Arsene started this game with a fairly strong line-up. Rosicky and Arshavin flanked Chamakh in attack. As expected, the midfield was marshalled by Nasri, Wilshere, and Frimpong. Vermaelen and Koscielny paired in the centre of defence with Fabianski in goal. Eboue and Gibbs completed the eleven.
I thought that team looked strong enough to start a premier league home game against any mid table or bottom half side. It would also be strong enough for the early rounds of the FA Cup. When we consider that four key midfielders and two strikers are missing, it certainly gives one a sense of comfort about the depth. A couple of additions (in goal and centre of defence) will help but we aren’t as short as the Misery Brigade would have us believe.
The whole game was pretty exciting as both teams played without pressure. Right from the start we could see that Arsenal were on the front foot. We created plenty of half chances but the final ball was mostly missing. In defence the team looked fairly solid. Koscielny was particularly impressive with his positioning, reading of the game, and well-timed interceptions. Up front another new boy, Chamakh, was making some good runs down the channels and impressed with his ball holding skills and link up play.
Milan came close a couple of times. A long free kick down the middle wasn’t completely cleared and Flamini was the first on to the loose ball only to hit the crossbar via a deflection. I was a bit disappointed with this as it was very similar to the problems we’ve had with high balls down the middle. The midfield wasn’t close enough to support the defence on the second ball. When we have Song on the pitch he is alert to these issues but the youngsters will have to read these situations better.
On another occasion the former gunner was able to run straight down the middle and unleashed a fierce shot that was deflected away by Vermaelen. At the other end the Belgian’s header off a corner forced a good save. Overall, the first half was exciting but there wasn’t any real moment of class.
It arrived when Arshavin woke up from his slumber. The Russian picked up the ball near the half way line and accelerated past a couple of challenges. It’s not often that we see Gattuso shrugged off with such nonchalance. That run was followed by an inch perfect through ball and Chamakh supplied an intelligent finish as he let the ball roll across him and side-footed it past the keeper. A very composed, high quality finish was a good start in front of the home crowd for the Moroccan.
Anybody who doubted Wenger’s genius in the transfer market should revisit that first half and watch the performances of Koscielny and Chamakh. As Le Boss often says, big players are those who perform on the pitch and not necessarily those who have big price tags. It’s early days but the two signings of the summer have created a fantastic first impression.
I also thought the youngsters, Frimpong and Wilshere, did fairly well even though Seedorf taught them some lessons. Wilshere does make some mistakes while going forward. I think he is a guy with so much time on the ball that he ends up with too many options and gets a bit confused. If he can learn to pick a pass a little early he won’t lose the ball as often as he did in the first half hour. Frimpong didn’t go forward that often and it was understandable. He could have been closer to the defence and taken the ball from them a bit more often but I don’t want to criticize him for things even the experienced players struggle with.
Rosicky, Nasri, Gibbs and Eboue are good players and did what we’ve come to expect from them. Just like our other full backs, Gibbs needs to work on his crossing a bit but his positioning and overlapping runs were quite good. Rosicky drifted in a bit but I thought Nasri compensated for that by drifting out wide quite often.
Fabianski had a very good game. He didn’t have to make too many saves or attack many balls in the air but looked assured and confident in whatever he did. At one particular moment he did a very good job of rushing out and winning the ball before the striker who was clean through.
It’s worth giving some thought to that moment. The Milan attack came out of nothing when Chamakh (It could have been someone else, I’m not sure about this) played a risky crossfield pass just inside the Milan half. He had three or four clear short passes available but he went for a longer one and ended up short. Flamini won the ball and was able to slide it through for Boriello who could have been clean through if Fabianski had not read the situation.
These are simple mistakes that can lead to big problems. For instance, if the striker had been a quicker player like Rooney, Fabianski might have been caught out or might even have seen a red card. In such cases the keeper looks like a fool but the real problem is with the guy who got the pass wrong and with the midfielder who didn’t put enough pressure on the through ball.
At times it seems stupid to create an issue out of such a small thing but we concede many goals out of nothing and this was a perfect example of that.
The second half saw a few substitutions with Sagna, Clichy and Walcott coming on for the full backs and Rosicky. Arsenal created a couple of good chances down the right but the Milan defenders blocked the attempts on goal. Chamakh created a chance for Arshavin with a drag back and reverse flick but the angle was too tight for the Russian. I’ve a feeling these two will enjoy playing with each other.
Milan weren’t creating many chances and I was really disappointed that we conceded a sloppy goal from a simple set-piece. There were three Arsenal defenders around Pato but none of them could get their head on the ball. I even got a feeling that Djourou actually ducked under the ball for some strange reason. Perhaps, he didn’t want to concede a corner and thought there was someone covering behind him. There wasn’t much the keeper could have done.
Towards the end Mark Randall (a real surprise to see him on the pitch) got a double chance but hit it too close to the keeper on both occasions. I think the kid lacks a bit of composure and that’s what prevents an immense talent from blossoming into a top class player.
At the other end, Zambrotto rattled the bar with a thunderous striker. I got a feeling it was too easy for the Milan players to play the one-two, especially in the final half hour when our play was completely disjointed. As in the Wigan game last season, the link between defence and attack was broken as the midfield went AWOL for a while. Milan couldn’t capitalize but a lot of work is needed if we have to go through the year without losing points to stupid moments.
Amongst the subs; Walcott was his usual self, Vela had one moment of brilliance, Djourou looked rusty and out of position, and Randall was exciting and frustrating as ever.
I think the starting eleven tomorrow will be somewhat different and will probably have some more rookies. That is another good game to look forward to.