So, first game of the season and Arsenal draw 0-0 with Sunderland. This means we’re in crisis, wasted money on two strikers who are useless, will never win a game again etc.
Anyone drawing radical conclusions like that from one game – the first game of the season at that – is quite frankly a moron. If the first game of the season dictated everything, we’d see Swansea and Fulham in the Champions League next season, Liam Ridgewell would end up in the team of the season, and Tottenham would finish somewhere in the bottom half. Although…
Compulsory Tottenham insults aside, the performance yesterday isn’t anything to be fretting about just yet, considering the circumstances. We had no Sagna, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Rosicky, so it wasn’t a full-strength Arsenal on paper. You also have Alex Song departing, so we had neither he nor his potential replacement available. The transfer window hasn’t even ended yet – we look set to get Nuri Sahin on loan, and, unless he’s Song’s replacement, a defensive midfielder. Maybe even another signing. Who knows.
Beyond players that weren’t available and that might be in the near future, let’s look at the players who did play. Considering Santi Cazorla played for Spain in Puerto Rico three days before the match, and had pretty much no pre-season, he had a very promising start to his Arsenal career, buzzing all over the pitch, eager to receive the ball, quick to release it again. He was billed as the typical Spanish midfielder and he certainly lived up to that reputation.
Lukas Podolski, by all accounts, struggled a little. While he did play as a lone striker last season in the Bundesliga, that was for a side who didn’t look to dominate possession and instead often scored from counter-attacks, meaning Podolski had quite a bit of space to exploit when Cologne attacked. That wasn’t often the case on Saturday, and he didn’t get a lot of joy.
Replacing Podolski in the second half was the third and final signing we’ve made so far, French striker Olivier Giroud. Our new number 12 is the one who provided the sensationalists and reactionaries with the moment our entire season fell apart, missing a chance when put clean through by Cazorla. “Van Persie would have scored that!” is the general reaction, and maybe he would have. So what? Giroud probably would have scored that open goal that Van Persie missed against Manchester United. I would have. My missus Sandra would have scored that.
Judging a striker on one miss is ridiculous. It was his weaker foot, his first real chance as an Arsenal player, and he hasn’t had a proper pre-season. Giroud deserves the benefit of the doubt before being written off – one miss means absolutely nothing until we see more from him. If that miss happened in the middle of the season, and Giroud had scored a lot of goals, would people be saying we miss Van Persie? No. Comparisons like that just can’t be made from one tiny incident.
Taking the positives, it was a great bit of movement from Giroud and superb vision from Cazorla to poke it through for him. If we see more of that, there’s no doubt we’ll see goals. It just wasn’t to be that time.
Through-out the game we seemed like a team who are still gelling – sorry for the cliché but it stands up on this occasion – with important members still requiring time to work on their sharpness before fully firing. It’s not surprising that we seemed like that, because it’s exactly what we are at this moment in time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, in the same way this team won’t start firing instantly. It’ll take a bit of patience and it’s foolish to write them off after one game.
Gervinho was lively, and was one of the main dangermen from what I saw (I was on a plane during the game, surrounded by the worst people in the world) and it seems like he’s going to be less of an enigma and more of a consistent thorn in teams’ sides. His directness will help us, as he’ll look to take players on with his superb close-control. He just needs to improve his decision making, which was by all accounts a feature of his play at Lille. He does like that cut-back from the byline, and it’s had some success at Arsenal.
At the end of the day, it was one game. We’ve drawn games before, we’ll draw games in the future. It’s not the end of the world. Our team is nowhere near hitting its stride, so until we have more to draw conclusions from, let’s be patient and wait and see what the team, and indeed Arsene Wenger, has in store for us.
Hi there! Two blogs in as many days, I know, must be some sort of record for me. Nice choice of picture? What ever do you mean? Nope, sorry. No idea what you’re talking about…
So it seems as if Robin van Persie, our talisman of last season, will be sold if Manchester United meet the asking price, which they apparently have. I wrote about the situation a while ago, before he made the statement, insisting that we couldn’t afford to sell him, even if it meant he ran down his contract and went elsewhere. It’s important to mention that I assumed ‘elsewhere’ would be another league – I was sure he wouldn’t leave us for another English team.
