For all Python fans out there, some of you might know that the pilot show that aired in 1969 had a few gags, a few laughs, but generally was a bit of a nervy performance that did not hint at the solidly brilliant series it would soon become. I use this as a metaphor for yesterday’s performance against West Bromwich Albion; a sparky first 20 minutes followed by a nervous, albeit controlled performance that saw Arsenal get the season off to a winning start.Within the first four minutes, Arsenal created two razor-sharp chances to slice open the WBA defence. It was on the second attempt – a typically splendid team move involving Clichy, Denilson and debutant Samir Nasri – that gave Arsenal a well deserved, electric lead.
Last night I had the pleasure of being accompanied by a whole group of Arsenal fans from the supporter’s club in Brisbane’s Pig and Whistle (in which one fine fan mistook me for some Dutchman…), and it would be the first time that I’ve shared an Arsenal player’s debut as emphatically as that.
The last time I can remember a debut celebrated so rawkously was when Gilberto scored against Liverpool in the 2002/03 Charity Shield; a match we also won 1-0.
Nasri’s celebration was emphatic, stylish and for the fans as he ran behind the net to soar along the touchline.
This was the first time I had seen him play proper, and for once, I give youtube some credit. Even watching him play today, he remains a youtube compilation – producing dangerous moves along the flank, exploiting a good engine of pace, and scoring 100% of the time you see him play. 1 goal, 1 match? Yes sir.
The rest of the game was less emphatic – the key moment coming when WBA’s attack slit us up a treat, producing a fine save from Almunia and an even finer goal-line clearance from the young Johan Djourou, who must be given a run in the side while our opening fixtures remain favourable. Although not called upon as much as he might have, he looked assured, confident, and has a lot to learn from the captain, William Gallas.
There was vocal frustration amongst fans in our inability to convert our chances, which started accumulating after about the 70 minute mark. Nevertheless, if you had offered me a 1-0 home win to open the season with, I would have snapped your whole arm off, with a ‘thank you very much’ for good measure.
In the end, we were playing without Fabregas with Denilson and Emmanuel Eboue (would you believe it?) in central midfield. And still, we won with a clean sheet. While not his biggest fan, Myles Palmer made the observation that while we may not play well without Fabregas, we can certainly still win. And that, this season, will be crucial.
Player ratings as follows:
Almunia: 7 – The fans are slowly coming to realise that a long stretch of time in the Arsenal goal has seen Manuel rise up as a very reliable goalkeeper for the side. He made two good saves today, though could still command a little more authority at the back. His fist-pumping after Djourou’s line-clearance was more chummy than ‘I’m Invincible!’. Just a thought, Manuel…
Sagna: 7 – It’s just excellent to have Bacary back in the side, and he was reasonably solid at right back and an attacking threat in WBA’s half. I do worry that he seems to be turned the wrong way when attacks take him on through the middle. It was highlighted against FC Twente, and it happened once or twice here, today. A solid performance on the whole, though.
Gallas: 8 – Given the early-season lackluster feel to affairs, this was an excellent ‘captain’s innings’ from Gallas. He was authoritative in defence, made vital tackles, showed he has one hell of a shot on him, and was confident in giving Djourou some respectful responsibility. A good performance.
Djourou: 7.5 – A vital goal-line clearance after Almunia made the initial save; Djourou was composed and elegant in defence. Often jinking and dribbling past attacks under pressure, he handled himself admirably and deserves a few more matches while the fixtures remain relatively easy.
Clichy: 8 – Sparkling performance that we’ve come to expect from the left back. Strong in the tackle, tireless and some brilliant dribbling runs near the end of the game. Rightfully one of the most popular players in the side.
Walcott: 6 – Didn’t play badly, but was a little quiet on the right wing. Did not get the right ball to exploit his amazing pace, and prefered to pass infield than attempt too many crosses, which Sagna obliged with.
Denilson: 7 – Has visibly bulked up his frame and handled himself well, today. There will be sterner tests than West Brom, certainly, but he accounted for himself well, and Gooners should feel confident enough for him to deputise until Fabregas makes his return.
Eboue: 7 – Some may baulk at this rating, but I try not to let the Eboue-hate get to my judgement. Placing himself in the centre of the park meant he was forced to be more involved in attacking buildups. In my opinion, he got into the right places and tackled neatly, and the times he did fall over was the result of an actual foul. If only he knew how to shoot, though.
Nasri: 8 – A lovely debut from the left winger. His dribbling was dangerous, and he looks like he could be even quicker in time. A lovely cap to a delightful team goal, and remained a potent threat throughout the game.
Bendtner: 6 – Very quiet match, apart from some good positioning to get a header just wide in the first half. Replaced by van Persie in the second.
Adebayor: 7 – Showed his usefulness down the left flank, but was offside several times and wasted a few opportunities. Missed a goal by the most surgical of margins in the second half.
As for the replacements, van Persie had an impressive swivel-shot that went just wide, and Toure got a run out to give him some more match fitness.
In all, that’s all I have time for today. I’m glad we have three points on the board (and Tottenham have zip, ha!), and glad I could share the night with some pretty pumped up and passionate Brisbane Gooners.
I also had the chance to meet up with Spanish Fry from ArsenalFCBlog, which was good. A real suave character, for those that are interested. May there be many more, SF.
And with that, I sign off. Did you enjoy being top of the table for a couple of hours?