When John Terry said Petr Cech is worth at least 15 points a season, the veteran goalkeeper must have felt a sense of responsibility. At the end of the first weekend of Premier League football, Cech, being the professional that he is, must now feel he owes the Gunners 18 points. It is, however, not to say the shiny new arrival is the sole reason Arsenal failed to pass their first test of the season.
After a dogged, yet charismatic display against Chelsea in the Community Shield and with five wins in five pre-season games, Arsenal entered the first week of Premier League with a swagger. They were immediately brought down to the earth by a Slaven Bilic led West Ham.
Arsenal set-up in a customary 4-2-3-1 with Aaron Ramsey partnering Francis Coquelin in the middle of the park. Like in the Community Shield, Santi Cazorla was pushed onto the left hand side. As expected, Olivier Giroud was preferred to Theo Walcott upfront. It was a pretty routine start to the match, Arsenal having most of the ball, moving it from side to side without any significant penetration. The early season understanding issues clearly showed as a couple of misplaced passes by Ramsey and Cazorla were met with groans from the home support.
West Ham set-up with four central midfielders, outnumbering the Arsenal three in the middle of the park. Hence, it was not easy for the Arsenal engine room to establish a firm control on the game. They played without traditional wingers; Debuchy and Monreal saw a lot of the ball. Slaven Bilic clearly did not feel threatened by the full-backs and this appeared to be a pre-planned routine. Not until Debuchy was replaced with Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain took up the right-back slot did Bilic see the need for a winger. It was then Matt Jarvis was brought on to stop Oxlade-Chamberlain, the makeshift right full-back from advancing.
While Bilic got his selection spot-on, the Arsenal players had an off day. It was a lethargic first half- Aaron Ramsey over-elaborating in many a occasion, getting dispossessed leading to West Ham’s counters. Like the two full-backs, West Ham did not see Coquelin a threat and let him have the ball. A couple of over-zealous passes summed up his contribution to the attacking side. Coquelin, however, was alert off the ball, nipping in front of his marker and pushing Arsenal on.
A high boot from Ramsey led to a free kick which was woefully defended. Nobody marked Kouyate and the tall midfielder had an open goal. Cech decided to come, which, one could argue was not the right decision on his part. A major part of Arsenal’s defending is focused on Arsenal letting the opposition have the ball in the wide areas and allow them to send crosses in. This is primarily because Arsenal’s wingers usually drift inside when the team has the ball. This suggests that a lot of onus in training is placed on defending these crosses, rather than preventing them. It is a surprise then, to see the defenders struggle at dead balls.
The second half saw Ramsey and Cazorla interchange positions and Arsenal started to have a lot of the ball. There was a customary 2nd half high-press strategy deployed, but the final ball was just not happening. Ozil found himself many a times too far from Giroud to produce anything significant. Monreal, as mentioned, saw a lot of the ball on the edge of the box, but failed to find a man with his deliveries. Arsene Wenger, noticing the advanced positions taken up by Coquelin, decided to make better use of the ball, by replacing him with Theo Walcott. But, as he was waiting to come on, the lead doubled as West Ham hit Arsenal on the counter. Petr Cech, wrong footed, should really have done much better with the shot.
Desperation saw Arsene Wenger throw half fit Alexis Sanchez into the mix. Chances came, as they always do, when you are chasing two goals. But its that time of the game where you need to take those half chances. Alexis and Giroud failed to convert them as the match rolled into a first defeat. It was a bad day at the office for Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal. But it leaves a few thoughts for discussion from tactics point of view.
Is there a need for Santi Cazorla to move back into the middle, especially when opposition deploys a diamond? Is there a better way make use of the time provided to Coquelin in the middle of the park? Surely, playing Cazorla closer to Coquelin can be one solution to that?
Selhurst Park and Crystal Palace should provide a few answers. Would love to see suggestions and discussions on any observations made in the comments section below.