Well, pretty much everything has changed since then. He made the statement, looks likely to go to one of the Manchester clubs with few other teams in for him, and we have signed Santi Cazorla. The situation is completely different, and for us it’s changed for the better.
Last season, we relied on van Persie for goals, and he duly supplied them, winning the Golden Boot and, let’s be honest, firing us into the Champions League. But the team was imbalanced – we relied on him far too heavily. There was a massive disproportion in our list of goal scorers – only Theo Walcott also reached double figures in all competitions.
What was clear as we entered the Robin van Persie saga was that any replacement would be under huge pressure to deliver – van Persie’s role was unique in its style and also importance. Whoever we signed to take his place, assuming we had to replace him, would be thrust into the headlights and would be required to hit the ground running. If not, we’d have another season of transition and if we fell further from our position of last season, we’d most likely miss out on the Champions League.
The statement changed things. It changed van Persie’s status at Arsenal from the king of the current crop to, in the eyes of some, a traitor. Money-grabber was a bit far, but he had let down everyone at the Emirates Stadium, from the fans all the way up to Arsene Wenger. Suddenly he became a bit more dispensable – he hadn’t become a worse player over night but his commitment could be openly questioned after the statement.
Still, on the pitch not much was different. We still had to replace him with a great player if he left, and even then his influence wouldn’t quite be replicated.
The signing of Santi Cazorla was a game-changer. All of last season we had lacked a player to define us – a playmaker. Cesc Fabregas was a massive loss, and we didn’t make up for the sale with a similar player. By all accounts, Arsene tried hard – the size of the bids it’s suggested he made for the likes of Cazorla and Juan Mata back that up – but in the end we were left to rely on Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey. Both good players, but not capable of running the team. Rosicky came into form in the second half of the season, but still didn’t quite do the job, while Ramsey suffered under the pressure of the role.
Cazorla, though, was a fantastic signing. Finally, we had someone to replace Fabregas in that playmaker role. The problem with van Persie being our talisman – the problem with any striker being a talisman – is that, no matter how good he is, he needs service to thrive. Van Persie often did so, with our suppliers focussing their passes and crosses in his direction, but it wasn’t always enough. Sometimes he was off form, and at those times we often struggled.
But when your key player is a central playmaker, like Cazorla, it’s a bit different. A playmaker, by definition, makes those around him play. Fabregas did exactly that, and at his best, goals came from all around the pitch. Whoever made a run would be found, and it would then be up to them to supply the finish. The goals weren’t shared around last season – all of the players knew that they just had to pass to van Persie.
This may have meant that they didn’t take responsibility themselves. Why try and score yourself when it’s so much easier to pass to your captain and best player? Besides, at the beginning of the season especially, we lacked confidence after a poor spell, so a lot of players played within themselves (or should I say with the hand-brake on Arsene?) and van Persie ended up having to rescue us on several occasions.
And don’t let van Persie’s massive goal total fool you – creatively Arsenal were lacking a lot last season. The majority of his goals weren’t simply down to good midfield play, but superb movement from the Dutch striker. Without that we suffered, although luckily we didn’t go without it too often during the season.
Having Cazorla will change things. Our wingers won’t have to focus on feeding the striker, and will instead be able to make more runs. Alex Song won’t have to bomb forwards as much because his passes won’t be so important. We’ll become far less predictable – the theory was that if you stopped van Persie, you stop Arsenal, and while this was a lot easier said than done, it was still managed. The game against Wigan is the best example – at the Emirates they took van Persie out of the game perfectly, and we looked as if we had no idea how to score in the second half.
Finally the balance of the squad is a lot more even. The restructuring with the signings of Podolski and Giroud to shoulder the attacking burden and Cazorla to create have been excellent, especially for a reported total of £35 million (Andy Carroll yadah yadah yadah), but most importantly Cazorla fills the hole that’s been gaping since Cesc Fabregas went back home.
