A little later than usual today but that’s life, it gets in the way sometimes. Champions League football returns to Arsenal this week with the opening group stage match in Marseille on Wednesday night. Having made a successful début on Wearside at the weekend, Mesut Özil was hailed as a saviour by Arsène, why Arsenal might get out of a tricky group. Indeed, the French club are the only team in the group which is not in the top three of their domestic league as this campaign gets under way. Domestic form is no guarantee of European success as we know all too well and the club’s experience in the group phase will prove invaluable. They know how to qualify, much like the Italian national team in tournaments except without going on to win this silverware occasionally.
Özil’s arrival has given everyone connected with the club a lift in the way that world-class players do. As first games go, he would probably think that only a goal would have made it the perfect afternoon, despite the imperfections of the overall performance. Aaron Ramsey’s contribution was overlooked in the desire to fit in with the hype but is receiving the appropriate recognition this morning, summed up his view of his new team-mate:
He’s a fantastic player and is very gifted. He’s going to create a lot of opportunities for us.
He has a wonder of a left foot. He caresses the ball and the passes seem to be of a perfect weight and right into people’s strides.
The creativity will get the team further yet his overall contribution should not be undervalued, a willingness to track back would have been appreciated by all. It doesn’t mean that he is a superman, each tackle was perfect just an appreciation that although he has a creative role, he has other duties to fulfil which something of a failing among his artistic predecessors. The ones who have succeeded, are still feted, have been those who had a similar attitude.
Olivier Giroud was equally effusive in his praise; little wonder as he must have thought all of his Christmases had come at once when the ball was played into his path so sweetly for the opening goal. During the summer, there was much attention on the French striker with the club coveting Higuain and Suarez amongst others. Even Giroud himself declared that we were light in the striking department, that the cover was thin. Lukas Podolski’s injury has exposed that even more with Chuba Akpom replacing the French international at the Stadium of Light. Whilst the club unsuccessfully chased their tails, any talk in that direction was treated as a slight against Giroud even after his intervention. Many are quick to point out that Theo Walcott can play centrally; he can and despite fluffing his lines with three presentable chances, has potential to play there for short spells. However, as we saw with Podolski at the end of last season, it is not a satisfactory alternative. Indeed with Walcott playing on the right, is it any alternative with the injuries currently suffered? It strikes me that most arguments depend on the majority of the squad being fit; how often does that happen at Arsenal for whatever reason? When the options in the squad are spoken of, when depth is mentioned, we are in some fantasy where Arsène has a plethora of choices. The reality is that he rarely does across the board and that is why he needed to add depth in the summer, not because Giroud is incapable of leading the Arsenal line; we simply do not have enough alternatives. Akpom and Sanogo will, I am sure, have great careers but if Arsène is unable to call on his first choice striker, they are not viable alternatives for any length of time. They are the future but not the now, where we are hostages to fortune.
At the moment, it is favouring the manager and arguably with the early season, he deserves a break. No, actually, he’s got that with Diaby so no more breaks. A stroke of luck then. As does Theo Walcott. Even if he failed to score on Saturday, there was the positive that he did not shy away from missing again when Özil wove his magic or when he was asked to head the ball towards goal. The latter was not the best of attempts; I don’t know if he closed his eyes when the ball came across but the accuracy of the final effort hints that the playground trait haunted the England international. He looks like he needs a goal, just to lift that weight off his shoulders, to get his season off and running in that respect. Even Kieran Gibbs has chipped in; no pressure, Theo. He will get his twenty goal haul this campaign, I am sure but his longer-term dream of playing as the lead striker seems unlikely. If he did so, he may need to practice his heading a bit.