So another Premier League season is underway and for the first time since 2009 we opened proceedings with a victory after an injury time winner from Aaron Ramsey bagged us all three points against Crystal Palace. Is there anything sweeter than an injury time winner?
I thought it was a typical first game of the season, especially when playing at home. The opposition turn up with a game plan of sitting deep and frustrating, hoping they may nick something against the run of play. And when said opposition have had weeks to prepare and practice the execution of this game plan it can make it very hard to break them down. Meanwhile we’ve been touring foreign lands and waiting for world cup stars to return to full fitness.
All of the above made for a difficult game against very organised opponents. When such situations present themselves during the course of a season it can be tricky to make the break-through, often relying on quick incisive passing or a moment of magic from an in form player to break the deadlock. But when it’s the first game of the season passing and movement can be slow and rusty, new team mates still learning their combinations. Thankfully two injury time set pieces, one in the first half from Koscielny and one in the second from Ramsey, saw us get the victory we deserved.
The goal we conceded was also a set piece and I have to admit its a little concerning. New York Red Bulls, Benfica, and Monaco all scored from set pieces during pre-season and from a variety of situations too; New York from a corner, Benfica from a long throw, and Monaco from a free kick out wide. So to see Hangeland get a free run and unchallenged header was a little worrying, as was the lack of a man on the far post who could have made an easy clearance.
That said I’m also keen to exhibit some calm and patience. Our record from set pieces was much improved last season and so far this season (and pre-season) we’ve been having to defend them without Mertesacker (our tall organiser), Giroud (excellent defensively in the near post zone Palace scored from), and of course Sagna who was strong in the air and whose role will now need to be occupied by someone else. So it will take some time to find our feet, but I’m confident things will come good.
Our European campaign has also begun with a hard-fought 0-0 draw away to Besiktas in the first leg of our Champions League qualifier. In general it’s a scoreline that makes me nervous. Everyone thinks it’s a good result, but concede first in the home leg and suddenly its panic stations. However, on this occasion I’m confident we’ll get the job done, even if we will be without the suspended Aaron Ramsey.
I thought the first half was intriguing, if not overly entertaining. But the second half was hard work. It was very scrappy, with no real flow or rhythm and I largely put that down to the referee who was constantly blowing his whistle for nonsense decisions. He was also infuriatingly inconsistent, with Ramsey’s first yellow card for shirt pulling coming after Aaron’s shirt was clearly pulled first (and for longer) and his second yellow coming for the slightest of touches, only for a Besiktas player to get away with a far worse pull back on Wilshere just moments later.
The one real positive from the game was Calum Chambers. I thought he was absolutely exceptional in the first half and he was pretty bloody good in the second half too. To be making your European debut, away from home and at the age of 19, and to be that good, that calm and composed, was incredible. Long may it continue, and with the return of the BFG this weekend I think Arsene has a few selection headaches coming his way.
The second leg is next Wednesday, but before then we have a tricky trip to Goodison Park. We had a torrid time there last season, one of our worst results and performances of the season, but I’m hoping for a more positive outcome this time around. Previous visits to Goodison Park in the month of August have seen us win 4-1 (in 2004) and 6-1 (in 2009), plus we also had a 4-1 victory in December 2007, so let’s hope for more of the same on Saturday. There will be no Kieran Gibbs and no Mikel Arteta due to injuries, but I’m confident that Monreal, Flamini, and our returning German trio can get the job done. Up The Arsenal.
Finally for today, a quick pointer in the direction of an article called Time to Burst the ITK Bubble by Daniel Storey. Transfer windows, in particular all the gossip and bullshit that goes with them, is probably one of the aspects I hate most about football, and the fact that some people seem to enjoy them more than the actual football itself makes them all the more frustrating. So as we head into the final ten days of this summer’s transfer window I highly recommend reading Daniel’s excellent article.