I’m writing a day late because I wasn’t able to finish watching the whole game yesterday, and I didn’t want to comment too much on what I didn’t watch. Regardless, I have now finished and have taken several things away from the game that I think are worth mentioning.
And there were a lot of things noteworthy during this game. From the question of Vito Mannone, the play of Arteta, scoring, defending, and a lot more. I’m only going to look at three of them, as per usual.
Lukas Podolski, Oliver Giroud, and Santi Cazorla.
There, I said it.
It seems like every single article I read about Arsenal these days has to mention these guys in concert. They have to be put together and talked about because they’re what’s really new about the team. Despite the return of Diaby, the formation shuffle, and the seemingly adaptive style of play so far this season (some of which I’ll get to in a minute), it’s those three that have to be mentioned together like they’re the three little pigs. So despite the fact that I have things I could happily discuss about Cazorla’s continually impressive pin-point passing, Giroud’s trouble scoring despite bringing a much needed physicality and mentality to the front line, and Podolski’s deserved swagger that seems to be developing, from here on I’m leaving them out. Just seems like the right thing to do.
1) What are the real questions about Arsenal this season? Correct me if I’m wrong, but a lot of the questions that people tagged Arsenal with seem to slowly be getting answers. No, things certainly are not perfect right now, but the game against Liverpool went a little further to answering some of those questions we were all so afraid of even just a week ago. Where will the scoring come from? Can we replace the massive haul of goals that came from one player last year? No, but a more balanced approach may prove to be a more dangerous one. This is a team that isn’t trying to force things in, even if the play is square and the opponent is round (so to speak). Will the midfield hold together without Alex Song? It may look different, but it’s working so far. Mikel Arteta is taking his defensive responsibilities seriously and playing aggressively. He’s still looking like the possition is a little against some of his instincts at time, but he’s been solid enough so far and seems to have formed a great partnership with Diaby, who’s playing extremely well. What about the defense? Three clean sheets in three games sounds pretty good to me. Were Stoke and Sunderland ever expected to light us up? No, but keeping Liverpool off the board, and doing what needed to be done against the other two is a positive start. Per Mertesacker has looked solid, Thomas Vermaelen has been all over the place, and although Mannone has just done what’s been asked of him and looks like he’s being covered for the rest, it’s been exactly what’s needed. There are much stiffer challenges to come, and questions will be asked of our defense, but Steve Bould seems to have brought a settled hand to a defense that has been much maligned in recent seasons.
2) Service has just been terrible for three games. If there is a specific area that I have to point out as being absolutely, ridiculously, ludicrously, (other negative adjective)-ly bad for these three games it’s service from the wings. For three games we have watched every player who takes a swing from out wide knock the ball ten yards over everyone’s head and past the box, or lob it hopefully in to watch it be easily cleared by lumbering defenders who don’t even have to stretch for the ball, or see the first defender clear it with ease. No matter who has been out there, Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaby on a wide run, Gibbs, even Walcott’s few minutes, the service has been a complete waste. I don’t expect us to fill the net from the air, but if we can’t even get the ball into the box on a cross, that makes the defensive planning by opponents that much easier. Even if it’s not a major component of our attack, it has to be better.
3) The times, they are a’changing…maybe. It was a much more wide open game against Liverpool. ‘Pool played very well I thought, but were too frantic in the attacking end. They gave us a handful. The possession was close, but did go to Liverpool. The shots went to Liverpool. It was a very different looking game from the park-and-counter teams we’ve seen the last two weeks. And Arsenal seemed to be able to adapt. Not that they didn’t have their moments of tiki-taka looking football, but they were sitting back more as Liverpool owned the ball, and took their chances on the counter. They defended aggressively late in the game and our central defenders even did a little of their own bullying in the middle. There was a physicality to the Arsenal side that we’ve been criticized for lacking in recent years. We went after the net, we countered, we played tough and agressive, we defended well…these are not qualities Arsenal have been noted for. In my notes on the first game of the season I said that this team looked like it was more of the same, referring to many of the criticisms leveled against us for multiple seasons now, and that I just hoped time would prove that this was a different kind of team. Yesterday’s game was a sign that that hope might pay off. It’s not that I don’t love Arsenal’s style of play, quite the contrary. It’s a huge part of why I’m a fan, but there are times where being a slave to style betrays a team…what’s really needed is to step into the game and do whatever is required to win, adapt, fight. This is something Arsenal have struggled with. But yesterday was a different story and the result bears that out.
BONUS — 4) Luis Suarez is an ass. Seriously, if you are blanching at that statement, go back and watch the game. That guy’s an ass.