An extremely pleasing win and a timely confidence boost before the international break. Despite the odd scare, the recent defensive solidity continued, and the main impact of Steve Bould’s promotion seems to be the positioning of the back four, both in open play and at set pieces. The differences were subtle, but the central defenders seemed to be closer together and working more as a team, and the full backs seemed to have a greater understanding of the movement of the centre back on their side.
For me, man of the match was Abou Diaby, whose strength defensively, pace breaking forwards and close control in tight areas totally dominated the central midfield. Most impressively, his passing was crisper and more well judged than has often been the case, and he showed just how much of an impact he can have this year if he can finally stay clear of injury.
Two of the new boys settled the result. Podolski’s work-rate and ability to judge when to stick or twist were very pleasing to see, as was his fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship with our new fulcrum, Cazorla, who uses the ball and retains it with astonishing control. Both seem to be unafraid to shoot when the chance arises, and the German has proved at every level that he is no mug in front of goal. Opta France’s David Wall has confirmed their understanding statistically: Podolski and Cazorla have exchanged 53 passes so far this season. Cazorla and Giroud: 17. Podolski and Giroud: four. This connection is particularly facilitated by the Spaniard’s lateral movement in the ‘hole’ combining with Podolski’s diagonal and straight long runs.
Certainly at £11m and £12-15m they are bargains in the current climate, even taking into account the fiscal downturn engulfing Europe.
At the back, Jenkinson, despite his limited technical ability and one suicidal cross-field pass early on, seems more assured positionally this year, as well as having developed the physical strength to complement his stamina and pace. He is definitely a full-back rather than a wing back, but some solidity in the defence is no bad thing, especially for a back up player.
Gibbs seems to have cemented his position as first choice left back, and despite his tendency to push forward before the team has fully controlled possession, he deserves it. More athletic than Andre Santos, he uses the ball almost as well in the final third, and seems to be slowly adding more bite to his tackling. As ever, fitness is the question mark.
It also feels great knowing that we finally have three fit quality central defenders, each with different skillsets who can complement each other.
It isn’t all roses, however. I have concerns about Arteta’s lack of athleticism in the role his is currently filling, and against a pacey midfield I feel he could be exposed. Olivier Giroud seems to have no change of pace, and at present is putting pressure on himself to score. His movement is good, however, and he has none of Chamakh’s reluctance to shoot so given time should score goals. There does seem a question mark over whether he can adjust fully to Arsenal’s passing style, as despite his solid link up play, he is not the most nimble with the ball at his feet. That said, the onus is also on his team-mates to improve the quality of their crossing, as the games so far have seen several balls from wide areas whistle over his head.
Much as in his first spell in the team, Mannone seems a lucky charm and an accident waiting to happen at the same time. Veering from dominant to hesitant and back again, with seemingly random handling skills, he does have a habit of making big saves and getting away with clangers. No real threat to the number 1 jersey, but could do worse as a back up.
Arsenal have also been shown just how much they miss their former captain, as Van Persie has scored 4 in 3 games for Man Utd, and is the only reason last years runners up are above us in the table. It is certainly tempting to think that without the Dutchman’s betrayal of his former principles that it would probably be played three won three.
It is also worth remembering that Liverpool have problems. If Suarez gets injured, I have no idea where they will get goals from. Borini has a decent record, but seems a poacher rather a deep-lying striker, target man or ball carrier, which is what they need to support the Uruguayan. Personally, given his constant diving, winding up of opponents, leaving his foot late in challenges and seeming unrepentant attitude regarding last year’s racism controversy, I hope that some lower league clogger or UEFA cup bruiser does him a disservice. Having him associated with a great club like Liverpool rankles, and I will be glad to see the back of him. However, for a club the stature of Liverpool to have to rely on Stewart Downing, Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson for impact from the bench, it shows just how much damage Kenny Dalglish’s short tenure did for the club, leaving them outbid by Aston Villa for Clint Dempsey. Joe Allen looks like exactly the signing the club needed, and you would expect Sahin to have more of an impact as he gets fitter, but beyond them and Gerrard, there is not a lot of quality to support Suarez. The direct running of the 17 year old Raheem Sterling looked their most creative outlet, and the rest of the reserve and youth squads aren’t pulling up too many trees. Its going to be a long season for the Liver birds.
An encouraging start, but as ever Arsenal fans will be watching the international plans with trepidation hoping that this early momentum isn’t too badly disrupted by injuries on international duty, particularly in the light of forthcoming fixtures against the big spenders.