Two games, two draws, no goals. Not ideal reading is it? There are some positives to glean from a game that will not be long remembered – we didn’t concede at the Britannia Stadium for the first time in the Premier League. Finally, it looked as though we were sound defensively, and used intelligence to nullify a threat that has been realised on each of our previous visits. We didn’t concede a single corner. We limited the number of free-kicks in our half. Set-pieces were almost a non-event, much like the game itself.
Gooner nerves weren’t always as calm – as the team sheet was announced the news came through that neither Szczesny or Fabianski were fit enough to play any part, and in came our third-choice stopper Vito Mannone. I’d imagine that the young Italian will have more difficult days betwixt the sticks. That was down to the defence, and the work of the defenders is the main (only?) positive to be drawn from the match.
Lining up with Mertesacker marking Crouch, Vermaelen detailed to Walters and Jenkinson and Gibbs at full-back, their first test came early on. Crouch drifted across to Vermaelen, won a knock-down with ease – Walters picked it up and smashed past Mannone. If you’d have kept your eyes on the players though, you’d have seen a vintage one-arm salute from the backline. Offside. Breathe. Is this the influence of Steve Bould?
It was really the only time that the defence looked too stretched, Jenkinson marshaled Kightly well down the right. The centre-backs marked Crouch and Walters out of the game – Crouch’s performance was one of the most subdued I’ve ever seen against us. Diaby and Arteta covered well too, with Diaby cutting off a lot of the supply to Crouch. Gibbs down the left was combining well with Podolski, as well as taking a less-than-100% Jermaine Pennant out of the game.
Look any further forward though, and the positives dry up. Cazorla buzzed, Giroud bustled but otherwise we looked devoid of ideas, and those we did have were poorly executed. Quite a lot of this was down to Stoke narrowing the game and forcing first Podolski and Gervinho then Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain to play centrally. This undid our likely Plan A – get balls into the box for Olivier Giroud to attack. Unfortunately, the width wasn’t available and we played far too much in front of the Stoke ranks. The best chance came from Giroud, again, who floated a wonderful-looking lob that drifted just over – our best chance from a shot outside the box, whatever next!?
Gervinho in particular was wasteful, reverting back to the player from last season who looks indecisive on the ball and taking too many touches, rather than the quick-minded direct actions he’d shown during pre-season. I think I’d have preferred Oxlade-Chamberlain from the outset – his power and control already seem in excess of the Ivorian’s and a greater role is surely crying out for the youngster this season.
The 4-3-3 again didn’t seem to work well, although Giroud performed the role of the centre forward more effectively than Podolski last week. With Podolski’s close control looking good, it almost seems worth trying a more traditional 4-4-2 with both Podolski and Giroud playing in tandem rather than trying to shoe-horn three forwards into a line-up that doesn’t really work. Whatever happens, goals have got to come – and soon.
In his post-match comments the manager chose to concentrate on the attackers;
“We lack a little bit of oil in our engine in the final third. What looks completely natural when we are at our best still is not there, and we have to work on that”
Which is more or less what I think most fans would agree with. The problem has its roots though in the midfield. Arteta, who Arsene described before the game as a ‘little general’, is being asked to perform a role that negates the best aspects of his game; Diaby is still lacking that burst of pace that makes him dangerous and Cazorla is still trying to link with the strikers. One more quality signing in the midfield is needed, and that is someone to anchor the middle; to allow Arteta or Diaby greater freedom to move forward and play higher up the pitch.
Song was never the long term answer to this – he lacked the defensive discipline. And for him to claim that he wanted to stay at the club for life, as he appears to have done this morning – what utter nonsense. We’re not done in the transfer market yet, I just hope Arsene has his eyes on the right position – and not to be swayed by the lack of goals in our first two games.
So, Liverpool next who look inconsistent, but improved against City. Hmmm. Let’s do a goal-dance…