New away kit, same problems on the road. It has always been a criticism of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal that they cannot win against teams like Sam Allardyce’s Bolton, and more recently, Tony Pulis’ Stoke. With the evidence presented, it is hard to argue. Arsenal have a tendency to be pushed over in these sorts of games, and it has often led to some tough defeats. On Sunday though, that was an accusation that could not be leveled at them.
Arsenal sometimes struggle to implement their fluent passing game in games like this. A combination of poor pitches and opponents more than willing to kick us has often rendered us toothless with no apparent plan B. Well, once again we were toothless, but it was for a different reason. Whether or not that can be seen as a positive is a matter of opinion. We dominated possession, we were solid at the back but we just couldn’t test Begovic. It was telling that the brilliant Cazorla was the only man to get a shot on target.
It certainly isn’t time to panic. Whilst the media are jumping on the ‘without Van Persie, Arsenal can’t score’ bandwagon (it was noticeable that many of Stoke’s moronic chants centered on this theme), the vast majority of the fans can see that it is only a matter of time. Indeed, most are praising the squad and the way Wenger has gone about his business this summer.
Cazorla’s performance against Sunderland last week had fans and critics alike purring. It seemed the quest to replace Fabregas had finally ended, on Sunday at Stoke, the quest was confirmed as over. The ‘let’s see how he does away at Stoke’ comments were shoved firmly back into mouths as he ran the show at the Britannia. From the early minutes it was clear that Stoke planned to stay close to him and disrupt his rhythm as much as possible. The tactic didn’t last long.
Whilst Cazorla took up a very similar position to the one Fabregas occupied so successfully before he moved on to pastures new, he is a very different player. He is quicker and more mobile than his fellow Spaniard, and is certainly more direct. Fabregas was always content to pass laterally and keep possession, Cazorla sees that as more of a last resort. He always looks for the killer pass or the long range shot. His willingness to shoot from range is certainly refreshing in a team that is often so averse to shots from range.
With the lavish amounts being spent on players this summer (Hazard for £32m, Modric for £30m, Oscar for £25m), Cazorla at a mere £15m seems like the bargain of the century. He is certainly unlucky not to have racked up any goals or assists so far and that will certainly change sooner rather than later.
Giroud displayed promising signs that he will not be another Chamakh with his movement and hold up play. His shooting still needs some fine tuning but it his clear he has quality. His late attempt to lob Begovic was agonisingly close and could so easily have opened his account in spectacular style. The goals will come, of that there is no doubt. What isn’t so clear is whether Arsenal’s pristine defensive record can be maintained.
The newly found defensive stability from the first two games is certainly the biggest positive to be drawn so far. Whether it can be continued is another matter entirely. It is a very welcome development and is certainly the area which most needed improvement after last year’s shipping of 49 goals. The presence of Steve Bould as Wenger’s right hand man could certainly be seen as a reason for the improvement. His influence on the defensive side of Arsenal’s game was noted during pre-season by some of the defenders. Let’s just hope the clean sheets keep coming against some of the better sides we have coming up.
Liverpool next week will be an interesting one. We’ve not got the best record at Anfield and really struggled there last year before ‘You Know Who’ popped up with a last minute volley to win the game. What was evident in their game against City was that they’re still not totally at ease with the style Rodgers wants to implement. Hopefully we can take advantage of that and grab a much needed win.