Sunday, 17 August 2014

Arsenal 2-1 Palace: Some start!

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

Before the season started I spoke of unpredictable campaigns, but this was ridiculous. True, in the end we defeated Palace 2-1 and kept a potential title challenge on track, but considering the buzz around the camp and the expectations that followed prior, this wasn't a performance that merited our credentials.

We started brightly, yes. Our midfield was on top of Palace's rather easily, but individual performances were getting found out later. Ramsey was uncharacteristically sloppy, Alexis was understandably struggling with fitness, and after looking at his showing, it's tempting to say that Santi Cazorla is on a downward slide. I think Wilshere knows he is under the spotlight and was trying to make the most of the chance he was offered, but it seemed like he was forcefully trying to produce something, akin to playing controlled and composed football.

Yaya Sanogo was really awful. Bar lively displays against Bayern and Man City, Sanogo has always looked bad to me ever since he came to Arsenal. The sentiment surrounding him had meant that I refrained from making a judgment on him last season, but it seems clear now that he hasn't improved one bit from 2013/14. Arsene Wenger's stubbornness to not admit that Sanogo was a fail signing in a nearly failed summer of 2013 has not only affected our momentum on the pitch, it has also wrongly influenced the minds of plenty of Arsenal supporters, who too, are guilty of not believing their eyes.

Wenger's fixation on Sanogo is perhaps because he was a frustratingly typical buy during a time when supporters were clamouring for Higuains and Suarezs. While Ozil went a long way to restore belief and optimism, the obvious notion of "Well, what could have been if we had bought someone established?" also remained.

Wenger's backers assumed that Sanogo would be perceived as a joke buy in a deeply flawed transfer window, and sought to defend him (from no one) even before he had a chance to prove himself. The truth is, it was the circumstances of the buy that had angered the fanbase rather than the player himself. Lest we forget, this club was talking about Bayern-esque days to arrive and then bought an injury-prone, free striker from Ligue 2 in the same month.

It is my firm belief that people want Sanogo to succeed simply so that Wenger would be proved right. For every good pass he executes, supporters conveniently seem to forget his previous seven poor lay-offs. Sanogo, like Ozil, is a player who supporters are fooling themselves into believing is a success, with one prime difference. Ozil has all the ingredients to succeed; Sanogo doesn't.

We fell behind against the run of play to a Palace corner. Now, I've already admitted that I know as much as the art of defending as Lady GaGa, but wouldn't it have been sensible to have a man at the post to head off a potential goal? All the evidence has suggested that having an extra man on the line has helped prevent goals, none more so than Gibbs against Hull. Moreover, why in the world was Alexis handling Hangeland's zone? It was no wonder that Hangeland got a good head to the ball - Alexis might be robust, but few would argue that him and Hangeland are an aerial mismatch.

Speaking of Sanchez; I really hope he gets his goal. I feel that he really, really needs it. He seems to be bringing the pressure of expectation upon himself, and is trying too hard to prove that he's worth the £30m. A goal would do him the world of good - it would take the pressure and the spotlight off him to perform.

We did get an assist from him to whet our appetites, though. He swung a ball in from a resulting free-kick which Koscielny headed in quite superbly. His movement and understanding of where the goal was was excellent. If I had tried that I would have wound up in a heap with a broken neck.

Aside from a headed goal against Sunderland, has Koscielny always scored on Totteringham Day's and important times?

Unfortunately, Laurent's leveler wasn't the catalyst we needed. For all the attacking quality we had in the team, we looked leggy and dysfunctional as a unit. It's tempting to say that we haven't shaken off the side effects of the World Cup yet, but I don't think that's the case. Cazorla, Ramsey and Wilshere, even Sanogo looked sharp in the Community Shield. And even if they weren't fit enough to start this match, oughtn't the manager gone for options like Chamberlain or Rosicky on the bench? Yesterday was either the fitness coach's fault or the manager's. A case to ponder for Shad and Arsene.

Elsewhere, Kieran Gibbs tweaked his hamstring around the 60th minute. He'll probably be sidelined for a couple of weeks, which screws up our threadbare defence even further. We now only have four match fit defenders, just enough for Besiktas but not nearly enough to sustain a title challenge. Wenger has to decide if Chambers is a firm right-back option or a centre-back one, so that he can proceed with his defensive recruitment.

If Wenger sees Chambers as a right back, that would mean there is a large hole in our centre back options which would need to be tended through the transfer market or our youth academy. If Wenger chooses Chambers as a centre back and seeks to promote Bellerin as Debuchy's deputy (which wouldn't be the worst idea), then that would mean we are still short of one centre back (we need four, remember).

Apparently we're going for a Greek defender called Kostas Manolas, a guy I never heard of. I looked him up and it turns out he's the nephew of "Greek football legend Stelios Manolas". Suffice to say, I haven't heard of Stelios Manolas too. I wouldn't care anyways - as long as he's good, we're good.

Giroud was much more sharper than Sanogo when he came on, simply because he's a much better player. Let's face it - for all his limitations, Giroud isn't going to come under any threat from Sanogo. Once Theo Walcott is fit and Sanchez has (hopefully) been integrated into the team, I hope to see Sanchez play through the middle more often. There's no doubt he'd be a much better striking alternative than Sanogo.

Sanchez played really well in the last 15-20 minutes, two dreadful crosses aside. He seems like a hardworking guy who has all the attributes to make it big at Arsenal, but nerves are somewhat creating a barrier between him and the road to greatness. Hopefully him and Wilshere try to keep their minds on their games and not on expectant fans, such as myself.

We got the winner, and we left it really late to get it. Giroud held it up for Debuchy (Sanogo couldn't have done that), Mathieu fired it right at the keeper, and who else popped up on the rebound but Aaron Ramsey? I'm telling you, if you haven't already heard it, this is a player who is currently topping Cesc Fabregas and Frank Lampard at their best, and he may not even have reached his prime yet. It'd be a great achievement on Arsenal's side if we manage to keep a player like him for five more seasons. He's our best, and possibly only all-round midfielder. I'd be astounded if he didn't win the PFA Player of the Year, injuries aside.

Rambo's goal was much needed and the timing of it dramatized an eventful day, but we really should be hoping for more from this team. This was the exact same team that played against Manchester City so well, so arguing that match fitness was key in our sluggish play is incorrect. A managerless Palace in the Emirates Stadium is as good as it gets in the Premier League, and we almost made a right mess of it.

Unlike yesterday, the tie against Besiktas is a must win. They aren't a good enough outfit to cause us any major problems, providing we're serious enough to come flying out of the blocks early. We have a really good team and aren't affected much by injury. Even though results are greater than performances, we really should be delivering both. This isn't a performance that we will get away with on another day.

Till Tuesday.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]