We are top of the league.
It is certainly not the kind of result and performance any rival fan would have imagined before the kickoff. All the talk was of Arsenal being the most likely of the big 4 to lose its prestigious status with teams like Everton, Aston Villa and Manchester City breathing down our necks in pre-season. After the first round of games, Aston Villa lost, Everton got thrashed by US, and Manchester City won with an Adebayor goal.
Despite spending the least out of the big 4, we claimed the biggest win (barring a 6 goal winning margin by Liverpool later) in the opening weekend. HURRAH!
Let’s get to the game itself with the starting lineup. The back four has picked itself with new signing Vermaelen returning from injury in time to make his league debut partnering Gallas in the centre of defence, with Sagna and Clichy flanking them and Almunia in goal. In midfield, it was the expected trio of Song, Cesc and Denilson and the attacking trio is also expected – Target man van Persie being flanked by Arshavin on the left an Bendtner on the right. Let’s dissect the game in points:
1 – Everton dominated the opening exchanges.
To be honest, Everton started the stronger and perhaps playing in front of their own fans and a determination to better last season’s league performance were the reasons Everton started well. Perhaps the lack of a wily old head in the centre of the park was a reason. Whatever the case, when we finally opened the scoring, we looked more confident and the quality of our play improved with each goal. There were many times last season when we did everything except score and confidence can be seen being leaked out of the team during days like those. Luckily enough for us, we scored a well-worked opening goal before half-an-hour was up and we never looked back. However, it remains to be seen if we can play the same way if we were to concede first.
2 – We were close to conceding an equaliser.
Fellaini almost scored an equaliser from a corner but it was brilliantly cleared off the line by Denilson. That to me, was the turning point of the game. Even after we scored, the game was still pretty even with us looking more confident but not exactly dominating as yet. But once we cleared that ball off the line, the sluggishness looked to have been cleared off as well.
3 – The midfield trio was brilliant.
Song was as solid as can be asked of him. He might be shorter than Fellaini, who was dominant for Everton. But Song ensured Fellaini’s contribution was minimal. He is fast becoming an essential player for us and I dread whenever I think we do not have anyone else who is similar to him in the squad. Denilson had one of his best Arsenal games in a long while. He was tenacious, positionally clever, and technically very sound. His goal has got to be his best in his young career. Tim Howard has no chance whatsoever. Nicklas Bendtner did very well to make Leighton Baines look like a schoolboy before passing it to Fabregas. Fabregas in turn squared it perfectly for Denilson to curl the ball into the top corner in what has got to be a goal of the week contender. Fabregas got a hand in the third goal as well with a brilliant freekick onto Gallas’ head. He then went on to score a brace, something he hasn’t done for the longest time. This mifield combination is working as well as it can be and one must remember this is still a relatively new system with 3 young players (Fabregas being the oldest of the three at 22).
3 – Thomas Vermaelen was dominant in defence and worked well with Gallas.
Vermaelen had a dream debut and I was already hugely impressed with his hard tackling style as well as his exceptional aerial ability. He is not the tallest player in the world but his leap and clever positioning ensured he won most of his aerial challenges and made it look like his head is a magnet to all high balls. As if to make sure people remembered how strong he is in the air, he powered a thumping headed goal to put us 2-0 ahead. He is not a pacy player but his aerial ability, intelligent positioning and hard tackling style is a nice complement to Gallas’ pacy style of defending. This may yet prove to be a really fruitful partnership, the kind of defensive partnership that we have been crying out for most of the last 2 seasons.
4 – Vito Mannone was deputy to Alumnia.
I do not remember reading about Fabianski being injured. But as I have suspected all of pre-season that Mannone is being considered to replace Fabanski as the official number 2 and first choice domestic cup ‘keeper, Mannone did take to the bench instead of the 24 year-old Pole. I hope this is a one-off and that Fabianski would be given another chance to continue his development.
5 – We are without Rosicky, Nasri, Walcott, Diaby and Senderos.
Considering the quality of the abovementioned players, this 1-6 away victory cannot be underestimated. Wenger mentioned in the post-match conference:
“If you see that Nasri, Rosicky, Diaby, Walcott today… and Senderos, for example, stayed at home. You see that, and considering who was on the bench, we do have quite a big squad.”
Wenger mentioned about Senderos, who is still very obviously with Arsenal and not Everton, and this again raises hope that he might in fact stay after all. I really hope he does. We have a good squad now, no doubt, but we cannot afford another first-team departure without addition.
6 – Eduardo scored in only 17 minutes of play.
Eduardo once again proved himself to be a lethal finisher, requiring no more than one chance to score. I have firm belief that he is a 20-goal-a-season striker as long as he stays fit. He is a much better finisher than Adebayor and certainly a more hardworking one.
It may only be the first day of the season, but the performance and result (especially with it being an away game against a team that finished 5th last season, putting into perspective that Chelsea needed a last minute goal at home to defeat a team that finished 17th last season, one ahead of relegation) is really impressive and my buddy even told me that based on this performance, we look good for the title.
The signs are good, but the hard work really begins now. Consistency is the basis of all title-wins. I believe as much as Wenger that we have the quality, and can we prove it on a more consistent basis than last season? I am quietly confident.
Bring on Celtic!!!