Today’s match was the perfect response after opening the domestic season with a shocking home defeat to Aston Villa: Arsenal were able to strike back by thrashing Fenerbache in our Champions League qualifier, 3-0. Throughout the entire match, Arsenal were always the better team with our midfield bossing theirs, allowing us to set the tempo and dictate play.
After a couple of turnovers to start the match, we settled into the game very quickly with some convincing link-up play and one-touch passing around the opposition’s box. Halfway into the first half, Koscielny took a nasty kick to the face and left the game needing stitches to stop the blood that was profusely coming out from above his right eye. Still, this did not alter our game plan or confidence and we carried on just as we did before – dominating possession and the match. However, we were not able to score and the half ended in a goalless draw.
Fenerbache never really posed a threat in this half and struggled to even string together successful passes. This can be attributed to our players quickly closing down open spaces and by continually forcing them backwards. The only areas of improvement for the first half would have been our finishing and our general play in the final third. Due to having a striker like Giroud, we seem to force a lot of crosses into the box but lack the bodies there to capitalize on these chances. As we saw in the second half, we are a much more cohesive and dangerous team when we play the ball along the ground and attack through the middle.
Fortunately for the home supporters, Fenerbache looked more lively in the second half and even created a few scoring opportunities of their own. However, we were always the better team and never really looked in danger of losing this game. Gibbs opened the scoring in the 51st minute after receiving a fine cross-goal pass from Theo. However, the goal was only made possible after a brilliant through ball from Ramsey that set Theo up with the wonderful assist-opportunity.
From there, we never looked back and Ramsey added to his MoTM performance by putting away a goal of his own with a hard, low shot that fooled Demirel. To add insult to injury and to ensure our place in the Champions League group stage, we padded our lead on a well-taken penalty kick by Giroud. Theo was given a pretty fortunate call after he was taken down in the box with relatively little contact. Despite the goals scored in the second half, I still thought we looked more threatening in the first half and were just luckier to score in the second.
Before I begin on the player ratings, I’d like to explain how I arrive at the number a player receives. For me, a seven represents that a player has sufficiently done what has been asked of him and not much more. An eight signifies that the player has contributed more than the average player, but that either his performance has room for improvement or I’ve seen better games from him lately. A nine or higher is reserved for outstanding performances and is usually accompanied by tangible statistics on the score sheet. Ignore previous ratings from past articles, as I’ll look to be consistent from here on out in the new rating system.
Szczesny (9.0) – Was hardly tested in the first half, but he made a couple of brilliant saves at the end to keep our clean sheet. Great job on winning the 50/50 challenge on Sow, and really only made a mistake or two in his clearing.
Gibbs (8.0) – Great job at getting into scoring position on the first goal and combined well on a memorable series of one-touch passing in the first half together with Giroud, Cazorla and Ramsey. His crosses left much to be desired and sent quite a few straight into the opposing player who was defending him.
Koscielny (7.0) – Difficult to rate him any higher, but in the 30 minutes he did play, he was relatively untested aside from making an authoritative clearing header and breaking up a couple Fenerbache advances. It was unfortunate that he was the victim of a clumsy challenge by Webo, and I’m hoping for a speedy recovery for our best CB.
Mertesacker (6.0) – He was sufficient in keeping a clean sheet, but was caught out of position a couple of times on Fenerbache’s attacks. Sow noticeably got behind him on a couple of occasions, but fortunately for us, he missed wide on both those chances.
Sagna (7.5) – Continues to prove that he is more than capable of playing at both RB and CB. He was a commanding presence in the air in our own end and was assertive in his challenges when Fenerbache were on the offensive. Notably, he made a decisive and clean sliding challenge to break up the play when Sow was on the fast break in the second half.
Ramsey (9.5) – Easy candidate for MoTM as he provided the initial through ball that opened up the scoring and also scored the second goal to give us a comfortable lead. He was everywhere on the pitch tonight and continually frustrated the opposition with his relentless work ethic and getting a foot in on challenges. The only area of improvement would be turnovers, especially one in the second half that almost led to a Kuyt goal.
Wilshere (7.5) – Showed good forward thrust when running forward with the ball and created a few good scoring opportunities for us. It was his run and pass that allowed Ramsey open space to score the second goal. However, he ran right into opposing defenders on a couple occasions that led to turnovers when he could have passed the ball instead.
Rosicky (6.5) – I felt that Rosicky’s play was quite bi-polar; at times, he drove us forward with his passing and dribbling, but at other times, he made questionable passes that were either out of reach for our players or simply went astray. Still, he played satisfactory and nothing to really complain about (I just expected more after his performance against Villa).
Cazorla (6.5) – There were moments where Santi was unplayable with his one-touch passing and close ball control that allowed him to escape defenders closing down on him. Then, there were other moments where he more or less disappeared from the game entirely and looked exhausted. Santi is our most skilled player and I expect him to have a greater influence in every game. Fortunately for him, others stepped up today and took over the creativity reigns.
Giroud (6.5) – Aside from the very well taken penalty kick, I thought Giroud looked very average. He had a couple of nice combination plays in the first half and showed that he is capable of making nice passes and fancy touches if given time and the opportunity. However, I forgot he was even on the pitch in half of the first and the entire second half, until he stepped up at the spot and scored. As our lone center forward (for the time being), we need more from him if we’re to beat better opponents.
Walcott (7.5) – Theo did a great job of causing problems for Kadlec all night, and his pace and movement were always a threat. He provided two assists in the game, which solidified an above average rating, but he was extremely wasteful throughout the entire match. He had plenty of chances to receive the ball in and around the box, but instead lost possession because of very poor touches and passes. Theo has yet to show the goal scoring form of last season, though it’s nice to see him very involved in our offense.
Jenkinson (7.0), Podolski (3.0), Monreal (6.0) – I thought Jenkinson did an excellent job coming in at RB. He was running up and down the flanks and contributed as best he could in the offensive zone. He nearly scored at the end of the game and provided a couple good crosses into the box (unfortunately no one was there).
Difficult to rate the latter two players since they both came on pretty late in the game, but I thought Podolski was awful. He seems to be lacking fitness and confidence – his first touch off a beautifully played pull back pass by Nacho stood out as a big wasted opportunity.
Despite all the positives, there are still some concerns. Against a more skilled and determined team, we could have easily been exposed since there was far too much space between our midfield and defense in the second half when the game opened up. Our center backs, notably Mertesacker, were also caught out of position on a couple occasions, which allowed Fenerbache some great looks at goal that fortunately went wide or were brilliantly saved by Szczesny.
We also need to start capitalizing on our scoring chances (such as those in the first half) and become more decisive in the final third. Our strategy of crossing the ball into the box does not work when there is only one individual (sometimes none) in there. I believe Arsenal football is always more successful when played along the ground and this calls for a more mobile and fluid striker up front.
Finally, playing away from the Emirates seems to be the solution for allowing us to settle into games quicker. The tension and hesitation were noticeably absent and the squad was full of confidence and decisiveness instead. We cannot continue to play poorly at home as it takes away what is supposed to be a massive advantage – we need to approach the game in the same free-flowing manner that we do on the road. All in all, we managed to qualify for the Champions League group stages (barring some bizarre miracle) and it was a great game that should hopefully give us some confidence and momentum for the upcoming clash against Fulham.
Written by: Highbury Harmony.