Thought I’d get the first cliché out of the way early…
All in all it was a disappointing result against a team we should have beaten, yes, even in pre-season. Two very encouraging goals scored, and two very worrying goals conceded. In the first half we were solid at the back and looked good going forward, while in the second half we were our old shaky selves in defence and barely offered anything in attack, with the exception of our goal 50 seconds in.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Our back-up defenders are very, very worrying. Actually, scrap that. Squillaci playing in defence is very, very worrying. The problem seems to be is that he doesn’t suit Koscielny or Djourou as a defensive partner. Koscielny seems to need someone athletic, more focussed on the physical side of things – Djourou does that well, and I think Vermaelen will alongside him too. Djourou seems to need a defender with good positioning and pace who can read the game and rescue him when he gets in trouble.
Squillaci fills neither of those job descriptions. So we definitely need a defender – not a first choice defender like Jagielka or Cahill, because Koscielny looks ready to be our first choice indefinitely. Alex of Chelsea was suggested, and I think he’d probably fit the bill – relatively cheap, Premier League experience and not demanding of a place. However, it’s hard to tell whether he’d be able to pander to both Koscielny and Djourou’s needs if asked to play alongside them. If Bartley was perhaps a bit older, I don’t think we’d have this problem. However, he still doesn’t quite seem ready for our first team, although I could be wrong.
Next on the list of negatives is the performance of one Samir Nasri. I was disappointed to see that he was occupying the central role, although there didn’t seem to be anyone else on the pitch capable either. But he went missing for practically the entire half – in fact, in the entire game he didn’t make a single thing happen. That’s why I’ve been saying he needs to play on the wing, and not centrally, because you cannot have a playmaker who only shows flashes of occasional genius. They need to be constantly on the ball, making their team tick.
I think that was about it for the negatives. As for the positives, I was impressed with Frimpong and surprisingly Traore. They both did their jobs well, and to their credit seeing as they had to overcome some difficulties created by other team mates, or maybe some new tactics - for one, Jack was pushing up quite far, which left Frimpong screening the defence on his own. I think as Jack gets older he’ll move further forward, just like Cesc. While this will see him score and assist more goals, it’ll leave the defence more open while he’s still playing in this position, so his pivotal partner will need to stay disciplined. What do you know, I wasn’t done with the negatives!
Continuing (sort of) with the positives, Laurent Koscielny was superb at the back. He intercepted everything that came his way (as usual) and I was also really impressed with his range of passing. As well as doing his usual short passes out of defence to begin attacks, he also pinged some impressive balls out to the wings, which worked well. He was also a vital part of our new tactic from corners, which seems to be zonal marking. Countless times he attacked the ball fearlessly (at least I think it was him most times) and managed to get a good head on the ball. This helped us start counter attacks quickly, like the one that led to our first goal.
Speaking of which, it was great to see us scoring from a swashbuckling counter-attack. Gervinho galloping down the left was reminiscent of – dare I say it – Thierry Henry. It was a superb break courtesy of that man, and a good cross converted well by RVP. Gervinho was impressive overall - good link up play, good dribbling and intelligent all-round play.
Ramsey’s goal was excellently taken after a great run from Vela, although I suspect Carlos was only slightly impressive because it was pre-season and we were leading. He’s good in those situations, but when we need a goal, he’s rarely the man you want to come on. As for Ramsey, I thought he played well – it was difficult for him to share the central attacking role with Nasri, but he did well filling Cesc’s shoes.
Conclusions are we need another centre back and Nasri is a winger. Nothing new to most then.