Our young guns had a nice run out. Their somewhat unpolished skills and endeavor fell short but Arsenal reserves showed they are capable of competing and even dominating a European tie. A 1 – 0 loss away to the Greek champions, with our youngest ever Champions League squad, is not a bad result by any means.
Bartley and Cruise must thank their stars, not many youngsters get to make their first team debut in a Champions League game. Song was restored to the midfield probably to provide some solidity at the center of park. The rest of the starting line up was as expected by most.
The first few minutes gave the impression that the youngsters will make Nikopolidis and his defence work hard for a result. It turned out to be a false dawn as the Greek side settled down after a shaky start. They remained organized till the end of the game and the oldest man on the pitch had an easy night out.
Part of the blame must fall on our players. The final ball was poor on most occasions. And when the defence splitting pass did arrive Walcott and Vela, failed to apply the finish.
There is no point analyzing such a game in detail but I want to touch upon a few areas of improvement. The idea is not to be critical of the players but to discuss the small changes that can convert some of these players into a finished article.
Theo has been around for a while now and expectations from the England hopeful are high. Unfortunately, he is still not completely comfortable with the ball as it gets lost between his feet quite often. His first touch and crossing also need some improvement. Tonight’s performance can be down to lack of playing time but he will need to up his game considerably if he wants to make a significant impact for us this season.
Vela was surprisingly disappointing with his finishing. In the past he has shown that he can be clinical. It might be down to the fact that recently he has spent a lot of time on the flanks and I would really like to know if he trains more as a winger or a central striker.
Walcott and Vela are only 20 and they will certainly get better over time. What matters right now is whether they are good enough to fill the immediate vacancy or not. Neither of the two is a big strong lad, so they will need impeccable technique if they want to flourish in a tough league. I think Arsene will see how they perform over the next month before finalizing his plans for the transfer window.
Wilshere looked like he had an off day. He definitely needs more game time and Arsene should actively look for a good club where he can compete for a starting spot. It’s probably down to finding a manager Arsene can loan a gem to and feel confident that he will be polished and not damaged.
Ramsey and Merida had decent games. Ramsey is very close to being ready for the first team but he needs to deliver consistently for 90 minutes game after game. Merida is another player who needs more time on the pitch. I also feel he would be better off playing further up the pitch in a Cesc like free role as he can find the final pass or apply the finishing touch. Right now he seems a little lost when he drops deep. I guess AW wants him to be a complete midfielder and not just a creative one.
Among the debutants, Cruise had a good game against a tough opponent in Galletti. Bartley was solid overall but made a bad mistake for the goal. Defence is an art that is honed through experience and Bartley has some way to go before he can start knocking on the first team doors.
I was quite satisfied with the game although there were times when it did feel like some of our players were taking it easy on the pitch. The first round is behind us now and hopefully we will have a much fitter squad for the knockouts.