Once again Arsene put the same eleven players on the pitch. Well, almost. Gervinho did take the place of Young Miyaichi but the rest of the starting line-up was same as the bunch that impressed in the Asia tour.
Many of us were eager to see how Gervinho performs, and I for one wasn’t disappointed. Far from it, I was well and truly enthralled by the half an hour he got on the pitch. Arsene probably bought him for his intelligent movement, well-timed runs, and the general ability to get into good positions on the pitch. If he can sustain the composure and finishing we saw in this friendly, the Ivory Coast striker will better the goals scored by Nasri and Walcott last year as I feel he is more natural in that role that any of the wide players Arsenal had last year. Previously, I had expressed concerns about his finishing, which seemed completely unfounded on the basis of that performance, but I’ll reserve my judgment till the end of the season. I think he will score when the opposition allows him space to exploit behind the defence. The true test of his finishing will come against tighter defences and parked buses. Nonetheless, Gervinho made as good a start to his Arsenal career as possible and that’s all that matters for now.
Like the previous two friendlies, this game too had the clichéd ‘game of two halves’ feel to it. Arsenal dominated the first period with excellent work in midfield by Song and the irrepressible Jack Wilshere. That kid is only going to improve and will undoubtedly end up in the team of the year when the votes are cast. They were ably supported by the back four and the front three who did their bit of chasing back and pressing. The new man impressed with his willingness and ability to provide support to Gibbs.
In an otherwise well controlled first half, and despite the best efforts of all the players, Arsenal had a few iffy moments when it seemed the defensive weaknesses were peeping from behind a curtain of wonderful free-flowing football.
The own-goal conceded by the hapless Jenkinson was indeed a once in a lifetime fluke that he wouldn’t actually score if he tried a hundred times. As I have said before, Arsenal concede so many freak goals because the defence gets into a mess more often than the other top teams. It’s a simple matter of percentages and, while we might not see the same accident in competitive games, there is no doubt other flukes are going to hurt the Gunners at vital moments unless basic problems in defence are sorted.
On the positive side, apart from Gervinho, Gibbs looked like he is getting back to his old self, Walcott put in some good balls into the box, Wilshere showed he is ready to chip in – literally and otherwise – with more assists this year, Vermaelen and Koscielny were actively looking to spread the ball from the back, and the delivery on the set-pieces seemed more meaningful (maybe it’s just me on this one).
The second half team once again lacked cohesion. There were too many individual moments when players tried to run with the ball or create something. There wasn’t enough focus on retaining the ball or the shape of the team. This put the defence under pressure but some good work by Mannone, some last gasp blocks by defenders, and Cologne’s lack of quality in the final third meant the equalizer was never scored.
Rosicky played some passes that were pleasing to the eye. But his work rate just isn’t good enough for a deep lying midfield role. It’s surprising because he has the talent and the ability to play that role. He can tackle, hold his own in a one-v-one situation, bring the ball out from defence under pressure, and play the simple passes or the exceptional ones. This performance reminded me of his pre-season games and early League ones from last season where he looked sharp. It could be that he loses interest when he doesn’t get enough minutes. It’s a hard one for the manager to solve but he has to get more from Little Mozart and that has to start with a much higher work rate.
Arshavin looks like he has rediscovered his shooting boots. Last season the Russian hit too many shots into the top tier or near the corner flag. In this game he tested the goalkeeper twice and went close on one occasion. Again it’s something that has to last the whole season for it to be valued.
Based on the recent rumours, it seems likely that there will be some significant movement in the transfer market. Wenger has mentioned the need for signing one more defender and there might be others if some players are able to secure their moves away from the club. I don’t want to speculate on most stories but one that intrigued me was the possible departure of youngster Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.
Only last season Arsene had said that he was banging on the first team door with both hands. Now he seems surplus to requirements and good enough only to interest Championship sides? Even the newly promoted Premiership teams are not interested in taking him?
To be honest, I am not surprised by this because I have always been sceptical about his attitude. JET looked like a lad who could dominate the reserves level and create some moments of real magic even in Championship games but just didn’t have the mental discipline to stay focused and perform week in, week out. In fact, I won’t be surprised if Aneke and Afobe go the same way, especially the former.
It’s a real shame because technically and physically JET had a lot to offer. I don’t know if this mental weakness is an individual issue or one that is somehow linked to the training given to these youngsters. I don’t know the details so don’t really want to judge but it is possible that focus on technical development alone (while ignoring the results aspect of the games being played) could have had an impact on the players’ mentality. It’s a difficult balance to achieve. At a young age one would not want to force the kids to play for results. That would just produce hoof merchants. But an unwavering emphasis on technical skills could just as easily create footballers who can dazzle occasionally but can’t dig in deep when required. A top player needs the right combination of technical, physical and mental abilities. If any one is missing it can finish a career before it begins.
I am sure Wenger and coaches will be as disappointed as the fans if not more. They would not want to invest years of work into some kids only to sell them to some Championship clubs. They’ll have to look at the way the academy works and identify the problems. Only that can lead to a solution and better results with future prospects.
I do hope the transfer document, if and when it is signed, will include a buy-back clause alongside a good sell-on fee. You never know, a couple of years fighting for his place could just be what JET needs for he seems to have everything else.