One game. Not 3 points, just the one but a clean sheet achieved. Not the most ideal of starts I’ll give you that. Yet, hardly the right time to go overboard with the reactions. Lots of teams draw games, just that it happened to us in the first game of the season. It doesn’t mean we will be relegated or miss out on the Champions League spot or win the Premier League. The frustration of not winning the game against Sunderland is obvious to everyone, but let’s not judge the season over 1 game.
Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski were the new boys who started the game while Abou Diaby made his long awaited return to first team action, slotting in midfield alongside Mikel Arteta. New captain, Thomas Vermaelen lead the team out in a sunny and perhaps a little hot Saturday afternoon in the ever immaculate pitch at the Grove. Alex Song was innocuously missing from the starting line-up but we all know what’s happening there, which Arsenal later confirmed. Perhaps we’ll talk a little more about him tomorrow.
We didn’t quite miss Song as we did miss a player in the defensive midfield role, or at least someone who sat the furthest back in the midfield trio. Which we did suffered in the first half of the first half. Sunderland were finding gaps between our midfield and our defence. Without the intervention of Per Mertesacker on a couple of occasions, we would have gone behind before half time. The big German was reading the game superbly and placed himself in good positions to intercept.
It took us a while but when we finally moved Arteta further back to protect the defence, the gap became non issue. Sunderland could no longer find the space to play and the game turn into pretty much one way traffic. However, despite the dominance of the possession we still couldn’t find the breakthrough. There were a couple of times in the first half when Podolski and Gervinho seemed to be making the same runs and thus possession easily surrendered when they wanted to pass to each other.
Meanwhile Cazorla was a joy to watch. He will need to get used to the pace of the game and how much more physical the game is in England. Yet, there were plenty of times when he showed just how much of a steal he is. Twice, he found the reverse pass that could have been the opening goal. One took one too many touches while the other too hurried. Theo Walcott was put through only to dribble further when a shot might have resulted in a better outcome. While Olivier Giroud who came on for Podolski, hurried his shot when perhaps there was more time to steady himself.
That it took until the 80th minute for us to even see Wojciech Szczesny touch the ball, showed just how dominant we were, especially in the second half. As I mentioned at the start, it is frustrating not to get all 3 points. Make no mistake, yesterday was 2 points dropped. There is no other way to view the result. Yet, I don’t see anyone can paint a gloomy picture from what we saw yesterday.
The players were clearly not entirely match fit. This is a result of the lack of pre season matches to build up the fitness. Manchester City played 7 friendlies while we only had 4.5 friendlies. The half coming in the tournament involving Southampton and Anderlecht. It’s going to take a few more games before our players get the right mix in their bodies.
We also need to take into account the fact that some of the players only trained together for the first time leading up to the friendly at Cologne. Just like with fitness, it will take longer time for the players to understanding each other’s movement and build up that partnership. Our only hope is that they don’t take too long to build that up.
I thought our full backs were the other players who stood out yesterday. Carl Jenkinson may not be totally in sync with his crossing but he fared much better with his defending, or rather his recovery when defending. What I mean is that, Jenkinson do sometimes allow the opponents to escape him or a poor touch meaning that he loses possession. However, his pace gives him the chance to chase back and regain back possession. No one got away from him the second time around, hopefully one day he won’t need the second chance.
On the other side, Kieran Gibbs was just a model of consistency. He only made one slip in the entire game. But, that was an actual slip, so it doesn’t count. He was decisive with his tackling and reading of the game. Marrying the two, he slide in to intercept the pass before it even reach the winger/forward. You’ll hate me for saying this but I saw a little of Ashley Cole in him yesterday. Gibbs has shown what he’s capable of of. If anything, I do think the presence of Andre Santos has something to do with that.
Let’s just hope that with one more week of training, the players will acclimatise with each other more and we’ll get to see a more fluid Arsenal side next week at Stoke. For now, let’s stay on the bright side. Abou Diaby played close to 70 minutes without suffering any ill effect. If we can’t be positive after that, then I don’t what else can be done.