The Arsenal. 3pm kick off. Three awesome new signings. Glorious sunshine. Seeing Gooner mates. What more could you ask for on a Saturday?
That was my mood and the question I asked on twitter before the game. It turns out three points was the answer. The new season has begun with a rather frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland, a team we really should be beating. It was a disappointing start and you have to feel that if the game was a few months into the season, when the fitness levels are higher and the weather a lot cooler, we would have gone up a gear and won the game. As it was legs were heavy, the heat was energy sapping, and Giroud couldn’t take the one clear cut change we created. Afterwards Arsene said:
“We played with a good spirit. We were serious, we put the effort in. Our basic fitness is alright but we lack sharpness and fluency at the moment to be dangerous in the final third. The few chances we had, we couldn’t convert them.”
Looking at the positives (from back to front) Szczesny made a couple of decent saves in the early stages, after which he became as much of a spectator as the 60,000 fans in the crowd. The back four, after some early lapses, looked calm and composed and never looked like conceding. It was good to see Mertesacker back on the pitch after his debut season ended prematurely through injury, and I was delighted for Carl Jenkinson. He too suffered a long term injury last season and it was great to see him get his chance, one which he took with both hands; a brilliant performance. In midfield another long term absentee, Abou Diaby, made a good return and Arteta was exactly what we’ve come to expect – efficient, reliable, and kept us ticking. Then there’s Cazorla, of whom Arsene said:
I think it’s difficult not to be pleased with him because he played on Wednesday night, the whole game in Puerto Rico. All the chances were created by him, basically.
It was a fine debut and the sumptuous reverse pass for Giroud eight minutes from time really should have produced a match winner, but if he keeps laying them on a plate like that I’m confident our forward line will start to take their chances. Of our forward line I thought Walcott was exceptionally quiet and Gervinho was very busy, but couldn’t find the end product. Of our debutants I thought Podolski looked strong and held the ball up well, but I’d have liked to see him running in behind the defence a little more often. As for Giroud it was a lively start to his Arsenal career. He was very busy, with lots of movement, but his debut will sadly be remembered for a clear cut chance that should have won us the game. However, as I’ve said I’m confident our forward line will start to take their chances so the positive sign was that they were there to miss and Cazorla found them with perfection – eventually the net will be bulging.
Continuing to focus on the positives, I thought the atmosphere and vibe in the stadium was chalk and cheese compared to our first home league game last season. On that occasion the squad was threadbare, the rain was falling, and we lost 0-2. This time there was optimism amongst the fans, the cheers rang loudly as the starting line up was called out, and we came away with a point. Yes we wanted three, but it’s a marathon not a sprint. As my good friend Simon Rose always says “it’s a 38 game season”. There are plenty of games still to come and we’ll be sure to see the full potential of this team.
One man who won’t be a part of the team is Alex Song. It was confirmed shortly after the final whistle that terms have been agreed with Barcelona, and I’d expect official confirmation of the deal being complete later today. I’m not disappointed with his sale, especially if rumours are true that his attitude of late has been somewhat unprofessional. However, what it does mean is that a holding midfielder is now required and I fully expect Arsene to sign one before the transfer window closes.
Finally for today I’d like to end with a big thank you. Friday was my last day at work, following a spell of nearly 9 years with the organisation in question, and yesterday was my last Arsenal game for at least a year. To mark both occasions there were some celebratory drinks Friday night and again after yesterday’s match, both of which were attended by many friends and family. It meant a lot to receive so many kind words and best wishes before I head off to Sydney in 12 days time. In the words of Vera Lynn – we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day. Until the next time, thank you.