September 3, 2012
Arsene Wenger always talks about the ‘huge technical risk’ a coach faces when making more than a couple of changes to his first XI at one time. That hasn’t stopped him from entirely remodelling his midfield and attack in the space of less than a year and while we’ve seen in the opening couple of matches just why that can be risky, we’re also getting to see something that we’ve rarely had the opportunity to before. We’re seeing a brand new side evolve and settle before our eyes and it’s pretty interesting.
While we coped fine in the first two games of the season, the ‘front six’ have looked like what they are – a bunch of strangers who have never played a match together before. But already we’re starting to see the buds of something. A growing awareness of teammates and what they can and can’t do. And most importantly the emergence of some key on field partnerships.
Cazorla and Podolski are the obvious example, combining brilliantly for both goals. For the first, Poldi found Santi in space from the halfway line before continuing his run all the way into the box by which time the little Spaniard had cushioned the ball, turned in a neat circle, motored forward then beautifully weighted the return through the gap in the retreating Liverpool defence. There was still plenty to do but what we already know about Podolski is that he doesn’t need a lot of chances to score. And when you’ve witnessed the timidity in front of goal of Gervinho coming in from that left wing, that feels oh so good.
They linked up again for the second, Cazorla scampering through the midfield before a cute little one-two with the German put him into the box. His shot should have been saved by Reina but it was struck well enough that I think the keeper was thinking too much about whether he’d deflect it back to an onrushing striker. Instead he felt it would be simpler to just fumble it into his net. Cazorla and Podolski ran off to celebrate together and you can tell they’ll be itching to get back on the field after the international break and develop that understanding further.
It’s exactly what I was hoping for before the match. We already know what a player we’ve got on our hands in Santi Cazorla and this team can thrive if he can stay fit and develop that natural understanding with his wide forwards. His superb balance, touch and ability to make a pass with either foot allows his to slip a ball to either wing or just inside a full back and into the box. Once both wingers are alert to that and making the right runs it can be devastating.
Another key burgeoning partnership yesterday was that of Diaby and Arteta whose growing awareness of each other and their roles in the midfield was another reason for the quality of our display. Diaby makes me want to cry. Three games fit and look at what a player he can be. This is why Le Boss has kept faith in him for all these years. He knows that if he could shake the injuries he could be almost unplayable. His ability to break up play, lose an opponent with a deft trick and then power up field offers us something that no other player can. I can’t watch him without thinking about all the ‘what ifs’. What if Dan Smith had never brutally stamped on his ankle when he did? What could we have done if we’d had a fit and healthy Abou Diaby available these past six years and able to develop his game? I can’t even contemplate the idea that he might finally be over his injury problems. It’s setting myself up for too much of a fall. Much safer for my mental health to just assume that we’ll get another couple of games out of him if we’re lucky and accept anything else as a gift.
Defensively we again looked strong. There was plenty of talk pre-game about the fact that we hadn’t scored so far this season and that if we went beyond half-time it would be our worst start in history etc etc but I haven’t seen any stats regarding when the last time was we went three games at the start of the season without conceding a goal (can anyone chip in?). What I do know is that at this stage last season we’d conceded 11, contributing a significant chunk of our horrendous total of 49 at the end of the campaign. I don’t want to jinx anything just yet but I think there’s a fairly good chance already that we’ll have improved on that this year.
Liverpool offered us a decent examination too. Raheem Sterling looks like he might just live up to the expectations and looked lively on the left but Carl Jenkinson dealt with him very well in the end. I could have done without the long raking balls across our own back four early on, especially the ones that landed at the feet of our opponents but I can only assume Steve Bould slammed him against the dressing room wall at half time and we didn’t see them again in the second half.
Luis Suarez appears to be celebrating Joey Barton’s departure to France by solidifying his position as the biggest prick in the Premier League. My word he’s unbelievable. He can’t go five minutes without doing something truly obnoxious. If he’s not raking his studs down someone’s calves he’s ‘accidentally’ stamping on them as they lie on the ground, chucking himself to the floor in the penalty box, giving verbals to his opponents or moaning to the referee. It’s amazing he finds time for any football at all.
The only other blight on a very good afternoon was the performance of Olivier Giroud who already looks like he’s got the weight of press expectations on his shoulders. He needs to be given time to settle but when the guy he replaced is busy banging in hat-tricks for his new club the pressures are bound to be high. He had another great chance to settle himself down with a goal in the first half, fed in following another surging Abou Diaby run. He just needed a bit of composure to dink the ball past Pepe Reina but he hit it like he was swinging a rusty tool box from a piece of rope.
Not to damn him with faint praise but the run he made to get into that position was great and I really think that once he gets going he’ll be snaffling up that sort of chance. As I’ve pointed out before, unlike Podolski, he does need a few chances to score. Last season he took around 7.5 shots per goal but still managed to end the season with 21 goals.
He’s still started only two games so he needs a bit of time.
Fortunately, if the rest of the team keeps playing as well as they did yesterday and his teammates chip in with their share of the goals, we can allow him the time that he needs.