Good morning from sweltering London. So the new season kicked off and it all felt a bit familiar. Arsenal struggled to break down a team which showed about as much attacking ambition as something which shows no attacking ambition, fluffed a good chance to win the game and ended up dropping two points at home to a team we really should beat.
I don’t have the stats at hand but off the top of my head I’d say we had about 97% possession as Sunderland sat deep and denied us space to exploit behind them. Mikel Arteta played in the ‘holding’ midfield role and did a really good job of shielding the back four and moving the ball quickly, but where I think we let ourselves down was in the wide positions.
Gervinho at least tried, running at the defence, getting behind them a few times even if the problems he had getting the ball under control on our perfect pitch were a little strange. Theo Walcott, however, stank the place out. His first touch of the game came early on, a pass was sprayed out wide to him on the right hand side and he clobbered it out for a Sunderland throw. It was a taste of things to come and knowing how much of his game is negated when teams sit deep I was staggered it took so long for him to be replaced.
Santi Cazorla looked the part in midfield and had a shot, after good Gervinho work, which went just wide, while Lukas Podolski, playing down the middle, struggled to get into the game at all. He had to drop deep to receive any kind of possession and didn’t really trouble the Sunderland defence unduly. Our midfield worked well enough, I thought, Arteta held well, Diaby and Cazorla had a lot of the ball but the lack of penetration in the final third was the problem and that was due to the wide men not producing and being denied space by Sunderland’s defensive system.
The heat was a bit of an issue too, we didn’t seem to have enough in our legs to really pile on the pressure in the final 20 minutes or so. The manager did try and change things, Giroud replacing Podolski was a bit of a surprise to me as I’d have hooked Walcott and played the German down the left, but I guess he knows better than I how his players are physically. Ramsey came on for Diaby and eventually Arshavin replaced Walcott.
With about 10 minutes to we created the best chance of the game. Santi Cazorla’s clever reverse pass set up Olivier Giroud inside the box and it looked easier to score as Mignolet closed down the angle, but the Frenchman’s shot went wide and with it our chance of taking the three points. Chris Foy did add 4 minutes in the second half (although none in the first?) because of Mignolet’s tortoise-like approach to goal kicks but it wasn’t to be.
We played with a good spirit. We were serious, we put the effort in. Our basic fitness is alright but we lack sharpness and fluency at the moment to be dangerous in the final third. The few chances we had, we couldn’t convert them. Sunderland always play the same way against us, in the final third and defensively, and if you’re not sharp enough to make the difference early in the game it becomes difficult.
They defended well, they defended the whole game very well, and we lacked something – sharpness and also quality and accuracy in the final pass.
Overall I thought there were things to be encouraged about. Diaby played as much yesterday as he did in the whole of last season, Arteta looked very comfortable as the deepest lying midfielder although we’ll have to see him in that role against better opposition to know if it’s a position that really suits him, Cazorla looked good but obviously needs some time to bed in, while the back in general looked very good. Carl Jenkinson in particular had a really excellent game at right back.
However, our lack of a ‘plan B’, without wanting to sound too clichéd, was a bit of a worry. When it’s obvious a team are sitting back and defending deep, perhaps we need to try something different a bit sooner. As I mentioned, Walcott’s positives are his pace and when he gets in behind he can really contribute, but against a team who play like Sunderland he’s always going to struggle. It would be interesting to see if any transfer business we do before the window closes addresses this in some way.
Still, we looked defensively sound (a couple of early scares aside which Szczesny dealt with well), you can see the platform the manager is trying to build and we kept a clean sheet. Dropping two points isn’t ideal, these are the games we really should be winning if we want to challenge for the title this season, but others have started far worse than us this season and once we put in the hours on the training ground I think we’ll improve quite quickly.
In other news the club have announced that they’ve given Alex Song permission to talk to Barcelona ahead of a proposed move. Arsene said that Song ‘had expressed a desire to go to Barcelona’, and whatever you think about him as a player it’s a sure sign of his character that he’d behave like this towards the man who 100% made him the footballer he is today and without whom he’d be shit-kicking his way around the lower European leagues.
Personally speaking I’ve got no issue at all with this sale, reports that Song’s behaviour behind the scenes has been disruptive and far from professional are on the money, and we make €20m on a player who cost us £400,000. We’ll bring in another midfielder, it’ll change the way we’re set up but hopefully for the better as the manager looks for players who will play for the team and not for themselves.
Further comment on this tomorrow, I guess, when everything’s confirmed. In the meantime, enjoy your Sunday, till tomorrow.