That was my first thought after the game.
This was going to be a test of Arsenal’s mental strength and they’ve come through with flying colours. Before the game I doubt many people would have bet on a three goal victory for the Gunners with a clean sheet to add extra sparkle to the result. While it did seem that Fenerbahce didn’t go with the right formation and lacked cohesiveness – will not surprise me if their manager doesn’t last the season – the performance from the visitors was professional and efficient.
As expected, Wenger made only one change to the starting line up from the previous game with Cazorla coming in on the left. I was impressed by the way the team started out confidently and controlled the game for large periods. It’s true that the first half wasn’t a spectacle for the viewers, you might even say it got frustrating at times, but Arsenal were almost always in control.
The midfield balance was under scrutiny and it wasn’t perfect in this game either, which is understandable. Ramsey and Wilshere are not going to develop a tactical defensive brain overnight. But they were helped by the fact that Fenerbahce just didn’t have a plan to use that space. Even when they did get into the hole in front of the central defenders – Moussa Sow dropped in there quite often, for instance – the choices made by their attackers were inefficient and individualistic.
In a way I was surprised at the way the hosts played. Instead of a technically competent and cohesive continental unit they put forward a poor imitation of some of the smaller, more physical premier league clubs. It didn’t seem like the best approach given the kind of players they had but Ersun Yanal can also point to numerous unforced errors from his wards as the source of their problems.
It won’t trouble Wenger though and shouldn’t take anything away from Arsenal’s calm and composed display. They had to be confident yet cautious in the opening minutes and the Gunners produced just the right mix. I liked the determination to avoid mistakes and the desire to still play the right way.
All the goals came in the second half with the first one being the most vital and enjoyable. Ramsey’s vision was penetrating and execution precise. An alert Walcott raced onto the resulting incisive ball before squaring it across the face of goal. Gibbs arrived at the right moment and knocked it in, doing well to direct a bouncing ball goalwards. Given just how quick Arsenal’s fullbacks are and their advanced positioning, this is a kind of goal I would like to see scored more often. It can and should also work in reverse with someone like Gibbs or Monreal making a run in behind and squaring it to Theo at the other post.
The second goal was a bit fortuitous with the Keeper’s mistake, and to be honest I’m a little surprised Ramsey doesn’t strike the ball as cleanly as he used to, but the way he made and utilized that yard of space on the edge of the box was commendable and again something I’d like to see more often. In fairness to the players though, most opponents will not leave their back four exposed as Fenerbahce had done on that occasion.
Arsenal’s third came from a delightful crossfield ball by Cazorla whose brilliance was matched by Walcott’s run and control. Theo had been terrorising the hapless (and helpless) Kadlec throughout the game and again forced a mistake from the fullback. Giroud placed his penalty well.
The Gunners had chances to add more, and indeed the hosts could have reduced the deficit on more than one occasion too. Wenger’s side did seem to drop too deep after scoring and gave the hosts a lot more space than was necessary. There were some casual touches and unnecessary backheels in critical areas in front of the defence that might have caused more problems against a different opponent. But these are not new issues and I don’t want to dwell on them in this moment to cherish.
Szczesny: Made a couple of very good saves late in the game. Showed good concentration and bravery. Still I’d not say this was more than the kind of display that is expected from a Keeper at this level.
Sagna: Good to see he looked fit. Played an hour or so at centre back and didn’t look out of position except a few moments when he didn’t seem quite sure whether to get tight to the attacker or not. He always gives everything and is willing to put his body on the line but I got a feeling this is not a position he will enjoy if he has to play there for a run of games.
Mertesacker: Won numerous important headers in the box. Looked comfortable even after switching to the left side of the defence. Maybe he could have done more to keep the team compact later in the game?
Koscielny: Was looking strong and composed till he picked up another unfortunate injury. I’m not glad he got injured but given his ban from the weekend’s clash, better he than any other defender.
Gibbs: Well-taken opportunistic goal and efficient contribution on the flank as he made good use of his speed. There’s more to come from him if he can stay fit for the whole season.
Jenkinson: Showed good energy on the flank and got into interesting attacking positions. Put in one or two good balls as well. Did make some minor mistakes defensively but usually had players around him to help out. Excellent left footed strike right at the end.
The defenders had a decent game without being special. Could have done more late in the game but they did make sure the chances conceded were not of the gilt-edged variety.
Ramsey: MotM easily. Superb pre-assist, good goal, untiring effort all over the pitch in attack and defence. Did the simple things and produced the decisive moments.
Rosicky: Might not get a great highlights package out of his display but I thought he brought maturity and game-intelligence to the side as he kept plugging holes all over the pitch. He was there where his teammates needed him doing the simple bits and working hard for the team.
Wilshere: It seemed to he was the more conservative of the midfielders and didn’t advance forward as often, which was commendable. Still had some bright moments in attack like the time he set up Giroud or the way he burst into the box and got his shot away. Did lose the ball at times when he shouldn’t have. Another good learning experience for the youngster.
Cazorla: He is still some way off his best, and yet he’s so good! That pass for Walcott and a couple of others were really memorable. Another player whose work rate and composure helped the team tremendously.
There is a problem of balance in the midfield but we must not lose sight of the fact that Wenger has some exceptional players and they’re all capable of producing a lot more than we’ve seen from them this season, or even in the last. The potential should be noted and appreciated.
It’s also interesting that Wenger seems to be asking Wilshere to hold more rather than Ramsey. It could be down to the Welshman’s stronger engine and ability to cover ground. While coming at the loss of Wilshere’s dribbling and vision in tighter advanced areas, this could be a decent short term solution if both adapt to their respective roles.
Giroud: Work rate was again excellent and his movement in all directions continuously helps his teammates. I thought he should have shown a bit more desire and anticipation in the box. Penalty was calmly dispatched.
Walcott: Got more time and space in this game and always looked a genuine threat. Don’t know if winning the penalty counts as an assist officially but in my book it’s two assists for Theo. Since pre-season I have felt he has lost his composure and scoring ability to some extent and this was a game where he could have picked up a goal if he had last season’s form. Did a decent job when he dropped into the deeper areas to help the defence.
The attackers had a good game. Not the kind many will fondly recall at the end of the season but it should help their confidence and that of the team.
Subs: Monreal and Podolski had very little to do.
Wenger: Had to ensure heads didn’t drop and did. Choices were limited and it was about getting the basics right and then hoping his players’ quality shows through. He knows if his team doesn’t concede they’ll always be in with a chance of winning games, just have to keep on working on cutting out the gifted goals.Follow @goonerdesi