Strong start. Eased off. Conceded a sloppy goal and some chances. Regrouped. Equalized. Pushed on and closed the game out by adding a couple more. Entertaining. Encouraging. Much needed.
It was a youthful line-up and an even younger bench. Le Boss also started with a fluid 4-4-2 giving Park and Chamakh having a great deal of freedom to move. Wenger took a gamble and it paid off. Credit to the man for believing in his squad players at a time when a win was imperative.
In the first ten minutes or so, all the play was deep in the Shrewsbury half. The tempo was high and Arsenal were pressing effectively. It led to a couple of glorious chances in quick succession. Park was in possession just outside the right edge of the Shrewsbury box. Gibbs made an overlapping run and the Korean skipper found it with a simple yet efficient pass. The full-back delivered an excellent ball between the defenders. Chamakh attacked it but couldn’t direct it away from the Keeper who made a good save.
From the resulting corner the ball went beyond everyone. Coquelin collected it, again just outside the right edge of the opposition D. A step-over and drop-of-the-shoulder later the youngster was at the by-line cutting one back. Once again Chamakh got on the end of it and attempted a well-directed side-footed strike. The Keeper did well to keep it out as it came at him through a crowd of legs.
The visitors were just trying to play it long with the hope of fighting for the ball in the Arsenal half. It led to a free-kick in the 10th minute that wasn’t defended particularly well. Djourou attacked the ball but didn’t get it but the ball fell kindly for Fabianski and the danger was averted for the moment.
The League Two side did grow in confidence from that point on. They pushed forward a bit more as Arsenal eased off. I thought the Gunners were unsure about their pressing which was neither here nor there.
A couple of minutes later a number of individual mistakes allowed the visitors to cut right through Arsenal. Collins got in behind and hit the post with a scuffed strike across the Keeper. Fabianski did well to cover the ground just in time to make a save as Morgan got on the end of the rebound.
Graham Turner’s side took the lead in the 16th minute. It was simple. Throw-in, cross, header, goal. Number of Arsenal bodies back but no pressure on any opponent. Schoolboys would have been ashamed of conceding a goal like that.
The game slowed down and lacked quality for a while after the goal. The atmosphere at the Emirates seemed to be edgy. The players were trying hard and there was a lot of movement but the level of understanding was well below par. For instance, Jenkinson kept getting really high up the pitch and that left very little room for Oxlade-Chamberlain who was forced into questioning the defender about his positioning around the 20th minute.
Coquelin then tested the Keeper from distance but it was a routine save. At the other end another corner was inches away from going in. Fabianski, it appeared to me, was being blocked by an opponent and a foul should have been called. But the Gunners should know better than to expect such decisions from a ref who plies his trade in the lower divisions in England. The defenders must take a lot more responsibility.
Just after the half-hour mark, Shrewsbury again went close. This time from a counter-attack. Coquelin initially made the mistake of going to ground while attempting an interception inside the opposition half. This opened the field up for the visitors who had a 3-v-3 situation. The youngster made up for his mistake by sprinting back to make a timely interception just as an opponent was lining up a clear strike at goal.
Soon after, Arsenal equalized from an unlikely source. Jenkinson whipped in a good cross that was only deflected towards the back post by the Shrewsbury centre back. Gibbs was well placed and his header was immaculate despite the difficult angle.
Both sides produced some excellent crosses with the best one coming from Ainsworth. Collins almost directed it into the goal.
Coquelin, who had been the best Arsenal player, then produced a wonderful long pass after bringing the ball out from the edge of the D. Park got a shot off but wasn’t able to keep it on target.
The first half ended on level terms.
After the break Arsenal came out with greater purpose. The Gunners pressed higher up the pitch and played at a higher tempo in a manner resembling their strong start in the first period. That led to a number of half chances and one could sense a goal coming. The visitors were tiring and the gulf in class was finally beginning to tell.
AOC was a lot more involved in the second half after a rather quiet opening half. His runs were powerful and threatening, often getting the better of two or three opponents. The final ball and overall impact would have been greater if the teammates had been on the same page.
Deservedly, the youngster put Arsenal ahead with a blistering strike that came out of nowhere. I thought it took a deflection but there was enough pace to beat the Keeper. By now the players and crowd were buzzing and there was a more settled feel to the football.
The visitors were limited to long punts but still got some joy as there were a few iffy moments from the Arsenal centre backs and Fabianski.
