It’s Too Early To Judge Arsenal
Games like that one are annoyingly hard to put into clear terms with regards to my emotional response to them. I’m unsure whether the overriding emotion is one of regret or relief. Both would be valid responses considering how the game panned out yet I still can’t decide if that was a point gained in difficult circumstances, or two points dropped against mid table opposition. I’m settling now more on slight relief being immediately overwhelmed with regret, rather like having a drunken one night stand and finding out that she’s not pregnant but you’ve picked up a burning sensation when you pee. That’s because in the environment surrounding football now, enjoyable, praiseworthy moments seem almost fleeting whilst mistakes or missed opportunities are pored over with relentless scrutiny. I’m relieved because we endured a hellish first half performance yet the manner that Liverpool stood off us in the second half and our subsequent failure to create many good chances against a distinctly average team is worrying.
When the news broke about Koscielny and Mertesacker not being in the squad, a lot of people feared the impending apocalypse but we ended up with a clean sheet, one more than when Kos and Per have played so far this season. This was largely due to an excellent display from Petr Cech, earning redemption after his errors against West Ham, and a couple of remarkably well timed recovery tackles from Coquelin.
Chambers appeared extremely nervy with his distribution and decision making lacking and this seemed to spread throughout the team in the first half. To his credit however he did compose himself and perform far better in the second half. He finds himself in a difficult situation this season where he is the 3rd choice RB and the 4th choice CB. Even if he performs well, unless long term injury strikes his teammates then his performances will be seriously limited. At this stage in his career he needs regular game time to continue his progression yet he is unable to leave on loan without leaving us short in defence. A tricky conundrum for Arsene Wenger to solve. Beside him Gabriel again showcased his assets, particularly his recovery pace and aerial prowess. He also assumed responsibility of taking on Benteke in the second half, after Chambers had struggled with him in the first period. Whether this was his or the managers decision it benefited the team with the Belgian a more subdued presence second half. One problem we did have was mistiming of the offside trap which is understandable in players that haven’t played together. With Chambers inexperienced and Gabriel not able to sufficiently communicate there was a visible lack of communication between the two which led to a few Liverpool chances.
A mention has to be made for Monreal, with yet another good game on the left. He completely nullified Firmino, their £30m signing, and made countless runs to overlap with Alexis. Nacho has truly made that position his own and continues to be one of our most consistent performers.
Whilst the storm we weathered in the first half can be put down to missing players, what may be of greater concern is that we seemed to be struggling to create chances and there has been a lack of cohesion between the players so far. Now I understand that it’s the start of the season and players may not be 100% yet but that’s 5 out the last 6 home games we’ve failed to score in and we really can’t afford to fall behind any further so soon. I can also see why people would say we had one ruled out and a stonewall penalty on Giroud not given but in 90 minutes we really should be producing more moments where we pose a genuine threat to the opposition goal.
Liverpool had an inexperienced, undisciplined (3 yellows in 3) player in new LB Gomez yet aside from one Ramsey turn we gave him no real concerns during the game. Bellerin’s desire to stay and protect Chambers prevented him from overlapping and providing the width we’ve grown accustomed to from him whilst Ramsey’s instructions to seek out pockets of space and link up play meant he didn’t often challenge the LB. Many were crying out for Chamberlain to feature and attack that potential weak link yet as shown in the past, Arsene remains hesitant to play the Ox in front of Bellerin and he didn’t feature until the closing minutes of the game. Whilst Ox certainly provides a direct approach I can completely understand why he missed this game. His tendency to concede possession in vulnerable areas, in a game where the defence is already under considerable pressure, is one that may have caused Arsene to hesitate before introducing him.
Mesut had a good game, showing for the ball and trying to initiate moves but he found it difficult with Alexis still not looking sharp and Giroud being shackled by the Liverpool CB pairing (if you feel like being annoyed re-watch the game and look at how many penalties we should have had from Skrtel grappling Giroud at corners). We just seem to be too predictable at times in attack and the chaos factor Alexis brings is blunted right now by his lack of match fitness. Hopefully we will regain sharpness and soon reintroductions or Wilshere and Welbeck may add some attacking impetus.
A problem facing us now is that everyone is strengthening, not just the title contenders. The influx of TV revenue is bringing players that would be regarded as CL calibre to mid-table and even relegation threatened clubs. Our strength over the last years has been our ability to put the weaker teams to the sword but the additions they are making suggests that the league is going to be a lot more competitive. Can we afford to make only one addition, albeit one of such renowned pedigree in Cech? I believe that not every squad improvement has to be a signing, it can also be as a result of player growth or team cohesion. However would it be naïve to go into the season hoping someone like Chamberlain, Welbeck or even Walcott has the sort of season Bellerin had last year when he cemented a place in the team and astounded everyone with his displays? Probably. We need to consider that not only have our competitors (City, Chelsea) reinforced and in City’s case rejuvenated their squads but also that the calibre of player available to all teams in the league is improving.
We’ve taken 4 points out of 9, 5 less than most people would probably have been expecting considering the games and their locations. However this leaves us precisely 0 points behind the current champions. With 105 points still available it seems strange to make predictions about where the title may be headed. People seem determined to say we’re out of the running yet the same people would say that if we’d won 9 points that it would be too early to tell how the season would go. Can we win the league with the current team? Yes. Will we? I’ve absolutely no idea and I’m quite looking forward to seeing how it pans out.
I’m @GoonerDyllan and thanks for reading.
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