Arsenal clinched a win at Selhurst Park in the second week of the premier league, taking them moderately up the table at a time when Leicester City lie second right behind Manchester City. The game, which Arsenal fans looked forward to with a marginal nervousness after a distressing inaugural against West Ham, was narrowly won, with first half goals from Olivier Giroud and Joel Ward for Arsenal and Palace respectively. The second half saw Arsenal clinch a second through an Alexis Sanchez header directed towards goal, converted a split second later into his own net by the Damian Delaney. From then on, Arsenal fought out a win.
This game , to a large extent it can be said, must yield a plethora, and/ or a combination of different responses. For one, Arsenal fans around the world must be moderately relieved, that unlike last weekend, Arsenal have won this weekend, against a team that is assessed as a tougher opponent than West ham, especially away from home.
Simultaneously, in so far as we as fans are aware of what this squad can actually do, the game played lacked a number of key aspects. Neither was there a spark of brilliance on part of Arsenal as a unit nor were the gunners a persistent threat in front of goal in the way they are capable of being . The goal from Giroud was beautiful, athletic and placed at the back of the net with precision; not a doubt on that one. However, Arsenal seemed to lack something very fundamental in their game; they did not seem crafty, and still seem to lack some sharpness in their passing.Another response, to this game that one can foresee at this point is one of nervousness about Arsenal climbing up the table from this point on; totally understandable, for the table, at this point in the season (let’s be honest) looks very different from a table we are used to seeing end of every season.
Arsene Wenger made 2 changes to the team that started the game against West Ham. Alexis Sanchez came in for the in form Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain, and Hector Bellerin was drafted in the starting line up ahead of Mathieu Debuchy. Elsewhere, Santi Cazorla was put back in to central midfield alongside Francis Coquelin, while Aaron Ramsey shifted to the right, drifting in to the middle from time to time. The game in itself , as mentioned above was not on par with the spectacular gameplay Arsenal are capable of rolling out. However, a few key observations on the match come to mind;
Aaron Ramsey on the right is not an experiment worth pursuing
While it can be said that Ramsey, Arsenal’s finest and perhaps only natural ‘box to box’ midfielder (Jack Wilshere qualifies too, but we can all agree he’s more of a high lying play maker or a more natural attack-minded player) is versatile , the Welshman delivers his best when he plays in central midfield alongside a holding midfielder. His 2013-14 campaign was a success precisely because of this. The community Shield victory against Chelsea saw him build an effective partnership with Coquelin, patrolling the defensive and making well timed runs during open play.
Throughout the game one saw Ramsey make a few darting runs into the middle, which is ,one can say, part of his natural instinct. This saw Santi Cazorla either sit back with Alexis failing to run out to the flanks to cover the right wing position from the left, where he was positioned at the beginning of the game. Olivier Giroud produced a spectacular goal that began with a few minutes of Arsenal intricate passing on the offensive. Then on, we saw a jam packed left flank with Ozil, Alexis , Nacho Monreal and Cazorla all trying to create something towards goal from one side of the pitch, with Ramsey positioning himself in the middle of the park. While Palace did not mark the gunners man to man in their own half, had they succeeded in pushing the ball for a counter on the right hand side at the right moment, Arsenal could have been in trouble.
One more problem that seemed evident in this game, similar to the last one, was Arsenal’s inability to exploit width. It was only when Chamberlain came on instead of Coquelin that we saw the right wing being utilized. This obviously brings us back to the question we are all trying to find an answer to: How must Wenger accommodate Ramsey and Cazorla in central midfield. What is clear, at this point, however, is that the Welshman needs to play through the middle. The 2013-14 season saw Arsenal at the top of the table for a good period till Christmas due to his playing time through the middle, forming a formidable quartet with Ozil, Giroud and occasionally, Walcott in front of him with Mikel Arteta playing in the holding midfield position. That of course, was at a time when Santi Cazorla was out injured, of course.
Mesut Ozil should never be underestimated; even when Arsenal are not at their best
John Cross’s first reaction to this game had to do with the German playmaker. He was absolute class, from the first whistle onwards. I could not agree more. Wenger, in the press conference right after the game, said that Ozil is not the best at pursuing the ball and winning it off his opponents. However, a few moments in the game suggested that we saw him do that effectively as well. Everything Arsenal did well in this game had Ozil playing a pivotal role. We can only hope that he continues to produce his brilliance later on hi the campaign.
Arsenal have got to start defending more intelligently
Laurent Koscielny is undoubtedly a g centre back. It was therefore surprising to see that he did not intervene in time to stop the Joel Ward goal. To some this was unforgivable. I think so too. If Arsenal are to win the league, they cannot make such mistakes. Keeping that blunder aside, Arsenal, did not defend effectively as a unit. There were times when Arsenal’s defending was narrow, and indecisive. As a unit, the team was unsure as to whether they must defend deep. Francis Coquelin went a little over the board. It is clear that he must recall why he has been drafted into the team, and how important his role in in Arsenal gunning for the title. He has a massive role to play, and he cannot possibly afford to get distracted. The gunners were lucky to see him on the pitch. Petr Cech, was considerably better against the Eagles than he was on his debut. If an effective method of delivering can be developed between him Mertesacker and Koscielny, I don’t see why Arsenal should not be defending well.
Arsenal’s victory, although not a convincing one , comes as some relief, for if the gunners had lost this game that would leave the team 6 points behind an in form Manchester City. On the whole , one can only sit back and hope that Arsenal build on this, win week in and week out, and more importantly, play a better game of football than they did this weekend, which they are undoubtedly capable of doing.