Stoke 0 Arsenal 0
Some people are calling yesterday’s performance at Stoke boring but I can’t be the only person who finds it very satisfying to see Arsenal looking solid for a change. It gives hope that the addition of Steve Bould and Neil Banfield to the coaching staff may pay dividends over the course of a season. Problems up front can be solved more easily – defences take time to construct and this one looks good so far.
From memory there were no simple, high balls sailing over the heads of our centre backs as they so often did. No full backs being sucked into the centre circle only to find the man they should be marking was stood in 20 yards of space and about to bear down on goal.
There was just a new-found air of authority, of each man knowing his job, being determined to stick to it and not letting Stoke's approach get under our skin. Mertesacker revelled in the battle with Crouch, Vermaelen was strong on the cover and Diaby and Arteta provided willing protection in front of them. Meanwhile Jenkinson showed last week’s performance was not a one-off – it is telling that nobody is counting the days until Sagna returns. Even Mannone looked confident of keeping a clean sheet. That it all happened at Stoke, a ground where we have struggled so much recently, makes it even more heartening.
The biggest moment of concern was Jermaine Pennant skipping round Gibbs and falling down under the weight of the defender’s gentle shove. On another day it could have been a penalty but it was almost like the referee could see we had stepped up our game at the back and was unwilling to punish us so strongly for a minor indiscretion.
Chelsea won a Champions League because of their defence. I’m not saying we’ll do that yet but it goes to show how far you can get without producing fireworks in attack. If we can control things as we did at the Britannia it will allow us to go into games knowing one goal will be enough for a win, a facet of our game that has been missing for years.
Of course, that plan relies on actually scoring a goal and our forwards showed little sign they had struck up a bond in a week. Cazorla again looked like a sharp tack among a bunch of dolt bolts but he became peripheral after getting a nasty clout from Marc Wilson. He needs to learn such physical attention is a compliment rather than shrinking away from the challenge.
Podolski played as I expect he always will – on the periphery of the action mostly but capable of doing something game-changing when he does get involved.
Giroud simply looks like he’ll take a while to find his feet but there can be no ‘new boy’ excuses for Gervinho. He knew exactly what to expect and what is expected of him at one of the toughest league grounds to visit and yet he still did not deliver. I hoped his lack of end product last season was part of the settling in process. Two games is too early to judge whether we’ll see the ‘real Gervinho’ this season but yesterday he offered little and it feels like his indecision at the killer moment will always remain a character trait.
Still, the defensive unity is the major plus point from yesterday and if we can embed that it will serve us well throughout the season. That will rely on forming a unit over a long period of time. Getting goals is more a transient issue – a moment of individual brilliance up front can overcome deeper tactical flaws more easily than defence.
The difficulty is with Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea all coming in the next four fixtures, along with Southampton, the goals need to come pretty fast if we aren’t to end up with just a handful of points at the end of September. If we show the same kind of control in defence as we did against Stoke, we should achieve more than that.