One of the most pleasing outcomes of yesterday’s victory over Chelski was, for me, the response of Jose Mourinho. This is a man who has no qualms over having pops at other managers with whom he does not have a good relationship with, so to see him frustrated enough to bemoan Arsenal’s tactics yesterday, was music to my ears.
We did a job on Chelski. We actually did a job. We matched them – probably bettered them – in the first half and then controlled the game in the second. Forget Jose’s claim that we abandoned our philosophy, because footballing philosophy has always been an irrelevance to a man such as him so when Arsenal adapt to a team and the result is a deserved victory, I find it quite amusing to hear his protestations.
But enough about that odious man. He’s already made part of my blog about him. That’s exactly what he wants; for everybody to be talking about him and not the result because the result was perfect.
A clean sheet, a perfect strike from The Ox, as well as signs that this Arsenal team can mix it with the best of them. As champions, you have to call Chelski that, even if it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
We did what Chelski have done to us over the years with Mourinho in charge. We suffocated them. Stifled them. Made life difficult. Think back to the game; Cech made one good save from a free kick just outside the box, but do you remember him getting us out of any major issues by pulling off wonder save after wonder save?
Nope, me either. That’s probably because our back four performed excellently, especially the impregnable Laurent Koscienly, who made interception after interception and tackle after tackle. Neither Loic Remy or Falcao had any major impact on the game thanks in part to the work of Big Per and Kos. Having had a decade of defences that cause me worry, the feeling will take some time to shake, but more performances like that yesterday and I’ll start to feel more comfortable that we can hold on to leads against big teams.
That’s what this game will also do for this Arsenal team; build more belief that we can compete. Big games between those teams that profess to be title contenders are always tight. They tend to be decided by the odd flash of genius or a single lapse in concentration. For too long we’ve had games against the other big teams in which it hasn’t been close enough for us to compete. Yesterday’s result will hopefully have an impact in terms of belief and confidence that we can and we are competing in those tight games again.
The inclusion of Bellerin at right back was an interesting one and perhaps shows that Arsène is adopting the ‘puppet effect’ as Dave puts it – one quick and pacey full back to push forward whilst the other one sits – giving us more defensive cover. But also by having Monreal/Bellerin vs Gibbs/Debuchy, it ensures that two more attCk minded full backs won’t leave us caught out. Some much needed pragmatism from Arsène that will hopefully serve us well during the season.
The midfield of Coquelin holding, breaking up the play, alongside Santi pulling the strings, worked well at times, but our ball retention could have been a little better. It’s times like yesterday – when the passing is a little off – that we need players like Santi to have the ball more than any other, because he’s usually the player who can retain possession better than anyone. He is going to be important for us this season. I’m convinced of that.
Mesut took a bit of time to warm in to the game, probably because he found his space closed down quite frequently from a Chelski side who clearly didn’t want him pulling the strings, but he still had an impact, switching the play to Theo before the striker found The Ox to hammer home. I found it pleasing to see that Özil and Ramsey were quite fluid in their movements yesterday. Neither occupied the left or central too much I felt and, given that we faced the best opposition we’re going to face this season, I think it bodes well for us. Both players will find more space against the ‘smaller’ teams and I think we’ll see their impact a lot more than the patches we saw yesterday. We defended well yesterday and so the game of those two players had to suffer as we held our collective defensive shape, but that won’t be the case for the whole season. I’m sure of it.
Up top Arsène featured both Giroud and Walcott and although I could understand the logic of Theo up against two slower centre halves in Terry and Cahill, for me it didn’t quite work as well as when Giroud came on. He’s a more polished striker in terms of his overall game compared to Walcott and you could tell by the way he peeled off the centre backs and nearly scored at the back post within a few minutes of coming on. He should really have scored late on when standing seven or eight yards from goal, but thankfully that miss didn’t come back to haunt us.
I’d been saying all weekend that this game was nothing more than a posh friendly and I still haven’t changed my approach, but with confidence and belief in the squad looking high at the moment, this performance can still be used by the manager and players to keep them riding high until we play West Ham. The game yesterday will count for nothing if we don’t show up against The Hammers, but we’ve given ourselves the best possible preparation to make sure we’re ready, so let’s hope this is just the start of something special.