This vital puzzle piece being missing last season meant an increased reliance on our best player, but now, in theory at least, we won’t need to rely on a striker for all of our goals. They should be coming in from all angles now that we have a proper creator. Players don’t always have to be replaced like-for-like; simply their influence has to be replaced, and the signings of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and, in particular, Santi Cazorla will surely do that for the apparently imminent departure of van Persie.
Despite the fact that I’m in Turkey, the Arsenal bug has followed me and has bitten, so I’ve been unable to resist posting my thoughts on the recent goings-on at the club.
Recently the main talking point, other than you-know-who (I’ll get to him/it later), has been the friendly against FC Köln; Lukas Podolski’s former club of course. Our new German forward started the game alongside fellow new signings Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud, and all three stood out for differing reasons.
Podolski started on the left wing, and at first wasn’t involved all that much as he got to grips with our style of play, but after a brief lack of involvement began to see more of the ball, as he drifted in from his wide position; Kieran Gibbs’ overlapping allowing him to do so.
This feature of their link-up play – Podolski coming in search of the ball and Gibbs taking up the vacated space out wide – saw Lukas score our third goal, and his second; he dropped deep centrally, looking for the ball, and got it, before sending a probing, lobbed ball over the defence. Gibbs chased after it, and Podolski continued his run, converting the pull-back with the type of efficient finish we’ll surely come to expect from the £11 million man.
Earlier the 27-year-old had converted a penalty to make it 2-0, after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had been fouled. It was a confident finish, and perhaps Podolski might be our penalty taker for the new season, depending on the situation with *ahem*… All annoying speculation aside, Lukas had a good game, and looked comfortable out wide and later in a central berth in the second half, before being replaced by… erm, before being replaced.
£12 million man Santi Cazorla (I know, I can’t believe it either) lined up in between Podolski and Theo Walcott in what has been referred to in recent seasons as ‘the Cesc role’. But if his performance today was anything to go by, we might be calling it ‘the Santi role’ for years to come. He did everything required of him in the position – creating in advanced positions, pressing alongside the centre forward, and dropping deep to aid transitions from defence to midfield as well as ball retention.
He looked assured on the ball, and showed the degree of technical ability you tend to expect from a Spanish midfielder. It seems as if he’ll follow in the footsteps of Juan Mata and David Silva in becoming a Spanish playmaker integral to his side. He was at the heart of a lot of good moves yesterday – always offering an option, playing several key passes as we had hoped, and also sending in the corner for the first goal, which was flicked on by Per Mertesacker and nodded home by Thomas Vermaelen. As many said, it was the typical Steve Bould goal.
One of Cazorla’s excellent passes was a simple ball that was played easily between two defenders and into the trajectory of the run of a certain Olivier Giroud, whose shot was saved well by Timo Horn. Giroud had four efforts in target during his first-half appearance, all dealt with well by Horn, and it was the goalkeeper who came out on top of the duel. Still, Giroud can be pleased with his showing. He made good runs to help forge those chances – firstly one in behind the defence to be found by Francis Coquelin; Giroud then sprinted onto the ball and from a tight angle fired a snapshot low at the near post, only for it to be turned around by Horn. The resulting corner led to the first goal anyway, so the missed opportunity didn’t mean much.
Having had another shot saved by Horn after being found by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cut-back, Giroud was slipped in on goal by Cazorla. After sticking out a leg to control the ball well, his powerful curled effort was saved well again by Horn, and was denied for a third time. His fourth missed opportunity was a powerful header from a corner which was tipped over nicely by the goalkeeper, a chance which few could begrudge him for not scoring.
All in all it was a good performance from Giroud – while the finishes weren’t perfect, his all-round play was impressive, as he linked well with his team-mates, acting as a good foil for the likes of Walcott and Cazorla. Indeed, he linked up with both at one point to almost assist a goal, nodding down Walcott’s cross for Cazorla to fire a low driven volley against the legs of Horn from a decent position. Giroud’s hold-up play was excellent too, as he kept the ball well, putting his physique to good use, as well as acting as a reference point for the entire team and pressing well.
