I’m not going to lie…I was straight up nervous going into this weekend’s game against Manchester City. It wasn’t that I didn’t have faith in the Gunners, far from it actually. I knew that win, lose, or draw, this one game wasn’t going to define us, and we could go on to have a great season no matter what happened here. But I was still nervous the same way anyone gets before they take a test. And make no mistake, yesterday was just that: a test. Reactions to the Arsenal early season results went from being way overly optimistic to not taking any of it seriously because of who we’ve played. Even the win at Liverpool was to be taken with a grain of salt because of the season ‘Pool are having thus far. So the butterflies were kicking around in my stomach because I knew that this game meant something about our progress so far, and I wanted us to acquit ourselves well. All in all the 1-1 draw wasn’t the best outcome we could have gotten out of that game, and that’s actually a good thing. We looked like we were on very even keel with City, but I believe we should have won it. Here’s some of the thoughts I had while watching the game:
1) Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey are really frustrating players. And it’s for two different reasons. Ramsey frustrates me because the issues I have with him seem to be his mental game. He obviously has the skills to play well and be an important part of the first team, but he tries to do way too much with the ball. He’s one of the few Arsenal players who doesn’t just play the simple option more often than not. He tries to dribble out of trouble. He tries to play tricky passes or chooses the fancy ball over the simple one. He takes poor first touches because he’s not looking at the next move he’ll make. He doesn’t go into tackles straight up, instead trying to flick the ball away or poke at it. I’m not impressed with these parts of his game, and I get frustrated watching attacks stall at his feet and his passes going astray. He’s not settled in when he’s playing. He seems to me to be the nervous animal running around among the calm members of the team.
Gervinho’s touch let him down multiple times, but only in scoring position. He made good runs, played good passes, and did well stretching and putting pressure on the City defense, but multiple times his final touch, final shot, chance to score was terrible. The question he presents, and it’s a frustrating one for the team, is to figure out whether it’s just his game or if he needs to play through it. This isn’t the first time this has been his M.O. and it needs to be given consideration that he might not be able to contribute as a regular starter in the attack.
2) There will be selection problems on the horizon. With several players, including Jack Wilshire and Bacary Sagna, looking to be returning in the near future (some sooner than others), there will be some issue over who should be playing. Carl Jenkinson has played well at right back, but should he stay in the side after Sagna is healthy? Who should find the bench after Wilshire comes back, assuming he gets back up the best 11? Which of the three center backs should be on the field once they’re all healthy? Per Mertesacker has made a case that he should be one of the first considered, so what does that do to Laurent Koscielny, who showed very well yesterday? How about the keeper battle going on? And then there are the issues of fatigue. Who can be selected to replace Cazorla when he needs his inevitable rest? What about Arteta or Podolski? These are the questions that will define Arsenal’s season as much as any playing style questions at this point.
3) Are Manchester City really the team to beat this year? What about Manchester United? Okay, so this isn’t really an Arsenal question directly, but it does affect the squad. Manchester City did not look completely convincing to me on Sunday. They struck me as (for lack of a better word) sloppy to be quite honest…I mean, as much as a professional squad can be at this level. They were very individualistic, they didn’t take chances, they had passes missing the mark, they went on too many dribble runs that ended in nothing. I just wasn’t as impressed (or as scared) as I’d expected to be. Are they really the team to beat this year? An for all of United’s win’s so far, they haven’t looked the part either. They seem to be getting covered by (truly unfortunately) a few moments of luck (or whatever you want to call it) that comes along with being a good team…i.e.-getting calls, having a good bounce go your way, etc… The obvious answer is that they’re still good teams that will be in the hunt and are finding ways to keep it together even when they’re not playing well, but the reality is that a team can’t ride that through an entire season, and how they handle the inevitable ebb of those moments will determine if they are challenging deep in the season, or just staying afloat. For the moment Chelsea is the only team to actually impress me with their potential credentials, and even they have had their moments.