Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Crystal Palace 1 Arsenal 2

Arsenal have finally got off the mark for the season after they came away with hard-fought three points from Selhurst Park on Sunday. Many supporters feared this could be an even more trickier encounter than the West Ham game at home last weekend. Crystal Palace has made ambitious signings this summer and they are a good counter-attacking team.

Arsene Wenger rang two changes from the side that started in a 2-0 defeat to West Ham on the opening weekend. Fit-again Hector Bellerin replaced Mathieu Debuchy at the right-back, who dropped to the bench. Alexis Sanchez made his first start of the season on the left wing. We were surprised to see Aaron Ramsey retain his place in the starting XI at the expense of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after the Welshman's lackrustre performance in his preferred central position the week before. Meanwhile, Santi Cazorla reclaimed his more familiar deep-lying central midfield role next to Francis Coquelin, a move that came as no surprise. Olivier Giroud was preferred over Theo Walcott once again. Among the substitutes were David Ospina, Gabriel, and Mikel Arteta.

The boss demanded a response from his players after the disappointing loss at home. If they succumbed to another defeat, the consequence would be detrimental to their belief and title credentials, but Wenger got what he wanted, a strong response.

Both sides started the game with blistering pace. Arsenal were a different team to the one a week ago with crisp passing, sense of purpose and penetration. We saw glimpses of Arsenal at their fluent best. For the neutrals, it was a quite entertaining game, with all the ingredients for a good football match. Both teams were excellent in counter-attacking and the game was played with high tempo. Even the scoreline swayed to make it even more interesting. In the second half, as Wenger admitted, his side could not keep the high temp (but he assured us that it would come later in the season) and neither could their opposition. The game started looking more like a war of attrition, where mental strength and tactical changes spoke volumes rather than the quality of performance. Although Palace pushed hard for an equaliser, the Gunners looked more likely to add another goal to kill off the game.

The major talking point after the game was whether Coquelin should have been sent off. Views across the football fans and media seemed to be split on this issue. To be honest, at the time, we feared the worst. The north Londoners were 2-1 up, but having had to protect the lead for the remaining 30 minutes with 10 men would have been extremely difficult, especially with the hosts psychologically boosted by the numerical advantage. After being let off with just a verbal caution, the French holding midfielder was clearly agitated by the home crowd's hostility, which left Wenger no choice but to take him off the pitch. The Ox came on in his place, with Rambo moved to the central midfield alongside Santi. With 15 minutes to go, Wenger decided to close down the game rather than chasing a third goal, with the result that he sent Arteta and then Kieran Gibbs on.

Immediately after Coquelin was called back from Charlton, he was shown a yellow card every game, but eventually he ironed out fouls from his game and made himself indispensable in this Arsenal team. He has not rediscovered last season's form yet, but hopefully he will hit the ground running soon. On a positive note, the club captain, Mikel Arteta, made his first Premier League appearance since November last year and had a decent game.

Nacho Monreal said prior to the game that they needed to play a perfect game to get their Premier League campaign back on track. It was not a perfect performance by any means, but at least it was convincing enough to make the media believe that the West Ham game was nothing more than a blip.

Despite the improved performance, we still have a lot to learn. We need to learn how to keep the possession in our own half. The players seemed to have been encouraged by their resilient defensive display, but when they win the ball back in their own box, their second ball has always been disappointing. Misplaced passes put them straight back under pressure. If they can manage to retain the possession in dangerous areas and control the game even when they are holding on to a narrow lead, we can watch them play more comfortably. The game might have been "nice for the suspense" (according to Giroud) for neutrals, but the supporters cannot endure this all through the season.

It was a good win and great to put points on the board finally. Liverpool at home is not an easy game, but certainly winnable as our recent home record against them indicates. They don't come to the Emirates to play for a goalless draw like other teams, so it will be another open game. By beating one of big clubs, hopefully, we can make a big statement.

Players ratings

Cech: 7
Could have done little to stop Ward's effort going in.

Bellerin: 7

Coped well with the pace of Crystal Palace wingers. Made 5 tackles, 1 interception, and 4 clearances. Provided width for attacking by going forward. Could have claimed an assist if our second goal had been given to Alexis instead of Delaney's own goal.

Metesacker: 7
Made 8 clearances, but no tackles or interceptions. 

Koscielny: 7
Made 2 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 7 clearances. Claimed Whoscored.com's second highest rating for the players on the pitch of 7.86, but he was at least partly guilty for Ward's goal by turning his back to it.

Monreal: 7
Made 2 tackles,1 interception and 5 clearances. Delivered some good crosses (4 in total) and overlapped well with Alexis. He failed to spot the run  behind him  in the build-up for the Crystal Palace goal, though.

Coquelin: 6
Made 6 tackles, 1 interception and 2 clearances. Probably lucky to stay on the pitch.

Ramsey: 7

Apparently, he was told to try and get in between the lines, not stay outside, to come inside by the boss. So, the Welshman coming inside in this game was a tactical move rather than his tendency. Got in dangerous positions. Unlucky not to score when his clever effort drew a fine reflex save from McCarthy. Had 4 shots, 2 of which were on target, creating 4 chances. Made 4 tackles as well.

Cazorla: 7
He was Sky Sports' Man of the Match. Was excellent when he had the ball, but less than impressive when he did not have the ball. Had 2 shots, one of which were on target. Made 4 key passes.

Özil: 8
Most of the media named him the Man of the Match. Wenger praised his performance, describing him "magnificent". Made 55 passes with a staggering 98.2% accuracy, including 5 key passes. In fact, he only misplaced one pass out of 55 he made. Claimed an assist for Giroud's goal with his superb cross, one of 10 crosses he delivered. Wenger pointed out that he started making runs behind the defence. Unfortunately, one of those runs were adjudged off side, but it is good to see him trying to add new dimensions to his game.

Alexis 7

First start of the season and nearly claimed a goal. His desire led to Delaney's own goal. It was clear that with Alexis in the team, Arsenal are a better side, but he also showed some rustiness in his slow decision-making. Apparently, Wenger said that "sharper" Alexis would have scored 5 or 6 goals this day. Made 7 attempts at goal, 2 of which were on target. Withdrawn in the 75th minute. 

Giroud: 7
Scored a stunning goal. Great finish, but we prefer him scoring scrappy or simple goals more often rather than wonder goals sparingly. Still, he worked hard in particular defensively.


Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Replaced Coquelin in the 64th minute. Had a great chance towards the end of the game, but failed to convert it.

Arteta: 6
Came off the bench to replace Alexis in the 75th minute. Made 4 tackles, including a crucial tackle in the box.

Gibbs: N/A
Sent on in the 83rd minute for Özil to see out the victory.  

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