View From The North Bank: Arsenal 0 Sunderland 0
And we’re off. A sun drenched Emirates played host to our first game of the season and, whilst the result wasn’t what we wanted, it’s nice to finally have some serious Football to talk about.
The pattern of the game was pretty much what you’d expect of a fixture against Sunderland, or any team managed by Martin O’Neill. Sunderland only looked like getting into Arsenal territory when we left holes for them to break into. After a couple of scares in the first half, they may as well have cordoned off Szczesny’s box for all the incident it would see in the second.
From our point of view, it was good to see the new boys up close: Cazorla looks like a real gem. He’s comfortable whenever he’s given the ball, knows when to carry it and when to pass and his long range effort midway through the first half suggests he’s not afraid to have a go either. He always looked the most likely to create something with his clever passing and incisive dribbling. Understandably for a player making his first Premier League appearance he seemed to slow as the game went on. With more miles on the clock and more understanding of the intensity of the English game I think we’ll see him continue to have a huge influence on the side throughout the season.
Podolski also started and to be fair had more of a mixed afternoon. The German worked hard and held the ball up well. I was impressed by the way he soaked up a lot of the physical attention dished out by Cuellar and O’Shea and helped to play in his teammates. He linked well with Diaby and Walcott to create our best opportunities of the first half. What remains, as Wenger commented post match, is for greater influence in and around the box. His movement and desire to get in behind will need to improve but, as with any new player, he will need time to attune.
We only saw Giroud for about half an hour and, to be fair, it was a mixed bag. His movement looked promising and he worked hard to make his presence felt. He managed a couple of efforts, both of which finished high and wide. The first was a speculative volley which few would criticise him for whilst he should have done better with the second. Good movement allowed Cazorla to thread through but the chance fell to his less favoured right foot and flew wide of the goal. Those are the sort of chances a top striker needs to take but I’m not going to write him off just yet – unlike some I heard moaning about him being ‘another Chamakh’. I seem to remember a pretty successful goofy striker last year who, despite scoring a hatful, actually missed some pretty good chances himself.
It doesn’t do anyone any favours to make rash judgements after one game, whether they be aimed at individual players or the team. There is more work to do for all concerned so it’s probably sensible to withhold our knee jerk judgements for a little while.
Aside from the new signings I think Arteta and Jenkinson deserve a mention. The new vice captain was asked to marshal the midfield and did so with great awareness. His passing was as reliable as ever yet he also looked aware of the need to fill in for marauding centre halves and track the runs of the opposition. We may well add a more natural defensive midfielder but the signs from Arteta were encouraging.
I’ve long held the opinion that as fans we can be too easily tempted to want players to fit into the computer game definition of a player. Of course, players have different abilities and some prefer attacking to defending but what a midfield player needs more than anything is intelligence. Label a player whatever you like but if he isn’t aware of what’s required and can’t adapt in the heat of battle then it barely matters what his nominal position is. It’s quite apparent that Wenger wants a fluid midfield where players can interchange; Arteta reiterated how valuable he is in that system.
I also thought Jenkinson had a solid game. He’s often criticised for flying forward without regard for what he leaves behind. On Saturday he appeared more aware of his defensive duties and generally took up the correct position. He made some solid tackles and used the ball economically. There’s room to grow for Jenkinson but I think he did a lot to ease some of the nervousness around the right back position.
All in all, not a great start but not a bad one either. Three points would have set us off on the right road and reassured everybody that another uncertain transfer window was going to end in our favour. As it stands, there is still more work to do, on and off the pitch to convince everyone but I’m pretty sure we saw enough to know we’re going in the right direction.
Keep The Faith