What matters at the start of the season is to quickly rack up points. If you don’t, doubt could creep in as your squad will start feeling the pressure from the fans and the news media. But if you do, you will improve the squad’s confidence and get a bit more time and serenity to work on your game. The way you win doesn’t really matter. The Red Devils have played poorly in their first two matches, but they’ve got six points, the same total as the Citizens, who have produced the most spectacular performances so far. That kind of start has given Van Gaal the stability he needs to rebuild Manchester United. By contrast, Chelsea and Tottenham are already facing questions because they’ve only collected one point each.
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The Gunners won their first Premier League game this season by edging Crystal Palace 2-1 on Sunday. They were really lucky to leave Selhurst Park with three points because it could have been a different story if Wickham had given the Eagles a 2-1 lead in the 48th minute. Monreal failed to close down Zaha, whose cross was met by Wickham for a half-volley that hit the near post. Bellerin was on the wrong side of Wickham on that play while Mertesacker wasn’t even aware of the striker’s presence. Six minutes later, Arsenal had more luck than their opponents as Sanchez outjumped Ward to meet a Bellerin cross for a header that Delaney diverted into his own net. McArthur would have knocked the ball off the line if Delaney had not attempted that awkward clearance.
Should we clean up the area?
Some of the flaws that the Gunners showed in the 2-0 loss to West Ham re-emerged against Crystal Palace. Remember, the Hammers’ first goal resulted from some poor defensive organization and the second betrayed a lack of urgency. In one week, we have improved our defensive solidarity. But Wickham’s chance and the Eagles’ equalizer are reminders that it’s not yet at the level where it should be. McArthur set up Ward for a low drive into the bottom corner in the 28th. Sanchez failed to track Ward on that play while Ozil wasn’t aware of Ward’s run behind him. And Koscielny didn’t cover himself in glory by turning his back.
Another concern is how we poorly defend set pieces. A second ball bounced off Mutch and over the bar in the 87th after a Crystal Palace corner was flicked on at the near post. Who’s in charge of getting to the first ball on that kind of play? When you watch the TV replay, you can also see Mutch trying to bully Cech into his own net. Does it mean that we have to clean up the area for Cech like we did for Ospina? Arsenal must quickly sort out that issue otherwise our opponents will punish us on set pieces.
The closing minutes were nerve-racking as Crystal Palace threw everything at us. Wenger switched to a defensive lineup with Arteta and Gibbs replacing Sanchez and Ozil respectively in the 75th and 83rd. However, that did not prevent the Eagles from testing us in the air. Wickham got ahead of Mertesacker in the 88th to redirect a cross from Souare toward Lee, but Arteta dispossessed the South Korea international. A minute later, Ward outjumped Koscielny to head a corner straight into Cech’s arms.
The Gunners created more clear-cut chances and played at a higher tempo than against West Ham. Wenger went back to basics by making two changes in the starting lineup with Bellerin and Sanchez replacing Debuchy and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Sanchez is obviously a more natural outlet on the left wing than Cazorla. The manager acknowledged after the match that Cazorla no longer has the legs to make the difference on the wings and is simply more useful in a central position with his passing skills. Cazorla partnered Coquelin in front of the back four, providing the experience and technical expertise that the Frenchman lacks. I guess the duo formed by Coquelin and Ramsey didn’t work out against the Hammers because there was too much youth and not enough passing accuracy.
What’s the best lineup?
The Ox proved our best player against West Ham but Wenger left him on the bench to start Ramsey on the right wing. The downside with Ramsey and Sanchez both drifting inside is that play was often congested. I think our best lineup is the one that defeated Manchester City 2-0 in January with the Ox and Sanchez on the wings and Coquelin, Cazorla and Ramsey forming an inverted pyramid in midfield. For some reason, Wenger prefers the traditional pyramid with Ozil at the top and sometimes plays Ramsey or Wilshere on the right wing. I believe we are a more potent threat with true wingers and a more balanced team with an inverted pyramid.
Giroud and Sanchez showed how important they are for the team on Sunday. The Frenchman opened the scoring in the 16th by volleying an Ozil cross into the bottom corner. Credit to Sanchez for winning the ball back after his initial pass for Ozil was intercepted by Ward. Arsenal’s first scoring chance came in the fifth minute when Sanchez found Giroud, who flicked the ball into Ramsey’s path. Down the left wing, Ramsey squared the ball back for Giroud, whose close-range effort was blocked by a defender. Giroud also connected with a cutback from Cazorla in the 32nd but missed the target. His performance somehow dipped after halftime.
Sanchez’s desire and Ramsey’s energy
I wasn’t too happy about seeing Sanchez start at Selhurst Park. If he gets injured in a couple of months, you all know what the second-guessing will be about. Right now, he’s fit enough to play in an Emirates Cup match but lacks a bit of sharpness for a Premier League game. As usual, his desire helped carry the team. He took a pass from Ozil in the seventh minute to have an effort blocked, but pounced on the rebound for a low strike that McArthur cleared off the line. Three minutes later, Sanchez stole the ball from Ward but wasted a good situation by ignoring two passing options. The Chile forward showed off his work rate again in the 23rd by intercepting a pass from Zaha to hit a low shot that McCarthy parried.
In midfield, Ozil had a decent game with five shot assists but still lacked the scoring threat the manager has asked from him. Ozil had no shot on target whereas Ramsey and Cazorla tested McCarthy at least once. Ramsey fired a 30-yard strike straight at McCarthy in the ninth minute before forcing him into a one-handed save with a backheel flick in the 37th. And Cazorla took a pass from Ramsey in the 90th to have his diagonal effort stopped by McCarthy’s foot. Ramsey’s performance was a mixed bag. His passing accuracy was so average that he even wasted a good chance with a poor cross for Giroud in the 50th. But again, Ramsey compensated for his relative awkwardness with an energetic display that included four tackles won and four chances created.
Avoiding the sophomore slump
After breaking into the first team last season, the main challenge for Coquelin and Bellerin is to avoid the sophomore slump. Coquelin had another lackluster game and was lucky not to receive a second yellow card. He won six tackles, the most for any player on the pitch, but also made four fouls and cheaply lost possession a couple of times. Coquelin got booked for a mistimed tackle on Bolasie in the 41st. Four minutes later, he gave away a free kick with an obstruction on Zaha. That was really stupid because he could have forced his team to play with just 10 men in the second half. An awkward challenge from behind in the 61st led the manager to pull Coquelin out and send the Ox on in the 64th.
Coquelin quickly improved last season by cutting his fouls. However, regression is still a possibility and you don’t want Coquelin to revert back to the inefficient player he used to be. Bellerin is facing the same problem. The young Spaniard turned the ball over with a risky dribbling attempt on the edge of the Arsenal box in the 37th. And twice he was on the wrong side of the player he marked. First when Wickham hit the post. And then when Puncheon got away from Bellerin for a tame effort in the 58th.
The Gunners haven’t hit their stride yet after two Premier League games. Defensively, there are details that need to be fixed. We must especially do a better job to protect a lead. Offensively, we have to be more ruthless in the final third. Next Monday we’ll play our first big game in the league against Liverpool. I don’t think the Reds are serious title contenders but they should definitely be considered challengers for a Champions League spot.