Monday, August 20, 2012

Arsenal 0 Sunderland 0

The media were quick to conclude from the scoreline that Arsenal cannot score without RVP. Giroud missed a glorious chance to get an elusive goal, which they say RVP would have buried. But would he?

Since the Dutchman's disrespectful announcement on his official website, we were in favour of selling him for the right price (preferably to an overseas club), based on our view that he is unlikely to reproduce the last season's stellar performance. He would probably have kept his professional attitude and given 100% for Arsenal's cause should he have had to stay at Arsenal for anther year, because it only increases his value at the end of the season or come January. However, we were very much in doubt as to his goal-scoring form, as he missed a number of clear-cut chances towards the end of the last season and in the Euros. RVP may have secured three points for us last season in those tight situations with a touch of his brilliance, like the legendary volley against Everton, but we don't know if he would have done the same in this game.

A goalless draw was not the result that we hoped for. It was very difficult to break down stubborn Sunderland defence, especially when their keeper produced a man-of-the match performance. They defended resolutely and deserved credit for that. In his post-match interview, Arsene Wenger expressed his preference to an away game for the season opening. The only way for teams like Sunderland to play an open game is to play in front of their home crowd. Coming to the Emirates, most of teams sit back in their half and hope for a draw.

Obviously, the boss was not happy with the team's attack. He blamed the speed of passing and the lack of creativity in the final third for the disappointing result, but we thought Arsenal created a number of chances and played some attractive football. Despite the major changes in personnel, all the Arsenal trade-mark traits were in this game, with a 70% possession and the passing success rate of a staggering 90.4%. Arsenal ended up without end-products, but certainly created plenty of chances.

One player who particularly impressed us was Santi Cazorla. He was technically good, provided creative sparks and worked very hard. He orchestrated Arsenal attack. Most of all, he looked as if he had been playing for Arsenal for a number of years. He fitted into Arsenal's style seamlessly. He looked tired on a few occasions, but he didn't stop working despite having played a friendly for the Spanish national team (and scored a goal) only three days ago in Puerto Rico. He has already proved to be a great steal.

Pundits are harsh on Podolski. Personally, I didn't think he played too badly. There were a couple of occasions which suggested Podolski needed to adapt to the speed of English football. Arsene initially planed to introduce the Germany international and Giroud slowly to the English Premier League, but the departure of RVP didn't allowed such luxury. The striker pair had a relatively short preparation time due to their participation in the Euros and the team didn't have enough pre-season matches due to the postponement of the annual Emirates Cup competition and the planned Nigerian tour. Giroud was clearly not fully match fit, hence his start from the bench. There were plenty of encouraging signs in this game to show that there will be more to come from the two new signings as they increase their sharpness.

When Arsenal introduced the current 4-3-3 formation three seasons ago, it took quite a few games before RVP started scoring goals. Hopefully, it won't take as long as that before Podolski and Giroud will start showing what they are capable of. Wenger seems to intend to play Podolski as a center forward, but is it possible to play both of them at the same time. It may have to involve changes in the system, but it is an exciting prospect that Giroud plays a centre-forward role with Podolski just behind him. We are not quite sure if the wide position is the best position for Podolski.

We had conceded for some time that RVP would play elsewhere this season, but we were not ready to part with Alex Song. As far as RVP's transfer is concerned, we believe that Arsenal did the right thing and did a good business, selling a notoriously injury-prone 29-year-old player with only 12 months left in his contract for £24 million (although selling him to the rivals was not ideal). On the other hand, £15 million for an established Premier-League player at the age of 24 with 2 years left in his contract does not look a good deal in Arsenal's perspective. Song's departure hurts us because it raises a question why we have to sell our best players and rebuild the team every year. Maybe we should blame the ungrateful players, but this issue needs to be addressed.

Regarding a replacement, Wenger stated Jack Wishere will be back soon (a month and half is not soon enough for fans!) and Diaby is back, as well as a possible new recruitment (Nuri Sahin?). Those two players we have are more attack-minded than a traditional defensive midfielder. I would like to see a new signing who dedicates most of his attention to defence and provide a good cover and protection for the back-four. Then, we will have options of midfielders, depending on whom we play against.

Although the result was disappointing, there are a lot of positives to take from this game. A clean sheet is always nice. Arsenal defence was not too much troubled after they had weathered Sunderland's counterattacks in early stages, but there was still some defending to do. They looked solid at the back.

It's early days yet. Hopefully, Arsene Wenger will find the right formula for the team. The next game looks even more difficult as any game at the Britania stadium proves to be a tough one, but hopefully, we will get a better result next Sunday.

Player ratings

Szczezny: 7
Two good saves and one mistake, perhaps from boredom, which he got away with. Not much to do after Sunderland had decided to settle for a goalless draw.

Jenkinson: 7
Not troubled defensively. Some sloppy passes.

Mertesacker: 6
Caught out on two occasions.

Vermaelen: 7
Solid as usual.

Gibbs: 7.5
Good going forward as well.

Cazorla: 8
Our Man of the Match. He was always dangerous going forward. Unlucky not to score with the 20-yard screamer,

Arteta: 7
Did his job, mopping up loose balls. Some good exchanges with Cazorla. His free-kicks and corners left much to be desired, though.

Diaby: 7
Worked hard and got forward a number of times. Although he ran out of steam in the second half, he is nearly where he was before the lengthy injury, with his trade-mark thrust forward. Had a great chance to score.

Gervinho: 7
Continued his pre-season form.

Walcott: 6
Largely quiet. He missed a couple of good chances.

Podolski: 7


Giroud: 5
Replaced Podolski in 63 minutes. Sliced a shot wide after being beautifully set up by Cazorla.

Ramsey: 7
68th-minute substitution for Diaby. Involved in some nice attacking moves.

Arshavin: 6
77th-minute substitution for Walcott. Did not make an impact.

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