So we saw three very encouraging performances from the new signings, with the trio all impressing on their debuts for different reasons, but Francis Coquelin also caught my eye. He was tenacious and good going forward, but was sloppy in his own half – basically everything we see from Alex Song. He was careless on the ball quite a bit last season, against West Brom on the final day in particular, and we saw it again at the Rhein-Energie Stadion. It’s disappointing because he’s a precocious talent, yet, like Song, seems prone to complaceny. Let’s hope it only crept in because it was a friendly.
I must also touch on Gervinho, who put in a good second half performance. The decision making issues are still very much there – he failed to spot Lukas Podolski in a perfect position to complete his hat-trick early in the second half, and later delayed too long before shooting – but it was an encouraging showing from our Ivorian winger. Our fourth was an excellently taken goal by him; he received the ball on the left, deftly nipped past his man, before beating him again and slotting home at the near post with a clever finish. As I said recently, I’m expecting a big season from him, so let’s hope he doesn’t disappoint.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also put in a good shift, with some powerful runs and some clever passes. He played deep in midfield alongside Coquelin, and the two of them often combined well with Cazorla as a triangle. It had seemed a curious midfield three at first, but it seemed to work, with a lot of fluid interchanging of positions. Chamberlain has been ruled out of England’s friendly with Italy (Joleon Lescott has been called up instead – why is nobody tweeting #InRoyWeTrust?) with an ankle knock, but it doesn’t seem anything serious. Hopefully it’ll mean he’s more fresh for the Sunderland game, or at least avoids a worse injury on international duty.
Sadly I feel like I have to touch on the more negative points raised from the 4-0 victory, and for me, the main one was the handling of the captaincy. Personally, I don’t want van Persie being captain at all, but I can understand Arsene not wanting to officially strip him of the armband, as it might lower his value. Still, the situation was handled poorly – no captain was selected for the second half, meaning when van Persie came on, he was already donning the armband.
If, say, Koscielny had been given the captaincy at the start of the second half, the issue would have been avoided, because van Persie wouldn’t have been expected to take the armband when he came on. Instead, it seemed as if Wenger was sure to make a statement by giving van Persie the armband in a situation where he normally wouldn’t have had it anyway. It’s hard to tell what that move meant – or if it was actually down to poor planning, although I don’t think Arsene would have fallen foul of that with such an important issue – because it could be one of a few things. Perhaps Wenger was trying to keep van Persie’s value high, or perhaps he was trying to warn off potential bidders and make a statement.
For me, I don’t think that little stunt – if it was one – would do anything for van Persie’s value, as he surely wouldn’t be expected to take the captaincy from a player already wearing the armband if he came on. Furthermore I’m completely against van Persie being captain in any situation – it’s not just that a captain is supposed to be a leader on the pitch, but an ambassador for the club. Van Persie can no longer do the latter, and there must be question marks over the former too, given his desire to leave the club.
However, I can see Wenger’s point of view – the media would blow it out of proportion if he didn’t receive the armband from whoever might have had it at the beginning of the second half, which might have some effect on van Persie’s value. It sounds a little silly, but perhaps Wenger was right to be cautious. After all, he knows a lot better than I do.
The final talking point before I lift myself from the metaphorical pool of speculation and dive into the very-real pool of the villa in Turkey where I’m staying – yes, that’s my commitment, writing before relaxing – is about Nuri Şahin. We’ve been linked with him for a while, and now AS are saying that his loan move is expected to be confirmed this week – with the Turk most likely coming here to Arsenal. I’ve spoken on Twitter about this, but I have to re-emphasise how thrilled I would be at the signing.
Real Madrid want to loan him for a reason; he’s had fitness problems, and they want him to regain his sharpness and match fitness so he’s ready to play next year for them, so it would be unwise to expect his Dortmund form straight away. But wow, if we could harness that form during the season, he’ll be a brilliant addition. He was superb for BVB in his final season there, as they won the title with him at the forefront, and on that form he would have walked into almost any midfield in the world.
Sadly, Madrid’s is not included in that enormous list, and he suffered there. But his lack of game-time shouldn’t put us off too much – he’s a fantastic talent with the potential to really make a difference for us. He has the clichéd ‘wand of a left foot’, which he uses to spray passes across the pitch – his range of passing is almost Cesc-esque (what a word) – and he’s composed on the ball. He’s not afraid to get stuck in either, so he should be able to adapt well to English football if he does come here. Let’s just hope it’s the Emirates he’s plying his trade at if so.
