Football is back. First match over and done with. A sense of deja vu to add into the mix. Last season we ended up drawing 1-1 at Anfield and Laurent Koscielny got sent off. This time around Gervinho got sent off as we also ended up in a stalemate in the first fixture of the season. The irony that it was the first ever competitive game for both players is not lost on me.
Let me put a couple of things clear. A point away from home is by no means a bad start to the season. If there’s an overall picture to be looked at, its that. Not when we do not have arguably the 2 most creative midfielders that is still in our current squad (fine, arguably only refers to Nasri and not Cesc). Without them, we lacked creativity in the final part of the pitch. Good thing Arsene Wenger was honest in that assessment as well.
Let’s start with the positives. Our defence. It might only be Newcastle who had a Shola Ameobi and Demba Ba in attack but nonetheless, credit is given where credit is due. We can only beat what’s in front of us. Wojciech Szczesny had just about the easiest of games that he will ever get to play when in the Arsenal jersey. The back four in front of him provided the perfect protection and the Polish keeper was reduced to a couple of clearance punches and goal kick.
Bacary Sagna, Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen and Kieran Gibbs never let anything get past them. It’s the kind of defensive improvement that we’ve been searching for all summer long. Now, I don’t think we have enough depth in that department yet but it must have been pleasing to see the current crop coping well. The change of tactics from man marking to zonal marking during set piece was also refreshing to see. I know the tactic is not new in football, new to Arsene’s Arsenal at the least.
Further up field, the fact that we played so well defensively, the credit must also go to Alex Song. This was the type of play that we should expect to see out of him. Defensively aware and just sat back to protect the defence. We’ve seen on occasion how important it is for him to get forward but I’d much rather see yesterday’s Song than the attacking Song. Slotted in well when either Koscielny or Vermalen was pulled wide. Though, he might face suspension from video evidence after “that stamp” on Joey Barton.
Now, we come to the negatives. Not often (not since the days of Adams or the Invincibles) can we say that we had a better defensive performance than an offensive one but that was what happened. The lack of creativity was evidently clear. We had plenty of the ball but did very little with it. Lack of understanding put paid to many potential moves. Passes played either too short or too long.
There was simply a distinct lack of movement up front. When one of our player had the ball, no one was making runs and was merely expecting the player in possession to create. Play was crowded in the middle of the field and we do not use the width well enough. Every chance that Gervinho or Arshavin have, they’ll drive in field. That being said, Tomas Rosicky looked good as he became the orchestrator in the middle of the pitch.
We can’t go without mentioning the red card. It came when Gervinho went on another one of his mazy run inside of Newcastle’s box. He tumbled under the slightest of contact, if any. Not a penalty and rightly so. Then came the incident which lead to his sending off. Barton took umbrage with the perceived diving and dragged the Ivorian up from the ground. In the struggle, Gervinho placed his hand on Barton’s face and down went the most despicable footballer in England.
It was utterly stupid of our new signing to react to such provocation. I’m not condoning what Barton did but it was clear that he was trying to rile our team and was hoping for a reaction. I just thought it was very unprofessional of Gervinho to have reacted the way he did. Personal emotions are low priority compared to the impact on the team. It’s also mind-numbing to see red given only to Gervinho. When did the rules change on man-handling another opposition?
I know there’s differing opinions on this but I was also not too please to see all the hugging and handshakes given to Barton after the game. I could only guess what Martin Keown would do in such situation but I know there won’t be any smiling or handshake involved. One of their own was “attacked” and I personally feel that the team should have shown more passion to protect their team mate.
It’s not the end of the world, this result. Not the best of start admittedly but there’s obvious room for improvement. Now, let’s turn our attention to the Champions League.