Had substitute Olivier Giroud tucked away the late chance gifted to him by a wonderful piece of creative play by fellow new signing Santi Cazorla, today’s headline would be oh so different.
As it was the opening game of the season against Sunderland turned out to be an anti-climax that will have many Arsenal fans feeling that nothing much has changed. No goals, countless chances missed and the sort of dominant-in-possession-but-blunt-in-the-final-third effort that has been the hallmark of recent barren seasons. Sometimes you can bet on Arsenal to give you exactly what you don’t want.
There were plenty of positives to take out of the game though, none more significant than the tantalising performance of new boy Cazorla. The little Spaniard (I used to refer to Cesc as ‘the little Spaniard’ so perhaps ‘the littler Spaniard’ is more appropriate) gave a teasing exhibition of his skills throughout the 90 minutes, evidenced by Arsene Wenger stating after the game that “all the chances were created by him, basically”.
And basically, they all were. The chance for Giroud was his best intervention of the game, fashioned by a sharp turn of pace and reverse pass, but there were a handful of other strong moments. One strike from range early on had the Sunderland keeper scrambling while his general touch-and-move style of play was as dangerous as it was delightful. It’s early to make conclusions but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that he’s going to be a huge player for us this season.
I was surprised with the selections made by Wenger across the front three. I had expected Giroud to start in the central position with support from Podolski on the left and one of The Brain or Walcott on the right. However Podolski got the nod in the middle, flanked by The Brain and the left and Walcott on the right. I felt at the time that it sent the wrong sort of message to Sunderland, a team that we surely knew would park the bus. It will be interesting to see what sort of shape the manager goes for as the season progresses.
Even so I thought we got a fairly decent output from the front three. Podolski did what was expected — didn’t get involved in the build-up play too much, but made some nice positions in the penalty area — while The Brain had a great game on the left, constantly taking on his defenders and executing a magnificent piece of dribbling to set up Carzola with a first-half chance. Walcott started well but faded as the game went on.
Aside from a hectic opening 10 minutes our defense was on the front foot for virtually the entire match. Regardless of the quality of the opposition Sczcesny, Vermaelen and Co. will be delighted to have kept a clean sheet while further forward Arteta and Diaby had decent games in the middle of the park. Andrey Arshavin (!) looked as fit and sharp as I have ever seen him and made something of an impact after coming off the bench while Giroud, as I mentioned earlier, should have gone home as the match winner.
It is absolutely pointless to draw conclusions based on one game but there are two things I will say. The first is that we looked a darn sight more cohesive and positive than against Newcastle in last season’s opener (also a 0-0 draw, if you remember).
The second is that regardless of the quality of the performance this unfortunately has to be viewed as two points dropped.