Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Arsenal 6 Southampton 1

Talking points for the team selection prior to this match were (1) who was going to replace injured Diaby as Arsene Wenger was unlikely to take a chance on the France international's fitness ahead of the important two matches in the coming week, (2) if fit-again Wojciech Szczesny would start instead of the third-choice keeper Vito Mannone, and (3) if Koscielny, who grew into one of the finest defenders last season, was to replace Per Mertesacker.

As it turned out, Coquelin started in midfield alongside with Santi Cazorla and Arteta. Some expected this as the France U-21 midfielder was more similar fit to Diaby, but others, including myself, assumed that Wenger was more likely to choose Ramsey because Coquelin would make Arsenal's midfield too defensive. Ramsey came off the bench to replace Coquelin in the 67th minutes after a spell of rallies from a Southampton side and within 10 minutes he set up a goal for Gervinho to kill off the game. Wenger's tactics were spot-on.

Szczesny resumed his service in goal, but this decision turned out to be a wrong one. Vito Mannone never put a foot wrong during the two matches in which he deputised the Pole. Mannone deserves a chance to challenge Szczesny's No. 1 status. Szczesny's goal-keeping error cost us a new record, a fourth clean sheet at top flight, and his clearance and distribution made us very nervous. After the match, it was revealed that he was carrying an ankle injury he sustained before the match. Perhaps, it affected his kicking.

As for the third point, Koscielny was left on the bench once again. It shows that we have plenty of depth in the squad at the moment. A great defender like Koscielny cannot get a starting place in the current team.

While the above changes were expected to some extent, the starting line-up supplied a larger surprise, as Gervinho came in for Olivier Giroud, who was dropped to the bench, and this was a straight swap. Gervenho was deployed as a centre forward, with Podolski on the left wing. In the post-match review, Arsene Wenger explained his decision as follows:  "I decided that during our tour of Asia when I tried to play Gervinho there against Man City in that position. I liked what he did and it was in the back of my mind. He joked "You know we transform all wingers into central strikers and all the strikers into wingers! " And on leaving Giroud on the bench, he said "I felt that he is under much pressure at the moment and sometimes to get a little breather is good". Two goals from Gervinho vindicated Wenger's bold decision.

It was a great result with another superb team performance. We have just shown the world that we are no longer a one-man team and we can score goals without Robin van Persie. Some say that the emphatic win was not worth all the plaudits as it was against a team at the bottom of the table, but the same team scored two goals against each of the Manchester clubs and gave them good games. Also, critics say the wins so far are against minnows, but aren't Liverpool supposed to be one of the big clubs?

Southampton may have been a bit unlucky, conceding two own goals. However, the own goals were the result of the relentless pressure Arsenal applied on them and if Southampton players hadn't put the ball in their own net, Arsenal players would have finished it anyway. Arsenal were unlucky not to put their own players' names on the scoresheet for those goals. Last season, Arsenal were usually stranger to this kind of good fortune. However, I could not help thinking that luck might be on our side this season or at least in this game, when Ramsey's shot was denied by the inside of the post, which then fell for Gevinho to tap in. We may have been luckier this season, but the difference is that we tend to have more players in the box this season in order to capitalise on these occasions.

Arsenal's solid start to the season is largely attributed to the improved defence. While the new attacking players were bedding in, the solid defence kept clean sheets to ensure the team's unbeaten run. What a genius strategy Arsenee Wenger came up with!

Another sublime performance from the Gunners after the dreaded international break is an encouraging sign of consistency. Keep up the good work, boys.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 4
Made a mistake, which led us to concede the first goal this season.

Jenkinson: 8
He has been improving every game. People started to recognise his work, but he still seems underrated compared with Gibbs. Yes, Gibbs are more experienced than him at the highest level, but Gibbs can also go forward more freely because he has Podolski, who is an excellent defender, in front of him. Jenkinson seems to be learning the right defence-attack balance as he went forward more often in this game. Some of his crosses and passes are good, too.

Mertesacker: 8
Reliable defensive play. Unlucky not to score.

Vermaelen: 8
Solid as usual.

Gibbs: 9
Many think he was the Man of the Match, based on his contribution to attacking play with two assists.

Cazorla: 9
He was again in the heart of Arsenal's attacking play.

Arteta: 8
With a holding midfielder in the starting line-up in the shape of Francis Coquelin, he was allowed to push further forward in this game. Made an incisive pass which allowed Gervinho to get behind the Southampton defence and smashed his effort home.

Coquelin: 8
Did his job well, by keeping up the pace of passing.

Oxlaide-Chamberlain: 8
Looked dangerous on the right flank. Made a good effort, which forced a save of the match from Kelvin Davis.

Podolski: 9
His curler was exquisite. The free-kick was right in the RVP-speciality zone, but who needs him, when you have Poldi's quality. Cazorla is another decent free-kick taker. Poldi revealed that he asked Santi to let him take the free-kick. Poldi is a very confident individual. The way his goal set the Emirates alight will only help his confidence grow further. In the build up to the first goal, he showed his physical strength to shrug off the challenge and made a wonderful run and continued it after his pass found Gibbs.

Gervinho: 9
He may be the player who has benefited most from RVP's departure. Last season, he did everything right but decisions for the final ball. Especially when he couldn't find RVP, he looked lost. His potential was already obvious in his pace and trickery. His pre-season form suggested that this would be his breakthrough season and this game was just the beginning of its manifestations. On top of his stellar performance for the Ivory Coast national team last week, the two goals against Southampton should serve as a confidence booster for him.


Ramsey: 8
Showed his technical ability in the clever turn. Provided an assist for Gervinho's second goal.

Theo Walcott: 8
74th-minute substitute for Gervinho. Scored a late goal with composed finish. Showed his class by not celebrating the goal against his old club.

Giroud: 7
Came on in the 75th minute to replace Podolski. He could have scored his first goal for Arsenal, only had Walcott made a pass in the right time when the French striker was making a parallel run in the middle unmarked.

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