Date: 17th August 2014 at 10:33am
Written by:

This was our first opening day victory since August 2009 or our first opening day home win since August 2010. Not stats that seemed to have previously bothered anyone greatly as far as I can recall but seems to have caught the imagination of some pundits this weekend. I guess the febrile atmosphere that surrounded last season’s opening day debacle may have heightened sensitivities and on the man bites dog principle of news worthiness an opening day defeat following our recent trophy triumph(s) would have created more headlines. In the end those headlines headed Louis Van Gaal’s way.

With or without Pulis Palace set up much as might be expected playing in the manner that has brought Pulis and others, as disciples of the simplest coaching strategy in football, admiration for their tactical ‘genius’ from some quarters. They defended deep and in numbers, scorned possession, were physical enough to notch up 19 fouls and earn themselves 4 yellow cards, with Puncheon’s second sending him from the field. They played for time at every opportunity with the eyebrow raising sight of a trio of players from the 75th minute onwards going to ground suffering from cramp! I’d have imagined that pre-season conditioning would have made that unlikely in the opening game of the season unless their conditioning required it of course. But for all that Palace stuck to their chosen strategy well and nicked a goal to make their task more comfortable and ours less.

The goal was a consequence of a corner with the team collectively failing to stay alert. Some seem to have thought Koscielny was the more culpable but it appeared that there were others that didn’t wake up to the dangers to me. Singling anyone player out in such circumstances isn’t really possible but it’s a matter for Bould to work on collectively if we`re to fare better than we’ve shown both in the opening game and in pre-season games.

That aside we showed plenty of energy and enthusiasm with Sanogo and Alexis working hard up front. Alexis particularly showed a willingness to track back, tackle and challenge for the ball. Whatever skills he possesses, his ball juggling on his chest late in the game is a clip we may well see again from time to time, he’s no precious prima donna afraid to do the dirty work. Still a number of his tackles led to fouls, he found limited success taking on and getting past people and his passing wasn’t as precise as it needs to be in our game. But his passing was creative at times and he created 4 goal attempts claiming an assist with a wickedly dipping free kick for Koscielny to score our opening goal. There’s more to come from Alexis I’m sure.

Our other two debutants Debuchy and Chambers enjoyed the opportunity to make their debuts in a match in which our defense wasn’t really tested – other than at set pieces. Debuchy looked what he is, an experienced buy of international class already hardened to the premier league. That Chambers calm assurance gives much the same impression is more surprising for a 19 year old who had only made a couple of dozen premier league appearances in a different role to the centre back position he adopted for us. He also shows a good range of passing, at times very positive for a defender, which adds to what must surely be a promising future. Gibbs going off with an injury is rather too common an experience which is sad because he does add a great deal to our game. He’s quite important to the way we play when he’s fit and on form.

If this wasn’t a game to test our defenders it was a game to test our midfielders and pretty well all came up short. Cazorla, who is a creative player, isn’t really a playmaker by which I mean he doesn’t orchestrate the team in the more obvious ways that Rosicky, who can set the tempo and movement of others, or the more subtle ways of Ozil with his vision and precise passing and accuracy. Faced with blocks of midfielders and defenders Santi struggled to make things happen for himself let alone get those around him playing. Ramsey had a poor game in losing possession in promising positions but he didn’t hide and his energy brought him the winning goal in added time. Jack saw a lot of the ball and won a lot of fouls but he needs to discover the ability that the best players have of not getting fouled as often as he does. Too often he appears as though he’s waiting for the tackle. Where moving the ball quicker, a quick turn and change of direction might elude a tackle Jack invariably ends up on the floor when we need to keep the play flowing. Arteta had a good game in a match in which he should have had a good game. He passed quickly and accurately, tackled, intercepted and made the clearances you’d want him to make against a team that didn’t send forwards and midfielders rushing forward to get by him.

We’ll have more fluent performances but we passed accurately if not always imaginatively or creatively, and we managed 6 shots on target two of which brought goals. More importantly we showed the desire and commitment to get back into a game against obdurate opposition that had gone a goal up. Apparently we hadn’t managed to do that in the opening game for a few seasons! It’s a long season and there’s no better way to start it than with 3 points under our belt.