Arsenal 2 – 1 Crystal Palace
0 – 1 Hangeland (35)
1 – 1 Koscielny (45)
2 – 1 Ramsey (90)
Sent off: Puncheon (85)
For some reason, Tina Turner’s been hollerin’ We Don’t Need Another Hero since Aaron Ramsey. She’s right of course, we don’t need another hero when the Welshman is able to conjure up a late winning goal.
The quietness of the urbanisation was shattered by the young yelps of joy accompanied by a wearied sigh of relief. Whilst there was little doubt in this corner of Spain that a goal had been scored, I suspect the majority of inhabitants had no clue what game was being played. Aaron Ramsey’s winner capped off a strange day; the only home team to win in the Premier League seemed fitting when we couldn’t find the family we knew but a chance encounter introduced a cousin never before met, whose very existence was just supposed.
At the end of it, everyone is happy that there was no repeat of last season’s opening day failure and three points have been safely put on the board. It was a disjointed performance compared to last weekend, a number of the players in midfield were out of sorts. Even matchwinner Ramsey admitted as much in his post-match interview, chastising himself for a poor game despite his crucial goal. The desire to perform at the peak of his game every week is an admirable aspiration yet his work rate was such that nobody could question his commitment in front of obdurate opponents with limited attacking ambitions.
Consternation emerged about the tactics Palace employed yet the sense is that this is a way of dealing with the paucity of Arsenal’s performance, blaming the opponents who waste time wherever possible under benevolent refereeing. There really is little point in criticising Palace for their approach; why on earth would they come to Arsenal and try to outplay the Premier League’s most technically gifted side? They would be reduced to dust and frankly were I managing them, I doubt I would do anything different. It is up to Arsenal to outwit them, to breach the defence with guile.
Which is what they partially did. Until the final ball was necessary, which was invariably overhit or askew. Early season rustiness that will be shaken from the system as games pass which at the moment is going to be at a fairly hectic rate with the trips to Turkey, Merseyside and Leicester interspersed by Champions League qualifier second leg at The Emirates. With the German trio not likely to play until next weekend, Arsène’s options for changes are limited and Kieran Gibbs withdrawal does not help matters. The bright spot for Wenger is Calum Chambers continually improving performances at centre back whilst the manager manoeuvres his way through the final weeks of the transfer window. The youngster appears to be surprising Arsène with his play and both centre backs had good games.
That the goal conceded came from a set-piece is no surprise. Zonal marking only works when the players are attuned to it and the problems of the pre-season have not been dealt with as Hangeland found the net ten minutes before the break. There were too many static bodies in the Arsenal defence and not enough defensive vigour in attacking the corner. To be honest, at times the players seem unsure of their jobs which points to organisational problems with Per Mertesacker’s absence keenly felt.
Equally though, Arsenal’s play from attacking set-pieces seems on the up. Sanchez’s delivery was perfectly met by Laurent Koscielny’s run into space and Palace paid the price. The winner too, the unrelenting pressure from a corner kick that Arsenal never let Palace properly clear. Debuchy shot parried, Ramsey giving an object lesson to all players in staying onside from a teammate’s shot to ram home the winner from close distance. Goals for which Arsenal are not particularly noted but ones that are becoming a familiar part of the repertoire. Much needed in that respect, I hasten to add.
Whilst victory was deserved – I can’t see how anyone would argue that, Arsenal had the lion’s share of possession and chances – questions still remain. Not least of which surrounds Olivier Giroud’s fitness. Discussing this elsewhere, the observation was made that he returned to training but three weeks ago; so did Debcuchy and he was scampering into tackles late in the game. So too Koscielny, whose injury woes were well documented in our consternation during the week leading into yesterday’s game.
Whatever the answer, it is clear that Yaya Sanogo poses different questions. No matter the kind words of Arsène and Mikel Arteta in the Matchday Programme, the young French striker once more failed to trouble the record books with his scoreless run continuing to fifteen games. Arsène observed the player scored for fun in training. His first team outings make that more condemnatory of the defensive training than praiseworthy of the young striker. It’s a pity since he seems an affable young man and one who works hard for the team.
But a striker needs more than that, he needs goals and for Sanogo they are in short supply. One wonders what Joel Campbell thinks on the bench, knowing he plays the lone striker role for his country and is chomping at the bit to prove his worth in the Premier League. And this pressure point offers the simplest of opportunities for transfer rumours with reports this morning that Samuel Eto’o wants to follow in Alexis Sanchez’s footsteps in turning down the murky lights of Merseyside for the bright lights of London for the coming season.
The key thing is for the squad to limp through the opening games whilst they hit their stride. Jack Wilshere was defended by the manager post-match and criticism of the midfielder seems to linger, a building sense of injustice felt that he only gets a chance in the side because he is English. It’s a ludicrous suggestion given the manager and one I suggest has more to do with Jack not being ‘ours’, that his talent has to be shared with a nation, than in reality. The summer antics don’t help, it’s bad PR. He wasn’t at his best yesterday, neither was the rest of the midfield – I thought Cazorla was far more below par, for example – but they all dug in to nurse the side through. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s directness with hindsight might have been a better option against a defence that needed to be stretched from the outset. We never lose when we reflect on the tactical changes that could have been made.
As it is, three points is three points. We didn’t lose, we won, and can enjoy being top of the table for a few more hours at least. And the real reason for dropping ‘Woolwich’ and ‘The’ from the club’s name becomes more apparent…