Well there you go: high expectations and playing a relatively beatable opponent is often a recipe for disaster for Arsenal, as it was today. However, the notion that we were complacent, as some seem to suggest, is of course rubbish.. it was the total opposite: we were firing on all cylinders like Gunners possessed and did not know how to control the tempo of the game. We have seen us play such season-openers before: the adrenaline is pumping, everybody is super keen and the opponent must be destroyed as soon as possible. A few seasons ago, the Ox broke his leg in a similar break-neck-speed first game of the season, and we lost that one as well… Villa anyone?
We did create plenty of chances but very few were great ones. We just lacked that bit of composure for the penultimate as well as the final ball. And when the Hammers scored against the run of play, at a sensitive period of the game, we even became more desperate to force the ball into the goal. It has to be said that the Hammers played well as a unit and had huge bags of energy; and with a fine goalie between the poles in Adriano, and a good central pairing in defence, they were able to frustrate us time and again. For this they deserve credit.
I hated the crazy tempo with which we played today: it just felt like it was not going to work out for us all day long; and that is exactly how it turned out to be. It’s great when it pays off and leads to an early goal, but we never controlled the game; and although we created chances with this approach, our desperate tempo kept us from finishing them off. A lot of passes went astray and many a first touch was too heavy. It should also be said that we lacked a bit of luck in this game as the ball just did not want to fall right in the box today.
I reckon we need to take this one on the chin and the boys will need to find a way to start playing with more intelligence and composure. Some will say that a better striker would have made a difference today, and maybe they are right. For me, it was the lack of leadership in the middle of the pitch that made the difference. Ozil had a very good game in my opinion, even though he also got caught up in the wild tempo of it at times. Cazorla and Ramsey were very keen to force through our attacking game but I reckon at least one of them should have played a bit wiser – aiming to dictate the tempo and make sure WH would remain hemmed in around their ‘D’ area. I will have to watch the game again to see how much the Hammers’ midfield deserves credit for our lack of controlling the tempo. They definitely made it harder for us than we expected.
We missed Bellerin today, even though his replacement, Debuchy, did not play badly. Our Spanish RFB just has that bit more energy and thrust in his game right now. Having said that, Ox played well on the right wing and provided more than enough thrust there (if only we could keep him up there and away from our defence.. 😦 ) . On the other wing, Nacho was very keen and one of the most composed players on the pitch. So we had plenty of width and created many an opening from the sides, but a combination of below par finishing and positioning, and very good defending by WH, did not give us what we wanted and deserved.
Our opponent managed to do the absolute opposite with their first two opportunities: they took them both and our goalkeeper will feel a bit disappointed with letting them in. He saw the danger for the first one and decided to come out to either get the ball or put his opponent off: it backfired, but hey, at least he did not foul Kouyate and get sent off 🙂 . The second one should not have gone in, but Petr’s vision was blocked somewhat and he gambled towards the wrong corner with his bodyweight, leaving him unable to shift it in time towards the other one.
We put on Theo and then our mini-hulk, Sanchez, but they also lacked the composure and cold-bloodedness to get us back into the game. It seemed to be one of those days.
There was nothing wrong with our attitude and Arsene put out a fine team; there is absolutely no reason to ask for big changes or to start criticising the team, individual players or the manager. As a team Arsenal pitched this game wrongly and were never able to fully control it. When you go a goal behind against the run of play, the first priority is to fight for the equaliser in a composed way, rather than to up the tempo even further and end up with eleven headless chickens on the pitch. This is the lesson we need to heed from today’s encounter: more control of the tempo and space in our opponent’s half, and much more efficient use of our resources. For this we need to look at our central midfield leadership ability, but with the likes of Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Coquelin and Arteta at our disposal, we should be able to fix it.
The team is back on earth after beating the Chavs a week ago: we might have to thank the Hammers at the end of the season for giving us back our grounded-ness at the very start of it – the dreaded unbearable lightness of being has evaporated away: blood, sweat and tears are required to get us to the very top. The season begins next week: bring it on.