Yesterday’s uneventful trip to Stoke wasn’t the most exciting thing about this bank holiday but Arsene Wenger won’t be losing any sleep over Arsenal’s start to the season and this is all down to a Stoke native who gave his best years in an Arsenal shirt before becoming assistant manager.
The Gunners haven’t quite found their shooting boots yet but there are plenty of reasons to be happy about their start to the new campaign, even after firing blanks in the two opening fixtures. The introduction of Steve Bould as the replacement of a retiring Pat Rice has grabbed and shaken a nervous back four and turned them into something not too dissimilar to the defensive platoon put together by George Graham in the early 1990s.
Of course Steve Bould was an intricate part of that Arsenal side in the 90s; him and Tony Adams – alongside Dixon and Winterburn – cemented themselves as one of the finest back fours in world football while making Highbury a fortress. Bould’s experience has seemingly rubbed off on a defensive outfit that would crumble at the slight hint of a long ball coming their way; Per Mertesacker is starting to look much more than just a poor Stephen Merchant impersonator and showing signs of the great defender that has made him a starter for the German national side for the past few years.
It’s not just the defensive aspect to Arsenal’s game that has changed under Steve Bould
Even Carl Jenkinson, who was teased and taunted for his defensive abilities last year before his injury, has started to show promising signs that he can be the long term replacement for Bacary Sagna; his touch has become so much more self-assured which has given him more confidence coming forward as well as tracking back.
But it’s not just the defensive aspect to Arsenal’s game that has changed under Steve Bould – the positioning at set pieces and corners almost mimics the Graham era; Mertesacker(Bould) at the near post, flicks on to a late arriving Vermaelen (Adams) in the middle. It makes a pleasant change to finally see an Arsenal team that has obviously gone over their set piece routines during practice.
However, a team isn’t going to go that far if they’re not scoring goals. A second blank in a row has already got the media vultures circling above the heads of Podolski and Giroud. With Van Persie grabbing a goal for United on Saturday afternoon, the two new Arsenal signings had a lot to prove against a Stoke side who attempted to get 10 men behind the ball at any opportunity.
Giroud’s ability to hold up play and offload it to the wider men looks very promising
Cazorla and Arteta plugged away and tried to get as much space as possible with Ryan Shawcross and the other Orcs/Stoke players snapping at their heels, but not many chances came to fruition; the Spanish pairing in the middle of the park has been a particular highlight in the opening couple of games, the double-act have gelled very quickly which has allowed the returning Diaby to stretch his gangly legs and go on some mazy runs.
Giroud’s ability to hold up play and offload it to the wider men looks very promising – and will become quite vital in more open games against teams who are willing to attack with more than one player outside their own half. His upper body strength is very similar to that of Nicklas Bendtner but with a higher work rate; the busy Frenchman chased every ball without holding back on his runs – and his willingness to come deep to look for the ball shows that a fruitful partnership with Podolski has real potential.
The knuckle-draggers of Stoke were nice enough to not maim any of our players
However, despite another 90 minutes without celebrating a goal, Arsene Wenger can probably look back on the result as quite a positive one. Of course the knuckle-draggers of Stoke were nice enough to not maim any of our players (even though Wilkinson came very close to doing so), but Arsenal are becoming a team that can deal with more physical opposition. Every ball sent in to Peter Crouch was dealt with relative ease and for the first time in a long while, the team looked like they could take on anything sent their way – you’d be forgiven if you forgot Arsenal were playing with last season’s 4th choice goalkeeper between the sticks.
Next week’s trip to Anfield will see a Liverpool side eager to come at Arsenal and this will benefit the Gunners – with Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain likely to make their presence known as well as even more input from Cozorla in the middle. Liverpool won’t be setting out their stall for a draw and this will suit the Londoners to the ground.
The Gunners may be firing blanks at the moment, but it’s only a matter of time – and a few more sessions on the training ground – before they start to really explode on the pitch.
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