At the other end, Arsenal might have had two penalties. After a strong run, it appeared to me that a defender knocked AOC without getting anything on the ball. In another incident, a square pass from Benayoun struck the arm of a defender who fell while trying to intercept a pass. But this was one of those games where the ref was in no mood to make big decisions. Wonder how people would have reacted if the result had been different.
Arsene introduced Ryo for Park after 70 minutes. Ozyakup came on for Frimpong a few minutes later and picked up his assist soon after. Benayoun got his first goal for the Gunners.
The home side created more chances, most notably Benayoun going close from distance, but the score remained unchanged.
If I am not mistaken, Gibbs, AOC, and Benayoun got their first goals for the club while Frimpong, and Ozyakup got their first assists. Jenkinson already had an assist against United.
It was a good recovery from Arsenal and a highly positive result in the current climate. The overall defending, especially on set-pieces and crosses is still suspect and it was too easy for the visitors to break on the counter in the first half. It’s a complex problem but Arsene will have to find a solution if much is to be made of this season.
Fabianski: Looked shaky but I don’t blame him. The defence in front should be doing a lot better when simple balls are put into the box.
Jenkinson: Amazing stamina, some wonderful crosses, decent defending on the flank. Needed better understanding with AOC as they got in each other’s way quite often.
Djourou: Poor performance from the captain on the night. Should have attacked the cross better. Didn’t look very comfortable on the ball at times and put Fabianski under pressure. One would expect a Premier League defender to dominate his area in such a game.
Miquel: Surprisingly, he did better than his experienced partner. Was put under pressure and had to deal with some physical battles but came out with a strong display. Played some delightful long passes. Still not quite a Premiership defender and needs to improve his positioning but looks like he is improving at a steady rate.
Gibbs: Excellent goal, superb engine, played a key part in the third goal, put in some quality crosses, and fairly strong defensively even though he was caught up the pitch a few times. Most encouraging part is that he can become a lot better.
The defending has to be better. Many players were at fault. Overall shape of the team wasn’t good enough to prevent counter-attacks in the first half. But it wasn’t all down to the back five. They should have dealt with the aerial balls better but looking at the troubles while defending corners, I find it hard to accept this is anything but a coaching issue.
AOC: Jenkinson’s runs unsettled him in the first half and he didn’t know where to go. Often ended up being deeper on the right flank behind the full-back. Presumably, some instructions from the manager at half-time must have changed all that as he took more liberties with his movement. Very dynamic and forceful second half performance with a well deserved goal. Probably the popular choice for the MotM but a close second in my reckoning.
Frimpong: Another physically dominant effort from the youngster. Moved the ball well, offered good protection to the defence in the second half, and tested the Keeper with a couple of well taken shots. Was caught in possession three or four times. That must not happen in the big games. Should contribute more while defending balls into the box.
Coquelin: MotM in my opinion. Simply a delightful performance from start till finish. Made a number of tackles and interceptions, passing was almost silken at times, technically accomplished, looks like a naturally gifted football player. Will have to be stronger in physical battles in order to get more chances in the League.
Benayoun: Looked like the classiest player on the pitch. Struggled with the movement of the others, especially in the first half when he got into good positions but there weren’t enough runs into the box. Still managed to play a couple of excellent through balls. Got a bit greedy towards the end. Good to see him get off the mark.
I thought everyone in the midfield worked hard. But they pushed forward a lot and made some errors in judgement which opened the counter-attacking opportunities for the visitors. When better understanding develops, all of them will offer a lot more.
Chamakh: His movement and work-rate was top notch. Tested the Keeper twice in the opening few minutes but didn’t get much joy after that. I believe his instincts in the box need improvement as he doesn’t anticipate chances, mostly from second balls or deflections, as well as a striker should. Should also offer more while defending set-pieces.
Park: Was moving to the wings all through the opening period. He lacks sharpness at the moment but effort was good. With practice his touch and positioning will get better.
I got a feeling that the front two would have been better off staying more central or dropping a bit deeper rather than moving to wide areas. The full-backs were effective in those areas but often when they got into good crossing positions, there weren’t enough targets in the box. Chamakh would have been unplayable if more crosses came in his vicinity. Fair effort on the whole.
Wenger: All credit to the manager for sticking to his guns! And for being flexible in the formation at the same time.