Like last season, Arsenal’s first win comes against Crystal Palace. Arsenal did what was necessary to get the 3 points although it was not entirely eye catching. Smooth interchanging, swift counter-attacking, clumsy ball retention and resolute defending were displayed in varied quantities as Arsene Wenger’s men saw off the Eagles.
Tactically, it was a classic case of learning from your mistakes. Last weekend, I pointed out that Slaven Bilic’s West Ham saw Arsenal’s full backs as less of a threat and concentrated on stopping the narrow midfield. Alan Pardew took a leaf out of Bilic’s rather new notebook and followed suit. However, Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin, in for Mathieu Debuchy, stepped up to the occasion. It is, therefore no surprise, that both Arsenal’s goals resulted from crosses.
Apart from the goals themselves, Nacho Monreal was the wide fulcrum, if you will, to Arsenal’s attacking play. Alexis Sanchez, has a very very weak left foot and almost always dribbles inside from the touchline. A central midfielder played on the right hand side, hence the right sided Spanish full back also had the onus on him to deliver, which he did with a fine cross for Arsenal’s second.
For the first 20 minutes, Arsenal dominated. Crystal Palace played with a single deep lying midfielder, and that in Yohan Cabaye lacked a physical presence in that position. Mesut Ozil had a fantastic start to the game, drifting first left of Cabaye and then right of Cabaye finding space between the lines at will. Jason Puncheon, usually plays in midfield for Palace, but he is a winger by trade and containing a midfielder doesn’t come naturally to him. Even dedicated midfielders fail to stop Santi Cazorla in full rhythm, Puncheon was no different and the little Spaniard ran proceedings from deep. The number of times the two Spanish full backs found space to look up and cross were, thus, a result of midfield domination.
Clumsy ball retention is a big aspect of Arsenal’s defensive problems but it stems from the nature of their attacking play. Arsenal depend on players like Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez to carry the ball out of defense and thus there is a large amount of risk involved. It is a given that Arsenal will continue to play that way, but perfection will be then achieved when, as a watcher on the sidelines, you feel confident that the risk is minimal. Big clubs around the world perform in that fashion, day in, day out and Arsene Wenger, you can see, is looking up to that standards.
From a defensive stand point, after 2-1, Koscielny and Mertesacker were sublime. Tackles, interceptions and headed clearances, they were at it all. Credit has to be given to Nacho Monreal, who showed great strength to keep his winger out on many a occasion (although the Wickham to post effort originated from his side). He was my Man of the Match.
However, I felt the decisive moment in the match came in the 86th minute. 2 minutes prior, Petr Cech had come for a corner and flapped at it. The ball bounced off a Palace player and over the net. This time, the corner was inch perfect- tempting the keeper to come for and miss it. On first sightings, it seems like a regular corner. You’ll notice the accuracy of the delivery if you watch it again. Cech brought experience to the situation, stayed on his line and the header was straight in his arms. A different goalkeeper might have come for the ball and missed. In my opinion, the goalkeeper has saved 2 points and surely it will go down into Arsene Wenger’s thoughts. It is one for the background staff, because a regular football watcher will miss its importance.
At the end of the day, it was 3 points and a pretty decent overall performance from Arsenal’s striker who got the goal, midfielders who made things happen, the center backs who were solid and the goalkeeper who saved points. Liverpool await. And it should be a very different game altogether.
Would love to hear your thoughts and what you think tactically stood out in the comments section below.