The defence today was every bit as coordinated as it has been this season, with Mertesacker magnificent in his domination of Rickie Lambert, a player who had bossed the Man United defence a couple of weeks ago. Vermaelen was the foil to Mertsacker’s intelligent performance. And on the flanks, Gibbs and Jenkinson were assured, being careful with the ball and careful without it. Gibbs also managed to get two sort-of-assists, having crossed the ball for both the Southampton own goals.
In midfield, what more is there to say about Cazorla and Arteta? These guys are the business, their ability to organise the side is awesome. Even in the Cesc years, I don’t think it was as good as this, not because Cesc is less talented than our current Spaniards, of course he isn’t, but because this pair work together in such a seamless way. Today, they were denied the chance to continue working in tandem with our renaissance man, Abou Diaby, and the ambitious Francis Coquelin was given the nod.
The general passing game was excellent, but the thing that stood out for me was the quality of the Arsenal passing in the final third, with Cazorla, Podolski, Gibbs, Chamberlain and Gervinho regularly shredding the Southampton defensive line.
Up front, the team selection was interesting, with Gervinho played through the middle, as he had been in some of the preseason games, and Podolski and Chamberlain on the flanks. Many have had their doubts about Gervinho, and after a pretty tame first season in red and white, he certainly has something to prove this season. The goal he scored for the Ivory Coast last week shows that he knows how to score, but the question remained: will he do that for us? Well, he did today, with a pair, and some excellent attacking play that created chance for others.
It was lovely to see Gervinho turn into space on the right and pick up a typically perceptive chipped pass from Arteta, and then attack the box and simply drill the ball past Kelvin Davis at the near post. And in the second half, he was in the right place to knock in a rebound off the post after substitute Aaron Ramsey had done brilliantly well to hold off a challenge and send the ball across to the far post. Luckily, the Mekon was on hand. One measure of Gervinho’s progress was his clear reluctance to come off when the substitute’s board had his number on it. Does anyone remember Gervinho showing that sort of appetite last season? Long may it last.
Podolski was belligerently energetic, often playing in a very central position, leaving the left-hand flank to Gibbs. For our first goal, he battled with two Southampton midfielders just outside the centre circle, emerged with the ball at his feet and then slotted it through to Gibbs, whose drilled cross was fumbled by Davis and accidently knocked in by Jos Hooiveld. Poldi’s goal was a joy to behold: we see fewer free-kick goals than we should, but with Cazorla, Arteta, Vermaelen, Walcott and Poldi, we certainly have options now. And, after Coquelin had been naively clattered just a few yards outside the penalty area, Podolski despatched his free-kick with Germanic efficiency. (Apologies for stereotyping….)
Chamberlain had a good game again today, with a couple of very decent efforts on goal, and he continued to play with a blend of youthful hunger and early maturity. The boy really is special, even in a game where colleagues take the lead. His fellow ex-Saint, Theo Walcott, got a 15-minute run-out, and notched up a follow-up goal after an at-the-death Vermaelen surge. For the more sentimental souls, like me, it was nice to see Chamberlain and Walcott make the effort after the final whistle to go and applaud the Southampton fans, whose club of course nurtured them in their earlier years.
There were probably only two negatives from the game today. The main one was Szczesny. It wasn’t only his error for the goal conceded, in a game where he wasn’t fiercely tested. His distribution was as bad as it has ever been, displaying a nervousness that in a stiffer challenge would be a real source of difficulty. We should cut him some slack, he’s not played much football recently, and his quality remains. But he can’t afford to become a liability, hopefully his performances will lift soon.
The other negative was a minor one. Having been dropped to the bench, Olivier Giroud’s chance to notch a goal was limited to his short appearance at the end of the game. Probably his best chance was messed up by Walcott, who could have slipped an early ball through to Giroud but chose to hold onto the ball too long instead. Nothing better emerged, and so the wait goes on. Personally, I’m not worried, Giroud is a quality player, the goals will come.
So, a very satisfying day. Next up Montpellier and Man City. Some real tests for us there.
Written by 26may1989
Thanks to chas for providing the following player ratings:
Szczesny – Looked out of sorts and was sloppy for the Saints goal, though he did make a couple of decent saves. His kicking wasn’t up to Don Vito’s standard. Surely practice makes perfect for such elementary things……… 6
Mertesacker – A towering performance full of anticipation and Teutonic class…… 8
Vermaelen – Solid, powerful and a fine example to his teammates. His late surge created Walcott’s goal…… 8
Jenkinson – The Corporal is growing by the game. I can only remember one dodgy crossfield pass. He’s some footballer and is rapidly having his rough edges knocked off…… 8
Gibbs – Excellent from start to finish. The movement of the front three allowed him to join in with the attack on numerous occasions. Sometimes I confuse him with Podolski which shows he’s strengthened from the skinny whippet he was 18 months ago (mind you, it could just be my eyesight)…. 9 (My Man of the Match)
Arteta – The Spanish metronome makes the whole team tick. Majestic yet again…. 9
Oxlade-Chamberlain – The Ox looked a little tired to me but still managed to show real quality and ability on the ball…. 8
Cazorla – Santi has class oozing from every pore of his body. An Arsenal legend in the making. Would be Man of the Match but he’ll have lots of those during the season…. 9
Coquelin – Le Coq was robust, yet skilful. Perhaps the highest compliment to his performance is that Diaby was not missed yesterday.. 8
Podolski – Another instant crowd favourite along with Santi. You can see him straining every sinew to help the team. His free-kick was hit with such speed and whip it didn’t need to be right in the corner to beat the keeper. Goodbye Mr Row Z, we don’t need you anymore….. 9
Gervinho – Gerv’s best performance in an Arsenal shirt I can remember. His movement playing centrally, then left, then right had the Saints guessing all afternoon. Perhaps Wenger’s ‘Beat the Bus’ tactic might involve a bit more of the ‘false 9’ tactic…… 9
Ramsey – 67′ – Rambo helped us keep the ball better when he came on and his skill to create the 5th goal was sublime…. 8
Giroud – 74′ – Everyone willing Olivier to score a goal was great to see. It’ll come. I bet he wished he’d been on from the start yesterday. I wonder how the game would have developed if he had been…. 7
Walcott – 74′ – Theo was bound to make a good impact sub in a game like this. Shame he didn’t get his head up earlier when Giroud was all on his own, but he took his goal very well…. 7