By David Edwards
The home game against Palace saw Arsenal fans suffer the switchback of emotions common to football fans the world over. Some tidy pre-season transfer business and a trophy of sorts are enough to convince you that this is the season when we really are going to go for it. Ten minutes of sharp possession play whet the appetite, and then the passing and movement gets more stodgy, and after half an hour Palace score from their first serious attack.
In the end we toughed it out and the ability to get three points when playing badly is a pretty useful quality, but it wasn’t the kind of incisive performance to cause serious concern at Stamford Bridge or the Etihad. There were mitigating factors. Our World Champion Germans are not yet re-integrated in the squad and players like Alexis and Debuchy are have not had an ideal pre-season. In addition, Palace were time-wasting after 15 minutes, and if they continue to stick to the Pulis blueprint, we won’t be the last good team to struggle to get through an 8-1-1 formation.
Alexis had one of those days when nothing quite comes off, but you couldn’t fault him for effort and he seemed to improve as the game wore on. I still think that we have landed one of the half dozen best attacking talents in the game, and we can reasonably expect a lot more from him as he gets more familiar with his teammates. Still not convinced about his habit of pulling his shorts up to his crotch though…
Debuchy was pretty solid defensively and it was his shot that lead to Ramsey’s winner. The timing of overlaps and the quality of his crossing weren’t yet up to Sagna standard but again we can expect more as he settles in.
At centre back Callum Chambers is increasingly looking a bargain at £16m. Calm, assured, quick into the tackle and with quality on the ball, he is already looking an excellent addition to the squad. The only word of warning is that he will get much tougher defensive tests than Frazier Campbell, but he has already looked good against Monaco and Man City, so the optimism about his arrival seems well founded.
On the debit side Sanogo had one of those games which makes it hard to see what he brings to the team. No goal threat, poor link up play and little physical presence – we were significantly improved when Giroud came on. Most Arsenal fans were looking for an addition to the squad who improved on the Frenchman. I don’t think Sanogo offers this and the jury is still out on Campbell. It is a good job that Giroud is physically resilient because if he gets injured we still don’t have any quality like for like options.
Jack and Santi also both had games that they’d rather forget. I know Santi scored in the Community Shield but he was pretty poor on Saturday. Hopefully it’s just Post World Cup depression, but at present he looks off the pace and frankly not that interested.
Arsene keeps saying that this is a big year for Jack, but I do worry about his current level of performance. He still doesn’t look anywhere near the player who went toe to toe with Barcelona in their pomp. He seems to have lost the yard of pace that allowed him to get clear of tacklers and the number of times he loses possession and gets knocked over doesn’t bode well.
Arteta still gets a hard time from some sections of the club’s followers, but for my money he is one of the key reasons for the upturn in Arsenal’s fortunes over the last 12 months. He is not the Neanderthal that some supporters seem to crave (perhaps a late bid for Cattermole?) but his defensive stats are by no means shoddy and his ball retention and recycling under pressure are second to none. I also don’t think it is co-incidence that Arsenal’s fortunes began their current improvement when he took over the playing captain’s responsibility from Vermaelen. Arteta received a disproportionate share of the blame for the thrashings by Liverpool and Chelsea, but, as I have said elsewhere, no holding player is going to look good if the rest of the midfield (and the full backs) abandon any defensive discipline.
So Besiktas this week. Probably too soon for the Germans but hopefully we will have enough to get over this hurdle and into the Champions League draw. Onwards and upwards!