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“A little more compensation” by AP
After three rounds of the new season we have 5 points, scored two goals and conceded none. Since we all know what happened in the first three rounds in the previous season – one point, two goals scored and ten conceded – we should be moderately pleased with our fresh new start.
If we put things in different perspective, however, we can get mixed feelings about our start with happy colours prevailing. If we take a look at our performances against Sunderland at home, Stoke away and Liverpool away from this season and compare them with those we played last season, we will notice certain differences. Some of them are good and some of them are not so.
Last season, we won our home match against Sunderland while they were heading to the Championship with Steve Bruce in charge. They looked like an awful Manchester United trash-can, almost as bad as Aston Villa with Alex McLeish and that is some achievement. We won 2:1, with both goals scored by our former captain while Sebastian Larsson scored equalizer for Sunderland. Our defense nearly let in another goal to our opponents but Cattermole managed to miss an empty goal from three yards. This season, we played pretty slow in the last third but we managed to create a few chances using the creative spark of Santi Cazorla. Unfortunately, Giroud missed a sitter that costed us two points. Our defense had some problems in first half but Sunderland, this time lead by Martin O’Neill, was not dangerous.
Britannia was never our favourite stadium – not only because we lost so many points there but also because of what happened to Aaron Ramsey (or, more precisely, what was commited by Ryan Shawcross). Last season, we had to track Stoke after Crouch gave them lead after Etherington’s cross. We equalized almost immediately, our former captain scored his third goal of the season against Stoke (he scored twice in 3:1 victory at Emirates). This season, Stoke were limited and completely neutralized during set-pieces with the nice contribution from Olivier Giroud who came to help our defense. We didn’t manage to create many chances though, the most dangerous shot came from Giroud when he tried to surprise Asmir Begović in the last minutes of the match although perhaps a pass to Ramsey was much better option. Cazorla tested Begović as well but we didn’t score for second time in a row. Vito Mannone gave good performance.
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Our last performance before the international break was one against Liverpool at Anfield. If Britannia isn’t a place where Gunners feel comfortable, Anfield is. Last season, we managed a smash and grab victory thanks to our hero Sczeszny. We were totally dominated by Liverpool in first half, our defense was constantly beaten by one-twos from Suarez and his teammates, our midfield was shy and we were lucky the score wasn’t 4:0 in the Reds’ favour. However, the only man that managed to put it past Sczeszny was our very own Laurent Koscielny.
We managed to stay in the game thanks to our Polish hero who saved both a penalty and its rebound while our former captain scored a header, putting away a great cross from Sagna and the presence of Jamie Carragher of Liverpool. In the second half Liverpool’s pressure was far weaker and we managed to find a balance. In the dying stages of the match Song sent a wonderful pass to our former captain who scored with his first touch and secured valuable three points in Champions’ League-spot battle.
This season, we played a much more comfortable match. Our midfield was inspired by Santi Cazorla’s creation and Abou Diaby’s omnipresence. Diaby was literally on every part of the field, destroying Liverpool attacks and creating ours. Wonderful teamwork and counter-attack from Podolski and Cazorla gave us a half-time lead that should’ve been doubled when Giroud was given another excellent opportunity after a Patrick Vieira-ish run and pass from Diaby. In the second half, we managed to score second goal thanks to another great combination from Podolski and Cazorla and a little blunder from Reina. The left-hand-channel was our favourite one – Gibbs almost scored before Cazorla’s goal. Liverpool were limited to occasional shots from distance though they had a few chances that should have not been given by our defense. Mannone was trustful when Shelvey and Suarez had their shots on target.
Conclusions? First of all, it can be noticed that all five goals in aforementioned fixtures were scored by our former captain. It says a lot about him being our focal point in attack last season. This time round, we scored only two goals in these fixtures and they came from two different players which implies we will have more balanced score-sheet. Last season, we won 7 points from these fixtures while this season we managed to get five. Now, what I see as extremely important and something that is a “good difference” that I mentioned in the opening paragraph: last season, we conceded one goal in each of these fixtures. This season, we conceded none.
Why is this so important? We lost our top scorer who scored 30 goals during the past season and our best assistant Alex Song. We gained three players with international pedigree and great potential but all of them are playing their first season in the English Premier League. Although Santi Cazorla plays like he has played in England ever since he was born and Lukas Podolski is showing amazing teamwork and direct style of play that we needed for years, it is highly unlikely that we will get 31 goals (Song scored one goal last season and made 11 assists in Premiership) from Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud. So, we have to compensate the probable lack of goals with tighter defense, defense that won’t allow 49 goals like we did last season.
Steve Bould’s work is something that should be praised but I must notice that Podolski and Giroud play some role in our perfect defensive record so far because they are not just attackers but also players with impressive team-work and that Diaby (who is now, unfortunately, injured again with date of return still unknown) is much a better shield for defense than Song was. Bould probably gave advice on how to defend set-pieces and opponents won’t be able to rely on them as our weak point.
Bould knows good defending – he played 19 matches in 1998-99 when Arsenal’s defense let opponents score only 17 goals during an entire Premier League campaign. I’m especially happy with nice performances from Per Mertesacker although he, just like Carl Jenkinson, must improve his short passing. Wrong passes in our third like they had against Liverpool would cost us severely against Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United. Even Southampton, a team that managed to score twice against both Manchester clubs, can punish our defensive mistakes.
On the other side, Giroud will be relieved after he scores his first goal. Southampton, a team that was “duck-breaking” not just for foreign Arsenal legends Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp but also for Ian Wright (he scored his first league goals for Arsenal in his league debut against Southampton). Oh, and our most recent former captain scored his first goal in EPL against Southampton as well.
It is too early to make firm predictions but I think we can say that this team may not be able to score five goals at Stamford Bridge (unless John Terry forgets his skates again) but it will never concede 8 goals in one match ever again.