Arsenal managed a vital 2-1 win over Crystal Palace on Sunday to bounce back after the horrendous defeat to West Ham in the league opener on home soil. It should have been a more comfortable victory than what we endured, with the Gunners struggling to put the game to bed in the first half. It’s fair to say the hosts could have even picked up at least a point from the game.
But all three points were secured in the end, here are the key conclusions from the game.
1.Petr Čech didn’t keep a clean sheet but didn’t disappoint either.
It will take time before Gooners forget Čech’s erratic performance against West Ham. Based on the reactions to our weekend victory at Selhurst Park, Čech’s performance hasn’t exactly instilled confidence. Yes, it’s true that Čech didn’t produce big saves but he did make some vitally important clearances and was well-positioned to deny Ward’s second goal of the game.
The fact he has already conceded two goals from the outside of the box speaks more about the level of our defensive focus in the opening two matches than Čech himself. Just like Zarate’s shot could have been prevented by either Koscielny or Cazorla, Ward’s drive should’ve been shut down. It’s worth noting that it was Čech’s first victory with Arsenal without winning some sort of a trophy!
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2.Mikel Arteta made a crucial block.
Many eyebrows were raised when Arsene Wenger substituted Alexis Sánchez for Mikel Arteta. However, our captain added composure to our midfield and prevented Lee’s shot that could have ended in an equalizer. It was a good cameo for the Spaniard who has been written off by many – hopefully he will prove us all wrong whenever he does play.
3.Mesut Özil’s performance was close to perfection.
The German responded to the criticism after the opening league by shredding Crystal Palace defenders to pieces. He created five chances out of which his team-mates managed to score just the once. Now, the whole concept of “created chances” (a pass that precedes a shot on goal) has obvious flaws but Özil really created chances at Selhurst Park. His pass for Ramsey in the second half was sensational. And, let’s not start with that preposterous first touch and dribbling, even the jaws of the home fans hit the ground!
4.Aaron Ramsey needs a goal.
Aaron Ramsey was criticized after his performance against The Hammers for being too selfish in the first half. Whilst I agree with that assessment, it’s a good thing that Rambo wants to score goals and his ability to be on the right end of Özil’s perfect pass will eventually be rewarded. What he must work on however is to make the right decision in the final third, which will come with fluidity and match sharpness.
5.Francis Coquelin has been a victim of our system…and was also lucky to stay on the pitch.
We all know that Francis Coquelin is the only indispensable player of our squad. You can shake things up wherever you want throughout the rest of our team but there is a huge difference between Arsenal with Coquelin and without.
However, since the start of the season, the French defensive midfielder has been criticized even if it’s difficult to blame him for our not-so-convincing start. The thing is, Coquelin is practically our only midfielder that has any defensive tasks. Cazorla lacks the defensive instinct, pretty much like Özil, while players like Alexis, Chamberlain and Ramsey sometimes lose the ball in our own half or lose defensive focus
If we lose a ball in our own half, Coquelin is the one that must either recover it or make “a smart foul” to break the counter-attack. At Selhurst Park, he made a foul that could quite have easily been called a second bookable offence in the first half. In the second, he made slight contact that was a soft foul as well but Mason opted against a second yellow card.
The result of that decision at the time was a big call – with the game leveled at 1:1 it could have easily shifted into Palace’s favour. And, if Coquelin had been sent off, he wouldn’t have been available for the first big, big game against Liverpool next Monday. Hopefully Wenger will do something to spare Coquelin in the forthcoming matches.
6.Alexis is a natural-born winner.
The Chilean superstar is a rare breed, someone that has a winning mentality embedded in his DNA. He may be lacking match fitness but his return to our starting line-up is a huge boost for the whole team. He was unlucky not to score but picking an assist by forcing Delaney to score an own goal was testament to his hard work and determination.
7.Wenger’s decision to drop Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain asks multiple questions.
The English youngster looked lively over preseason and his goal against Chelsea was top-drawer stuff. He was the most dangerous player against West Ham but it seems that his mistake that led to Zarate’s goal didn’t help his case. Has Wenger reached the conclusion that Oxlade-Chamberlain’s defensive errors make him a weak link? Is it just that Wenger wants to accommodate all three of Ramsey, Cazorla and Özil in the starting line-up? Is there a possibility that we might see a line-up with Ramsey as a defensive midfielder, Cazorla as his partner in the middle and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the wing? We shall see what the future holds but I’d prefer The Ox in the starting line-up against Liverpool over either Cazorla or Ramsey.
8.Arsenal have enjoyed playing away from home in 2015.
Arsenal have won eight out of their last nine away matches in all competitions. (via Skysports.com) Furthermore, Arsenal have won at least once at every stadium they have visited since the defeat at White Hart Lane in February. The only away game Arsenal haven’t won during this amazing sequence was the one at Old Trafford (1:1). It’s interesting to notice that the sequence started with a victory at Selhurst Park (2:1). Finally, if we add games played at Wembley, Arsenal have won eleven out of their last twelve games played outside the Emirates. (via Skysports.com)
9….but now it’s time to replicate that form at home.
Arsenal haven’t had too many successful games at the Emirates since that brilliant victory over Liverpool (4:1). In fact, we have failed to score in four out of our last five games at home (via Squawka.com). We have had serious problems to break well-organized teams on home soil and I’m still convinced it’s down to Wenger’s decision to play Olivier Giroud as our centre forward with Ramsey, Cazorla and Özil as his suppliers. Yes, the Frenchman did score a fantastic goal against Palace but that doesn’t change the fact that he had spent over 600 minutes without a goal in Premier League before that (via transfermarkt.co.uk). Theo Walcott, with all his flaws, offers more mobility, pace and runs behind the defence which suits Özil’s through balls perfectly. A good performance at the Emirates is required as we need a victory over Liverpool in order to keep pace with Manchester City. The oil-rich club has already left a strong impression and losing points in a stupid way – like we did against West Ham – will be another dent to our title challenge.
10.We do need a striker.
The curious medical case of Danny Welbeck and the fact neither Olivier Giroud nor Theo Walcott are world-class strikers should force Wenger to sign a new player in the remaining days of the transfer window. The fact we have had 42 shots in the opening two matches and scored just two is shocking according to Squawka. The reported rumour that says Zlatan Ibrahimović can leave PSG should ring a bell for Wenger (via Dailymail.co.uk). The 34-year-old Swede can win us the league with his unrivaled genius while Arsenal can offer him both a chance to add a Premier League title to his bulging CV and a serious attack on the Champions League title.
Three points are in the pocket and that’s the most important thing. Our next game is against a well-strengthened Liverpool side. A victory would be a sign that we can mount a serious title challenge.