Monday, August 10, 2015

Arsenal 0 West Ham 2

It was a devastating defeat on so many levels. This was not a start to the new season that we expected. After a very encouraging pre-season, especially on the back of the long-awaited victory over Mourinho's side last weekend, we were full of optimism for the coming season.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side that started in last Sunday's 1-0 victory in the Community Shield. Mathieu Debuchy made his first Premier League start since January to replace Hector Bellerin, who was out with a thigh injury. Olivier Giroud was named in the starting XI in place of Theo Walcott. Although the right-back selection was a forced one, these changes suggested that the boss opted for physicality over pace. A surprise inclusion in the squad was Alexis Sanchez. Although Wenger had never ruled out the possibility of the Chile international's involvement, after the Frenchman's comment that it would take another 10 days for Alexis to regain full match fitness, we were surprised to see him on the bench. With Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky still sidelined, coupled with Jack Wilshere's recent ankle injury which is likely to keep him out of action for four weeks, Wenger's attacking options were fairly limited. He must have hoped that he wouldn't have to resort to bring Alexis into action so soon. David Ospina was on the bench following his late arrival at pre-season training after international duty in the Copa America tournament. Gabriel, Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta, and Calum Chamgers were among other subs.

Our optimism and the media hype for the Gunners' title challenge were largely based on the signing of a world-class goalkeeper, so conceding two goals from the keeper's mistakes had a detrimental impact on our confidence. The Czech international was supposed to be worth 15 points a season, so the fact that his mistakes cost us 3 points in the opening game came as a great shock to us.

The first goal was registered as Cech's error, but our defenders who left Kouyate unmarked should share the blame. It was a predicament for Cech, but once he had decided to come off his line, he had to get to the ball. Arsene Wenger refused to single out the Czech international when he analyised in his post-match interview what went wrong for the first goal. The Frenchman blamed the defensive line too far from their goal against Payet's free-kick which allowed too much distance to run into (and for Cech to come out, as well). He was particularly disappointed with his experienced back four. Combined with Cech's title-winning experiences, Arsenal's back line should have coped with any set-piece threat. Whoever organises defensive lines against set plays, hopefully he will make sure that there will be no space to exploit in front of our keeper next time.

On the record, the Ox was guilty for the second goal, after his heavy touch laid the ball for Zarate to have a shot, but getting beaten at near post was extremely disappointing for the keeper of his calibre.

Our attacking was as disappointing as our defensive display. Despite 22 goal attempts and a 60.6% possession, we could not score a single goal. We looked sharp in those pre-season games, but West Ham were sharper in this game. Just like we pointed out in our post about the 2015/16 fixture list, Wenger was also aware of the east Londoners' advantage in preparations ahead of the Premier League opening game. West Ham's season started as early as at the beginning of July due to their involvement in the Europa League qualifying from the first round. They had 6 competitive games under their belt before this match. Although Slaven Bilic was made to pay for his decision to rest the first-teamers ahead of the Premier League opening game on their exit from the Europa League, his decision was vindicated this day.

Wenger was critical about the tempo and incisiveness of his side's passing in the first half. A number of passes went astray with quite a few behind the targeted players. It was not the slick-passing Arsenal we witnessed in pre-season. They did not show real intent until they went a goal down, either. Once we were 2-0 down, it was too easy for West Ham to defend. Wenger defended his timing of bringing Theo Walcott on. Probably, he wanted to make the change before West Ham scored the second goal. Actually, we saw Theo getting ready to come on well before Wenger's usual substitution time. With a two-goal cushion, Bilic's side packed their defence, ensuring that there was no space for Theo to run in behind.

Most of teams, including Chelsea, come to the Emirates to play for a goalless draw, hoping to nick a goal on the break. We need to find a way to break down those stubborn defences and score an all important first goal. This day, we did not have the edge to do so. Instead, all we saw was the same old Arsenal who tried to pass into goal.

It was a most disheartening opening game, but we still have 37 games to play. After the match, Arsene Wenger blamed nervousness for his team's below-par performance rather than complacency. Hopefully, with the opening game under their belt and valuable lessons learnt, this game will serve as a wake-up call for the team. We need to kick on quickly to avoid repeating last season's poor start. Another tricky London derby awaits us next weekend, but hopefully, this will be a lot different from the last one.

Players ratings

Cech: 4
Nightmare Premier League debut in Arsenal colours.

Debuchy: 6

Made 1 interception and 1 clearance, with 1 shot and 1 key pass. Little contribution, but we think he did OK. Replaced by Alexis in the 67th minute as Arsenal pushed on to find at least a goal.

Metesacker: 7
Put in a crucial tackle to deny Sakho in the first half. 3 tackles, 4 interceptions and 2 clearances with 1 shot on target.

Koscielny: 7
Nearly gave us a heart attack when he made a careless back pass. Fortunately, Cech was more alert than him on this occasion. 2 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 7 clearances.

Monreal: 7
Made 1 tackle and 4 clearances. Went forward as often as possible to help attack. Booked.

Coquelin: 6
His passing left much to be desired in the first half. Replaced by Theo in the 58th minute.

Ramsey: 6

His passing was also disappointing in the first half. His deflected effort hit the bar. 

Cazorla: 7
Played on the left flank in the absence of Alexis at the start, then moved to his usual central midfield position after the introduction of Alexis. Unlucky not to score when he met the Ox's lofted cross with a volley, which flew onto the roof of the net.  Had 2 shots, 1 of which was on target, creating 5 chances for his team-mates and making 76 passes with a 93.4% success rate.

Özil: 6
Özil haters had a field day, going on about how 16-year-old Reece Oxford kept the World Cup winner in his pocket, but the German playmaker still created 4 chances for his team-mates. It may have been a quiet game by his standard, but he was in the centre of some good movements. We hope to see him take more chances and have shots this season.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7

He was arguably our best player in the first half. His drive and skills were a joy to watch. His volley just missed the target. Had 3 shots, none of which were on target, with 4 key passes and 9 dribbles. He was guilty for the second goal, though. Needs to learn how to defend and keep possession in a dangerous area as this is not the first time. This mistake reminded us of the Monaco first leg and the Everton game in Asia Trophy at most recent. After Debuchy's coming off the pitch, he was moved to the right-back. Perhaps Wenger was hoping the Ox could play a Hector Bellerin role with his pace, but the England international did not look too comfortable in that position. Still he went close to score in the later stages of the game with his effort that hit the side-netting.

Giroud: 6
He had 2 glorious chances to score, which he spurned. Took 5 shots, 2 of which were on target. Some of our members are crying out for a new striker as they think "Giroud is not the answer!"


Walcott: 6
Replaced Coquelin in the 58th minute. By the time he came on the pitch, the game had changed its aspects. Failed to make a difference. Made 2 shots, none of which were on target. Made 5 passes with a 60% accuracy. 

Alexis: 6
Came off the bench to replace Debuchy in the 67th minute. Had 3 shots, 2 of which were on target, although they did not have enough power to trouble Adrian. Did not make an impact we hoped.

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