different had Van Persie or even Song played yesterday but quite frankly I don’t think it would have made a huge difference. You could argue RVP might have taken that Giroud chance. You could also argue that he might have missed it too.
Arsene Wenger revealed after the game what we pretty much already knew. Alex Song has left the club and is on his way to Barcelona. In his post-match Sky interview Le Prof pointedly refused to be drawn on what might have occurred behind the scenes to prompt the somewhat surprise transfer. His silence on the issue says a lot. He seems fairly let down by what sounds like yet another grubby Darren Dein instigated transfer affair. But he did suggest that a new midfielder will come in shortly. Rumours still persist that that man will be Nuri Sahin depending on whether we can agree an option to buy at the end of the loan spell. Hopefully that can be resolved this week.
A 0-0 against Sunderland is not a disastrous result. But we need to kick start this season as soon as possible and Stoke away next Sunday won’t be the easiest place in the world to do that. Still, maybe they’ll come out this year with a renewed focus on playing football the way it’s supposed to be played.