EAGLES OF CRYSTAL PALACE
Saturday marked the return of the English Premier League and along with it, my beloved Arsenal. With the titular match of the opening day, Arsenal played host to Crystal Palace in a similar fashion to last season’s home stand against the Eagles. Arsenal won in what many are calling an unconvincing fashion, and that is convincing enough for me.
Sounds like tongue-twisting, mind-melting reasoning, I know. It was a grinder of a match. This is the kind of match we can continue to expect from well-organized, tough-nosed clubs. Although Tony Pulis was not the acting manager for Palace, his tracksuited influence is still very present. Arsenal was the better team over the course of 90 minutes. In years past, being the better team over 90 minutes against a defensive minded club meant a draw, or worse.
Starting some point last season, Arsenal began winning these unconvincing matches. The term unconvincing seems disingenuous to me. Bulk of possession, bulk of chances, control of the match, and people are unconvinced? What is unconvincing, not scoring 3 or more goals? Manchester United made a legacy out of winning unconvincing matches, it’s time Arsenal does a bit of the same. Anyway, it’s an ingredient of a championship winning side, and I am glad the team has picked up where it left off last year.
Speaking of championships: A championship winning football season is all too much like birthing a child. Morning sickness, uncontrollable fits of rage, binge eating and drinking, overwhelming elation, all starting with one night. Step one is in the bag, the seed, so to speak, is planted. Hopefully nine months from now we are pulling a trophy out from between our legs.
What I Enjoyed
See unconvincing win above. Grindin’.
Callum Chambers has continued to impress. Callum will be pressing Per and Koscielny for their starting jobs for the foreseeable future. We are quickly ditching the “gamble” narrative on Wenger’s purchase, and moving back to his uncanny ability to spot talent.
What I Did Not Enjoy
The striker dilemma. Sanogo is still very much finding his legs. Like a fawn, he is still wobbly on his limbs. This alone causes some concern; one of our starting strikers is still finding his sea legs. However, I do feel that he has received excessive criticism. Typically that kind of excess is reserved for Giroud, and my gut tells me that if Giroud had started over Yaya, this conversation would be flipped around. Nonetheless, the strikers need to be more clinical in front of goal. It’s excellent that they can hold up and flick nice balls to onrushing midfielders, but when it’s time to put the laces through a ball and finish a play, I’m left yearning for more.
Maybe it is me though. Perhaps our hold up men are doing exactly what Wenger wants. Maybe I just don’t like that.
Defensive injuries are already a concern. Gibbs is out with a hamstring issue and Koscielny is battling a chronic achilles issue. Kos played in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas (see below), but this injury will rear it’s ugly head again.
Alexis Sanchez is a brilliant footballer. I love that he is willing to take players on, but I don’t want him to do it 100% of the time. He changed his play in the second half, but for the first 45 mins he was trying to pick a lock with a wet salmon. Palace suffocated his side of the pitch. Alexis did not move the ball to the middle or opposite side of the field enough, where Palace had conceded space. Instead he continued to follow his natural inclination to dribble past defenders, to no avail. I’m really looking forward to when the trust among all the new pieces starts to cement.
BLACK EAGLES OF BESIKTAS
The Champions League is often a repeated cycle of the same old nuisances. The pitch was a slightly nicer version of the San Siro from the 2012 clash against AC Milan. The ref issued a soft second yellow card to our star player much like the infamous Massimo Busacca did during the 2011 match against Barcelona. Traveling to Turkey is never an easy challenge, and Besitkas has made the return leg an interesting one. Nothing that can’t be overcome in the home leg, but enough to rustle my jimmies for the time being.
What I Enjoyed
I criticized Sanchez above for his performance against Palace, but he had the right balance of dribble and pass against Besitkas. Aside from some poor corners, he was Arsenal’s biggest threat going forward. He was arguable the only shining component to an overall shit evening in Istanbul.
What I Didn’t Enjoy
Giroud is not in form. This is the most divisive on field topic for Arsenal supporters. I don’t tote any particular side of the “Giroud isn’t good enough” debate. I go back and forth. I currently have the feeling that he’s just not hitting his stride. I usually praise him for his flicks and hold up play, but even that was miserable. Ramsey fed him a wonderfully chipped ball, to leave him one on one with the keeper and he completely flubbed the first touch, or was it his shot? I have no clue, but it was just ugly.
The team as a whole looked disjointed. Jack Wilshere in particular did whatever you call the opposite of shine against the Black Eagles. Wilshere likes to invite the opposition to challenge for the ball, mostly resulting in either slowing down the play, taking a whack, or losing the ball cleanly. The expectation is to lure in defenders and create space vacated by said defender. The team is either ignoring this space, or Wilshere isn’t finding it with the oncoming challenge. In any case, the result is frustration. The man is in a serious need of a confidence boost.
Arsene Wenger’s substitution of Alexis Sanchez was a massive head scratcher. Sanchez was taken off for Oxlade-Chamberlain with about 15 minutes to go. I don’t question bringing on the Ox, just whom he replaced. Santi, Jack, or Oliver were all better candidates to come off the pitch. The only remote reasoning is that Wenger is thinking ahead to Saturday away to Everton. Oft criticized in recent years for his inability to man-manage, this could be his way of preserving Sanchez, but with the importance of Champions League football for the club, I can’t see it.
Mikel Arteta picked up an injury. Does this force Wenger’s hand in the transfer market? Is he confident in the existing crop of aging or quasi-holding midfielders? We’ll know for sure in less than two weeks.
Football is back, enjoy the ride folks.
Until next time,