Arsenal 0 Sunderland 0
You won’t find many better examples of players struggling to switch from pre-season football to the real thing than Arsenal’s performance yesterday.
Full of good intent, they were let down by crossed wires at the decisive moment and just didn’t have the energy to sustain a decent first half.
I’m sure some will argue they should be at their fittest on the first day of the season but like players returning from injury, they need real football in their legs before they reach their peak.
If I was feeling critical, I’d say the botched trip to play a friendly in Nigeria hasn’t helped our preparation but I’m more inclined to argue that the timing of the international friendlies during midweek caused more disruption.
Rather than fitness, the most obvious feature, especially upfront, was a lack of familiarity between colleagues. Podolski spent most of the game pointing to where he wanted the ball after it went in the opposite direction and Gervinho and Walcott got into dangerous positions only to waste their delivery.
Cazorla (a player who I got so excited about on Friday that I spelled his name wrong – updated now but sorry, Santa…) looked every inch a top quality playmaker. I still don’t know whether he is left or right footed and I hope I never find out. His ball for Giroud was a great example of his vision but unfortunately his fellow newbie was suffering the worst of the rustiness.
When will Theo’s time come / Jenkinson
It would be interesting to know Cazorla’s thoughts after the game having seen how his team-mates fared in battle for the first time. I can’t help but wonder if he, like me I’m afraid, thinks the reason Theo hasn’t been offered a new contract is because we don’t want to give him one, never mind his required wages.
At 23 and having been at the club for six years, Theo should be entering his best ever seasons, this should be his prime. And yet he is still struggling to control the ball and his dribbling often defines ‘cul de sac’. Yes, he too may be adapting to proper matches but there is always a feeling that he has much more to offer. I’ve always said he is a striker by nature and we would see the same faults if, for example, Jermain Defoe was asked to play on the wing. But regardless of that, you would expect him to have ironed out basic problems in his game after six years.
You only have to look at this partner on the right yesterday, Carl Jenkinson, to see the improvements that can be made in a short space of time. I’ve never thought he had the talent to play for Arsenal, even if he is ‘one of us’ and would happily be watching from the stands. But I’d say yesterday was his best game for us and he has obviously spent the summer working hard. Of course, there will be far more onerous games to come but I can’t remember him putting a foot wrong.
It takes quite a bit of the fabled ‘mental strength’ to get better, to believe in yourself so much that you don’t just accept things have gone to seed. It is a quality Andrei Arshavin is lacking going by his cameo yesterday. He must have only touched the ball five times and four of those led to Sunderland gaining possession. Chamakh, who didn’t even make the bench, appears to have suffered the same crisis in confidence and both will be best served by moving away, should anyone want them.
Why does it happen and is it a problem that is unique to Arsenal? One to mull over on another day, but it is something I keep in the back of my mind as I hail Cazorla as the saviour of the human race.
The biggest concern from yesterday was the lack of movement between the front three and the supporting midfielders. We never saw enough of players breaking position to cause confusion in the massed Sunderland defence.
It has been a regular fault of Arsenal with this three-man attack and you have to question why Wenger wasn’t able to change the pattern, or willing to alter the system and bring another striker on (not that that would have helped if he’d been static too). The manager acknowledged all the problems in his press conference but failed to say what he did about them, ie nothing.
It summed up what was a sluggish day all round.
Going for a Song
In the eyes of many, I expect, things went from mediocre to worse with the 5pm-on-the-dot joint announcement that Barcelona had agreed a fee for Alex Song.
He probably had his best season last year when he played a series of very neat through-balls, or more often over-balls. We may well miss them but we shouldn’t really miss – and what he was in the team to deliver – is his defensive ability because I don’t think it was that much better than our other midfielders.
Yes, he got quite a few tackles and blocks in but so should anyone occupying that part of the pitch. Where he struggled was covering ground quickly to press the attack or fill a gap. How many times did he look like an oak tree anchored by mile-long roots when faced by an onrushing forward? He could be a star for Barca but probably because he’ll play centre back. We could never field him there regularly in England given the style of play here but if Javier Mascherano can manage it in Spain, so can Song.
What his departure provides is a gap and money to bring something new to the team. I still think we lack power and action in midfield and that’s where the focus should be. The noises Wenger is making suggest he is fairly happy with his lot in that part of the team but even with a returning Wilshere I wouldn’t bet on Diaby staying fit for any length of time.
Whoever he decides on, it would make a world of difference if they were in the same bracket as Cazorla, established quality, as opposed to a young prospect. He’s got a chance to add someone significant to a team that needs improving if it is to deliver its potential.