That’s all from me, although I imagine Saurabh might have something soon-ish for you to feast your eyes on. Enjoy fantasising about Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski firing us to a long overdue trophy…
People say you can’t have an opinion on a player until you watch a certain amount of full games. Nonsense. I’ve heard more than enough about ARSENAL’S OFFICIAL NEW SIGNING SANTI CAZORLA!!! to get me worked up into a massive excited frenzy now that SANTI CAZORLA’S OFFICIALLY SIGNED FOR ARSENAL!!! so I’m going to go ahead and do that.
For example, Sid Lowe, possibly the most respected British journalist who covers Spanish football, asked if he could describe Santi Cazorla in simply one word, and the word he used was “brilliant” – italics for a reason folks, he was sure to emphasise that word. Everyone who knows anything about La Liga has agreed that Cazorla is the best player outside of the top two – Barcelona and Real Madrid – and for me, that’s absolutely good enough. They say there’s wisdom in crowds, so I’m sure it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that there’s wisdom in wise crowds.
I’ve also managed to glean a lot about what type of player our new man is – partly from the simple fact that he’s a Spanish international midfielder, which automatically means a certain level of technical ability and a liking for a pass. He seems creative, versatile and able to dictate a game when played centrally; something we’ve desperately needed since Cesc Fabregas left.
I spoke about the need for a player to define us, someone who epitomises our side, a few months ago, and I feel that Cazorla will do that. He suits our style down to the ground with his technical ability, excellent range of passing and superb ball control, and I think a year after losing our definition, when we sold Nasri and Fabregas, we’ve got it back.
We were looking to replace the creative influence of those two with Cazorla when they left, and it speaks volumes that Arsene has gone back in for the Spaniard a year after missing out. In truth, we’re incredibly lucky that Malaga had debt issues and we were able to sort out a deal – although you could say if they’d never been rich in the first place we’d have gotten him from Villarreal a year earlier. But all of that’s irrelevant as far as I’m concerned.
What is relevant is that we have an incredibly exciting player, a genuine marquee signing. I won’t follow the lead of many other Arsenal fans and pretend Andrey Arshavin wasn’t an exciting marquee signing as well, as he certainly was, but this signing may have just eclipsed that in terms of quality. And for a reported £12 million plus add-ons, by all accounts we’ve got ourselves a sensational deal.
As well as credit going to Arsene Wenger for not only moving to sort this out but helping to attract the player, credit should certainly go to our negotiators – after all, they’ve taken stick in the past for supposedly not getting things right, so they should take their share of the credit for what appears to be a fantastic deal.
The only vague worries you would have about Cazorla are his lack of pace, lack of height and overall adaptation to English football, although you imagine all three are inter-linked. Cesc wasn’t the quickest though, and Juan Mata is another diminutive Spanish playmaker who came straight from La Liga to the Premier League and adapted instantly, so I don’t think we should be too cautious in what to expect. Still, there will be the standard adapting period, but after that I think it’s safe to say we’ll have a match-winner on our hands.
His statistics might not seem too impressive – 9 goals and 5 assists last season for Malaga – but statistics can only get you so far. They might make up a bigger picture for someone who hasn’t seen him, but when all who have are gushing about the signing, it’s best to ignore the stats and just go mental. What’s important, rather than his direct contribution, is his overall influence on the game, which would include possession, passing stats, and pre-assists if you want to get technical with your stats.
The most telling is how much Malaga improved with Santi in their side, and how far Villarreal fell without him. Even without watching him, and without hearing anything about him, that tells you a great deal about how important he was to both of those sides. It also shows that he can adapt when he joins a new team, although it will be slightly different coming to a different country and different league.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough and I should really get out from under my Arsenal duvet, put on my Arsenal kit, shirt shorts and socks that is, and put on my Arsenal DVD. I feel like a kid at Christmas. Welcome Señor Cazorla.