Austerity measures meant I couldn’t make it to the Emirates tonight, and with my satellite dish Diaby-ed by a hailstorm last night I was reduced to watching on Sky Go. Which is a great service, but not quite the same as being there, or the lustrous HD eye bath I’m used to for away games.
Anyway, the game. The first half was worryingly flat and sloppy - especially in terms of turning possession over cheaply - with a theoretically strong side still looking hungover from the Chelsea defeat. For Olympiacos, Machado missed a volley from almost inside the goal, but aside from a Cazorla free kick that pinged off the bar we never really looked like scoring. Until of course we scored, thanks to a well-placed pea roller from Gervinho.
Having applied the hand brake, and swiftly conceded a headed goal in what’s becoming predictably sloppy fashion, Arsenal gradually got going after the break. Perhaps the Greeks tired a bit, but the boy Santi was able to start pulling the strings and the team began creating chances. Both fullbacks also deserve a mention for again looking good at either end of the pitch, and ultimately our bench told with Rambo dinking in a late gloss goal.
A good result then, especially with Montpellier taking a point off Schalke in Germany. There’s obviously logic in Arsene picking his strongest side for these early games. Get the job done now and he’ll be able to rotate later. Nonetheless, given that this was our first XI bar the BFG, the lads will need to recover fast in time for West Ham on Saturday. Winning 3-1 tonight is a one-goal improvement on our last home result against the Greeks, so we can point to a slight improvement there. Here’s some other stuff…
- Vermaelen isn’t just out of form, he’s all over the shop. Misplaced passes, diving in to daft tackles, getting beaten in the air, charging up field - watching Big Tom currently reminds me of when Pete Gill, ex of Football 365’s parish and a gooner, used to routinely describe our players as ‘the braindeads’. I wonder if Arsene is now regretting making the Belgian skipper. It’s the kind of decision that you can find yourself hostage to in that it’s now hard to drop him, whereas picking Arteta would have created no such concerns.
- I love how Poldi puts his laces through the ball. The clipped, curled finish as patented by Thierry is obviously a thing of sublime beauty, but there’s also a lot to be said for just walloping the ball at the goal and seeing what happens. Podolski really knows how to belt it, doesn’t he? And the reward tonight was a shot in off the keeper’s shin. Lovely. Hopefully people won’t take this the wrong way, but there are shades of Dirk Kuyt’s work rate and capacity to nab important goals about the German. Easy to see him becoming one of the most popular players in the side, even if he can drift out of the action sometimes.
- Coquelin is yet to convince. I’m still not entirely sure what others have seen, which I’ve missed, that has led to the player being feted as some kind of Makelele/Zidane hybrid. (Although if there is one of those around, let’s definitely sign him.) After a shaky first half he put in a decent shift in the second, and looked like exactly what he is: a promising but raw youngster. Unluckily, he seemed to pick up a calf twang right at the end. With the absence of Diaby, I’m starting to worry about the midfield as the fixtures pile up. There’s an unbelievable amount of pressure now on Arteta (30) and Cazorla (27) to keep the team ticking. Without wanting to just parrot what I said after the Chelsea game, so much now rests on what shape Wilshere returns in, because he can realistically cover for, or complement, those two.
- Gervinho might be frustrating up front at times, but he’s the most effective option. Five shots on target so far this season, five goals, and another workaholic display from the Ivorian. He’s already scored one more goal than last year’s haul, and can boast the kind of conversion rate that will have Olivier Giroud crying salty tears of handsome regret. Perhaps Ollie needs a Red Sea-style centre parting too. To be fair, the Frenchman was always involved once he came on, and can add another assist to his account after Ramsey’s superb chipped finish. For those who think Giroud’s style will never suit Arsenal’s system, I offer that cushioned header as evidence otherwise.