It has been well over 24 hours now since the new Premier League season began, and plenty of time to digest and reflect on what we saw unfold at the sun baked Emirates Stadium yesterday, as Sunderland came to town.
Frustration is very much the most popular word I’ve seen to describe the first 90 minutes of the campaign, as Martin O’Neill’s men shut up shop and kept us at bay, ensuring we were unable to take away anything more than a point.
It definitely wasn’t the doom and gloom that several trouble making fans/tweeters/idiotic American television show hosts made it out to be. In fact, there were plenty of positives to take from the match, which made those who brought out the picture of the ‘Wenger Out’ flag look rather a bit pathetic.
The vibrant debut of Santi Cazorla was one such positive, as the Spaniard ran the show in the middle and linked up well with those around him. Plus, his comfort and vision with the ball at his feet gave plenty of reasons for optimism about how his involvement at the club will pan out.
Whilst Cazorla was effective, it was difficult to say the same of another new boy Lukas Podolski. The German played the first hour up front and just struggled to get going and involved before his anticipated withdrawal in place of Olivier Giroud. Giroud had more of an impact, showing some good movement off the ball and probably should’ve scored in the final ten minutes when he was thread through nicely by Cazorla, only to blast wide. Cries of “van Persie would’ve buried that” unnecessarily started to circle around, and I can only imagine that had the ball fallen to Giroud’s stronger left side, he’d have done just that. Not a bad showing from the Frenchman though, and I envisage that with time both he and Podolski will grow into the side and become valuable assets.
|New boy Olivier Giroud missed Arsenal's best chance of the game.|
We were rarely troubled at the back, but there were still a few familiar nervy moments, which I’m sure will be eased out as Steve Bould stamps his mark and makes the back four unit more cohesive. In midfield we looked in control, and it was great to see Mikel Arteta back in the side, and he looked comfortable sitting as the deepest member of the middle trio offering welcomed support to the back line that was often amiss last season. Almost as satisfying as it was to see Abou Diaby make it through the match unscathed, before he was replaced by Olympian Aaron Ramsey. Both of who will be looking to impress as early as possible this season, as competition for places is sure to be hotter than ever.
Out wide it was a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Theo Walcott was one of the weakest players and struggled to make any kind of impact. Gervinho was great with the ball at his feet, and made some mesmerising runs, but much like last year, his final ball and decision making let him down. His barnet is also as peculiar as it was back in May.
I’ve seen a few people say the game had a bit of a pre-season friendly feel about it, and I think that’s a pretty fair analysis. Whilst credit must be given to Sunderland for completing their objective (park the bus and make life as difficult for us as possible) in a successful manner, I think it’s safe to say that we will see much better (and probably a lot worse) from Arsenal over the next nine months.
Let’s not forget too that we have a squad that includes some injuries, plus a few new faces. And with new faces, particularly in key central positions, we must allow time for the players to adapt, and the team to do so around them too. You never know how new players will fare when they switch clubs, especially moving to a new country in the process. I don’t think we quite understand the adaptability that that requires, leaving what’s possibly your family home behind, and moving to an unfamiliar territory where you may not know many people, or speak the mother tongue. It doesn’t always work out for everyone, and failure to settle is not uncommon in football these days.
Having a balanced and harmonious squad is imperative, and Arsene Wenger seems to value that trait at Arsenal. That appears to be backed up by his decision, that was announced shortly after full time yesterday, to sell Alex Song to Barcelona for €20m.
It’s been interesting to view the various reactions to Song’s departure. Some have brushed it off as if it is barely relevant to us, whilst others have made more of a deal out of what it means, losing a player that bagged 14 assists in all competitions last year.
|No more stupid beards or hair. Song is gone.|
I’m somewhere in the middle of the two. As a player, I thought Song was not complete, but very handy and capable as was proven on more than one occasion last season. Yes, he made mistakes. Mistakes that often put us in a great deal of problems. But while defensively he was lazy and inconsistent, the attacking aspect of his game has improved tenfold over the past year in my opinion. Cutting passes, fantastic dribbling, and (sometimes) sensational lob through balls, Song really developed his ability with the ball at his feet.
But off the field there were issues. Issues that until recently, most (if not all) of us were largely unaware of. The rumours of Wenger’s frustration at Song’s attitude and disruption grew, and it appears that it reached boiling point in the past week as the interest from Barcelona emerged. Whilst the van Persie saga went on and on, there was no such delay in shipping Song out. And given the manner in which this has unfolded, it’s tough to argue against the fact that there were detrimental problems with Alex Song that made his position at Arsenal untenable.
If Wenger was happy to offload him, then so be it. Song wanted to go to Barcelona and he has got his wish. Now he will no doubt enjoy being Sergio Busquets’ substitute, and Cesc Fabregas’ bitch. All while earning over £100k a week, with a ludicrous buy out clause of €80m. Can’t see anyone activating that any time soon. Or ever.
But life goes on, and another of last years bright sparks heads rather abruptly through the exit door. My main gripe is that again we’ve lost an experienced (and home grown) player, and whilst Song is very replaceable, the 200 appearances he’s amassed for Arsenal aren’t. It’ll be another new boy who will need time to adapt, and although I’m encouraged by the players we’re linked with, I’m concerned as to how long it will take for them to acclimatise to life in the Premier League. It could be a week, it could be a month. You just don’t know until it happens.
It might not take us long to find out though, as reports tonight are claiming that a deal has been reached between Arsenal and Real Madrid for the loan signing of Turkish international Nuri Sahin. This isn’t confirmed, but the rumour is that it’s a €2m up front fee, plus an option to purchase for €8m or first refusal for the permanent transfer of Sahin (depending on who you listen to) next summer. Either way, it’s fantastic business for a player who never got going at Real Madrid, but will add bags of quality to our midfield.
He isn’t the defensive midfield signing many have been craving for though. Several folk still believe we’re close to getting Yann M’Vila, who apparently has played his last game for Rennes tonight. This one’s gone on and on, with Wenger seemingly losing interest due to M’Vila’s fiery behaviour. I’ve no idea what the guy is like, but if that’s true then it would seem weird to get rid of Song due to his attitude only to replace him with someone who is also a possible flight risk.
Still, it’s Wenger’s call and I will continue to trust him to do the right thing. It’s great that we’re linked to such promising players though, and with little under two weeks left of the summer transfer window you can be sure that it’ll be a busy one for Dick Law, Ivan Gazidis and co.
Anyway, it’s Stoke City and their cap-wearing cunt of a manager, steaming piss of a rugby football team and toothless, six fingered set of fans next, a week today. That’ll be a tough one as it always is, so whilst we can drool over potential new recruits, it’s important the team gets focused and prepared for that hideous trip to the Britannia.
I’m sure a lot will happen between now and then. And who knows, we might even have a little bit of Turkish Delight arrive just in time for it.
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