Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Good Result, and Lots to Talk About: 12 Thoughts on Montpellier 1 Arsenal 2

I have to admit it - I am jealous if you made the game. Arsenal winning, and a trip to the south of France to boot? It surely doesn't get much better than that. Anyway, a close win, and lot's to talk about.

* The selection - I'll talk about this more in my summing up, but I was very surprised when I saw the team sheet. In many respects, I can't really argue with the team that Arsene picked - it won the game after all. But I though tonight might be a chance to let the likes of Santos, Koscielny, and Ramsey get a run out, and maybe rotate a few other players in the squad as well. Given how narrow the victory was, it was probably wise to start with our best XI - but it was clear that a few players looked knackered by the end. More on that in a bit.

* I thought it was a penalty, and Vermaelen can't really have too many complaints. His game is an all-action affair, often based around busting a gut to make crucial tackles and interceptions, rather than the more composed performances that we see from Mertesacker. Unfortunately, not all of Vermaelen's tackles in and around the box are going to come off, and at least he conceded a penalty in a game we ultimately won. Still, it's an occasionally worrying aspect of his game.

* Note to all penalty takers in Europe - we get it, you watched Pirlo at the Euros. Very few people can take a Panenka without looking insufferably smug, so stop doing it please.

* It says a lot about the spirit of this new team that there was very little wallowing after we conceded. The team just got back up and put itself in the lead. Podolski's goal was a beauty - intricate passing created the chance, and Lukas was clinical in front of goal. As a I said on Sunday, I've never been fully convinced by Podolski before he arrived at Arsenal, but his effort, and his ability to put away chances have been brilliant to watch. He's quickly becoming a favourite player, especially because he seems to recognize the importance of interacting with the fans as well.

* The passing before the goal featured, unsurprisingly, Cazorla, who is now seemingly integral to our ability to direct traffic in the final third of the pitch. My growing concern with Cazorla is that he is being deployed in a manner which makes him very hard to replace - he looked very tired by the end of the match tonight, and he will undoubtedly play 90 minutes on the weekend, after playing almost every minute of the season so far.  Let's hope we aren't burning such a great player into the ground.

* The other heartening part of the Podolski goal was the lovely final pass from Giroud. He may not have a goal to his name, yet, but he now has an assist, and it was a good one. He showed great strength to hold off the defender, and a deft touch to flick the ball through to Poldi. Interestingly, while he did not have a shot on target, he did win seven aerial duels during the game. As I've noted previously, Giroud is undoubtedly not going to be the guy that replaces RvP's goals, but he may well be a very useful player to have in the final third nonetheless - his combination of strength, height, and quick feet may even be the long vaunted "plan b" that we've talked about for so long. That said, I would be tempted to start him against Coventry, if he doesn't score against Man City, because he needs to get off the mark.

* Gervinho scored again, and it's hard not to get excited about his peformances in the last two games. You get the impression that he's a confidence player, and it's a welcome return to form from a player who looked lost in the second half of last season - great to see.

* The other notable aspect of the Gervinho goal was the lovely assist from Jenkinson. I've felt for a while now that Jenks has the ability to be a solid full-back, but I was worried that he might not be able to adequately replace the attacking threat that Sagna brings to our right-flank. Well, tonight he showed that he might just be developing that side of his game. A few more performances like that, and Arsene may have a genuine selection dilemma on his hand when Bak returns from injury. 

* The second half was a pretty painful affair. If we're being honest, Montpellier should have equalised. In particular, Belhanda squandered a great opportunity, with an almost free shot on goal within the six yard box late on in the game. I suppose that's the natural karmic response to a panenka.

*In seriousness, it seemed that as the game wore on, our midfield looked increasingly ragged, repeatedly leaving our defence exposed with sloppy passes. Diaby, in particular, almost completely fell apart in the second half, and made a few very tired challenges for which he might well have received a second yellow card. I know he was returning from injury, but it's performances like today's that make me a little uneasy about the hype surrounding Diaby. He really struggled in the match tonight, and I was very surprised to see him complete 90 minutes, especially with Ramsey and Coquelin on the bench.

* One thing I thought I'd never say is this - Mannone looked pretty assured between the sticks. Late on, he plucked the ball out of the air when under pressure, when I fully expected him to drop it. Perhaps all those bruising nights in the Championship have paid off? I still don't think he's the answer, and you get the feeling that an enormous clanger is just around the corner, but with Szcz both injured and looking uncertain in his one league performance this season, maybe, just maybe, Mannone may become a more permanent fixture in the starting XI. I doubt it, though.

* Overall then, a good win. We rode our luck heavily during the second half, but we're coming back from the south of France with three points, and it sets us up very nicely in the group.

My one concern remains squad depth. I think we have a better starting eleven at our disposal than I thought on transfer deadline day, especially with Diaby and Wilshere apparently having turned the corner on their fitness issues. But players like Cazorla, Arteta, and Podolski have already logged a lot of hours so far this season, and Wenger seems reluctant, at the moment, to change a winning team. That's fair enough, I suppose - I'm not going to complain while we're winning. But there will come a point when we have to shake things up a bit - and let's hope that it's not because of fatigue-induced injuries.


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