View From The North Bank: Arsenal 1 Swansea 0
A home game against a newly promoted side, yet to score in three games, would usually present itself as an opportunity for Arsenal to play without fear. It is clear though that the team are still in recovery from a series of body blows so the visit of Swansea was anything but laid back.
The new look Arsenal wasn’t on show entirely; only Arteta and Mertesacker started, with Park, Santos and Benayoun on the bench. Our new No.8 started well, closing down high up the pitch, winning back possession and threading Ramsey through for a chance he really should have done better with. As you would expect from the Spanish playmaker he was comfortable on the ball yet he didn’t quite dominate the midfield as we hope he will go on to do. There is still going to be a bedding-in process before he can truly become the heartbeat of the side but the early signs were positive.
Mertesacker’s first touch drew a roar of approval from the home fans which must have let him know how much expectancy surrounds his signing. Having only met his team mates two days before the game he was caught off guard early on when Danny Graham attacked the near post, leaving the giant German rooted, and drew a breathtaking save from Szczesny.
Big Per was clearly treading tentatively but there was plenty of evidence that he knows the position like the back of his hand and his positioning was generally first class. Similar to Arteta, Mertesacker has been bought partly to bestow his experience on those around him so we would hope that a few more games will see him avert the panic that plagued us last term and nearly gifted Swansea a late equaliser here.
The mood of transition characterised the whole performance. Not only are the new players settling into a new team, it can be argued that those that remain from last season are now coming to terms with new roles in the side. The likes of Van Persie and Walcott are the players we will now look to lead and change matches. Both had opportunities to score but looked somewhat inhibited. Of course, the hangover from Manchester will have had an effect but there are going to need to be some quick developers for us to get back to the level we showed at times over the last few seasons.
The solitary goal came from a howler from the Swansea stopper. Vorm raced from his line to prevent a corner and looked to start a swift counter by rolling the ball to Angel Rangel. His team mate wasn’t on the same page and the ball was inadvertently back heeled to Arshavin. His finish was instinctive and swept neatly into the open net.
Arshavin had a decent game (a ‘Gooner’ near me stood up and shouted ‘Arshavin you’re shit!’ to him at the start of the game; to which I retorted ‘he isn’t that shit then’ when he opened the scoring – why give your own players stick? How is that going to help your team? Said ‘Gooner’ didn’t return for the second half). The Russian was replaced by Benayoun with 27 minutes left. Maybe Wenger was saving Arshavin – who was obviously tiring – for Dortmund or perhaps he felt the debutant would be prepared to help back more than the diminutive Russian. Benayoun’s cameo showed the sort of mobility and mischief we have seen for years in the Premier League. There was little end product but enough intent to show he will add real quality to the squad.
There is clearly still room for improvement in this side it was slightly concerning to see that so many of our players looked worn out in the second half. Aaron Ramsey, who has played every minute of every game this season for club and country, worked as hard as ever and demonstrates a real desire to lead. This is not a criticism but it is a shame that circumstances have dictated that he play so frequently as he has had to take on responsibility beyond his years and is now over due a rest (which he will now get as he is out of the Dortmund match with an ankle injury); yet another reason why Jack Wilshere can’t come back quick enough.
Our best performances last season came when we pressed all over the pitch but too many times on Saturday we looked lethargic and unable to pressurise the opponents. The international break will have impacted our squad far more than the visitors and, in fairness to Swansea, they look after the ball very well but at times we looked a little too content for them to have it. Time will tell if players returning from injury and suspension coupled with a rehabilitated confidence will bring back some of the vigour the side seems to be lacking.
A win is a win and when all is said and done we need our first victory more than we needed a good performance. We now have a run of games, domestically at least, that are winnable. The Dortmund game tomorrow represents a new challenge and it will be interesting to see how we respond. Song and Gervinho should return which will afford a much needed boost. Let’s hope for another away performance like the one in Italy a few weeks back.
Keep The Faith.