If there was an ideal start to a new season for Gooners around the world, this certainly was it. With Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky (again), Johann Djourou and Abou Diaby on the injury list, it looked like Arsenal were to start this year’s campaign with substantial injuries, though having Cesc Fabregas, Andrei Arshavin and Robin van Persie on the team sheet can hardly be called less than full-strength.
Fortunately for the Gunners, Arsene Wenger’s side met up with an Everton that was seemingly still in preseason exhibition mode. The Toffees shipped six against an admittedly rampant Arsenal side, but Everton didn’t make it exactly difficult for the visitors as they seemingly switched off on defending set pieces.
Arsenal scoring from set pieces? Rare indeed, just as rare as the long-range strike from Denilson for the first goal, from a perfectly-weighted pass from Fabregas. Where were the walked-in goals, the multiple-pass forays into the box, hoping the opposing keeper will fall over and let you tap it in? The following two goals came within five minutes of each other, one from each centerback, both while unmarked. After that, the floodgates opened for the Gunners, and it’s easy to see why David Moyes is so disappointed in his team’s performance.
It’s one game in, and it’s difficult to take anything from the first game against a team that is known for starting poorly, but Wenger’s acquiescence to 4-3-3 certainly makes for something more entertaining. Now, I know talking formations is sort of like arguing semantics, because just as 4-3-3 can look incredibly offensive in it’s free-flowing best, it can also become a defensively dour 4-5-1, as evidenced by Arsenal’s run to the Champions League Final in 2006. Chelsea’s glorious wide-play days with Mourinho quickly became stunted midfield battles as soon as the Blues were up by a goal or two. And of course, I may say 4-2-3-1, which to you may be 4-5-1.
But Wenger’s insistence on 4-4-2 has apparently softened (perhaps with the departure of Emmanuel Adebayor and the arrival of Arshavin), and his experimentation with a more Barcelona-esque formation should provide not only entertainment, but perhaps the best conditions for the types of youth at Arsenal. Speed wins in individual battles, typically leads to goals, and more often than not, beats guile. And guile may be what’s missing from Arsenal in the last few years, so being a year older and wiser can only benefit the Gunners.
More importantly, despite playing against a rusty Everton side, the two most lightweight players at Arsenal last year, Alex Song and Denilson, had excellent games today. The holding midfielder role will be one that’s openly debated at Arsenal, and perhaps another season of tag-teaming may be in store.
That may be enough, and the relationship between Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas is crucial if Arsenal are to play with the freewheeling style of Barcelona, or at least win while doing so. It is a good sign, though, when both your centerbacks score, even if they were unmarked.
And that’s the risk that Wenger is taking. He speaks a lot of belief and dedication, and unless he’s on the verge of making a midnight deal before the window closes, he’s dedicated to the players he has, and hopeful in the return of Eduardo, Nasri and Rosicky to form. A little withdrawal of 6 million for Rafa van der Vaart couldn’t hurt either.
There’s a lot of talk about Man City cracking the top four, and Arsenal may be the most logical choice, as they’ve been seemingly punching above their weight the last few years. And of course, the loss of Adebayor and Kolo Toure can hardly be seen as positive on the pitch, even if it is on the balance sheet. But with other teams making little splash in the transfer window, just as this may be Arsenal’s year to be knocked out of the big four, it also may be their year to lift some silver.
[BBC, Goal, Daily Mail]