Frustrating. That would be the word I would use – and would safely bet most of you would use too – when describing today’s 0-0 draw with Sunderland, in which we dominated possession but were significantly short on creativity.
There were mixed signals from a new-look Arsenal, who were without old faces including Robin van Persie (who the commentators wouldn’t get off of), and Alex Song, who prior to the game had been confirmed as sold to Barcelona for around 15m GBP. Podolski centered Gervinho and Theo in the usual Wenger 4-3-3 deployment, a formation that won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen an Arsenal game in the last three years. Its predictability showed as opposite manager Martin O’Neil ably set up his pieces to suffocate our attack, stifling our play through the middle and giving us little option but to cross into the loaded box from out wide.
Of the three debutants (Giroud getting about a half-hour in as a sub), Cazorla stole the show with a man-of-the-match performance that screamed “you get what you pay for”. Nimble, agile, creative, and unafraid of a long-range strike, he looked every bit the positive signing that Arsenal need him to be this campaign. Podolski unfortunately was less effective, looking a little confused position-wise and not finding any real guilt edge opportunities throughout his hour of play.
Then there was Olivier Giroud. Donning the #12, Theirry Henry’s number whilst on loan last season, Giroud was put through beautifully (by Cazorla) with a relatively simple opportunity to slot home an emphatic winner. Giroud strode to the ball, took a clean swipe at it, blasted it beyond the keeper… and the net. The woeful and not-Henry-like sitter probably cost Arsenal the extra two points today. (Video – Arsenalist). Needless to say, the groans around the Emirates were audible – as was the sound of everyone thinking “Robin would have scored that”.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the game itself today. We were beat by a group of committed, stubborn Sunderland players who each did their part in an astute tactical battle plan. Arsenal failed to capitalized on a variety of decent chances (corners and free kicks were poor, Theo should have done better with a half-volley attempt early, crosses were delivered inconsistently) and we were lucky not to concede after some shoddy defending at several intervals.
Instead, I want to calm a few heads with a little bit of reality. Yes, we could have used Robin van Persie today. He may have provided the spark that gave us something special to break open Sunderland, like he single-handedly did last year in the same fixture (November 16 2011). But even with RVP, and/or Song, we might not have got three points today. In any Premier League game where you don’t take advantage of your opportunities, especially considering the relative strength of the league nowadays, you run the risk of dropping some (or all) of the points available. Players like Theo Walcott have to step up and make the difference in these cagey games. It’s time for the team to grow up and for new heroes to replace the one-man-army that RVP had become in 11-12.
Secondly, Giroud and Podolski did not have a big impact today but they are top quality players that will find their form. In the case of the former, no one could be more disappointed by that miss than him. He would have wanted a way to endear himself to his new fans, he was given that opportunity, but unfortunately football can be a cruel bitch. If anything it will push him to be better, to fight for us, to not let it happen again. And if that’s going to be the spark that makes him more lethal for the rest of the year, it’s best it happens early in the year.
As for Poldi, his centre-forward position is a unique one in its requirements, and it’s clear the team is still used to the movements and preferences of RVP. Transitioning from being the go-to goalscorer on a relegated Bundesliga team, to replacing a world-class player who basically crafted his own position that the Arsenal attack was built around, is going to take some time. Poldi looked out of place today, and he was – he was in Robin’s place. But with time that position will become his (as it will Giroud’s) and that’s when we can expect to see the production we’re promised from these two exciting summer transfers.
In the meantime, I suggest Arsenal fans take a deep breath and remember that the season has only begun. There’s still a lot of learning curve for our new signings – hopefully not the last of them – and we’re just going to have to be patient while the new stars of Arsenal become established. It may be frustrating, but even Dennis Bergkamp started off pretty poorly… and look how that ended.