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First Impressions

Without doubt my favourite day of the year, much before the cheap commercial showiness of Christmas, the anti climatic birthday, is the first day of the new football season. Watching everybody on the train resplendant in new replica shirts and tinted shades, wearing the kind of smiles that are awash with relief. As if we've all been collectively sucking in our bloated guts for three months as an attractive woman passes by, and now we've been able to breathe out. Acquaintances were renewed with the old crowd as we met at Holloway Road's Phibbers pub for brunch. Having spent my Friday evening in a Belgian bar sampling every beer under the sun, it was only right to bring my cultural flirting towards the Emerald Isles. A full fry up and two pints of Guinness for breakfast then.

We arrived into a sunkissed Grove just before kick off to the predictable news that Robin van Persie was not fit enough to start, well I suppose he is already one game into his seven game a season credit, no need to violate that expense account just yet. After Ramsey had looked understandably edgy in Arnhem, Emmanuel Eboue was selected in the holding role and Samir Nasri lined up on the left. Arsenal duly fed our early season optimism after just three minutes with a goal of aesthetic brilliance. Patiently probing with the ball, the Gunners put together a multi pass move which saw Clichy feed Denilson in the left channel, just as he had in Amsterdam last week, Denilson sauntered to the by line and cut the ball back for Samir Nasri to finish Pires style in the six yard area, opening his body out to neatly nudge past Scott Carson. It was a goal that could well have been forged by the triple entente of Cole, Henry and Pires.

The sense of assurance was palpable in the humid North London air as all and sundry felt a comfortable victory was on the cards. Nasri set Adebayor away down the left soon after, Ade raced to the byline and chipped a ball to the backpost which Walcott headed goalwards, only to be blocked by Paul Robinson's(not the flying potato) shoulder. The home side were moving forward with verve and confidence, like a snow lepoard stalking a mountain deer. William Gallas moved forward, a tentative Baggies defence stood off and Billy let fly with a rocket from thirty yards which flew just wide. Remember Sol Campbell at Fratton Park a few years back? Bendtner headed a Nasri corner just wide and Bacary Sagna got in on the act, Clichy's swinging cross was headed to the edge of the area by Barnettand Sagna's left foot volley was deflected just wide off of Meite. Another Nasri corner caused the Baggies problems as Adebayor headed goalwards and Sagna just couldn't nick the header in front of Carson. West Brom did reassert themselves and created an opportunity of their own. Carson's long kick down the middle caused us the sort of problems we should probably get used to if Wenger won't sign a dominant centre half, Miller flicked the ball on and Kim Do Heon's shot was tipped wide by Almunia via a deflection from Djourou.

The second half was a decidedly more tetchy affair, with Arsenal failing to fully capitalise on their dominance in the first half. Four minutes into the second half, the Gunners had a lucky escape. Kim slipped a through ball into Ishmael Miller, whose physicality caused problems all afternoon, Djourou playing him onside, but Miller could only hit the ball straight at Almunia's legs. The rebound fell to James Morrison and his strike beat Almunia only to see Djourou shank the ball off the line. Gallas expressed his displeasure at Djourou's dallying in setting the offside trap, but I wouldn't construe it as any lack of bonhomie as Ihave seen suggested by some. Defenders shout at one another all the time, Gallas is the captain and if somebody doesn't do their job, it's up to him to say so. No big deal. Arsenal did appear to take the warning as a hint though and seconds later, Nasri majestically ambled inside from touchline and delivered an exquisite slide rule passfor Adebayor to tun onto. The Togonator ran through on goal and couldn't quite open his body out sufficiently to bend the ball into the net as an absolute sitter drifted wide of the post. Incidentally, Bedntner was free for a tap in to his right. If you're demanding a six figure weekly salary, you put those away. As I said in pre season, that's a rod Ade decided to make for his own back and he has to accept the consequential ire, which he bore heavily from the crowd following a piece of poor decision making in the area. Nasri on the other hand,was warming the cockels of the home support, striking up an instant rapport with Clichy, trusting the diminutive left back's ability on the ball and finding space between full back and centre half, making him very difficult to pick up. An incident towards the end of the game where he tracked back and fought off Brunt to win the ball back for his team. Let's hope this wasn't a Glenn Helder sort of debut.

Denilson also had an outstanding match, playing the role of both creative pivot and defensive terror. I felt Eboue was too idle in the role of destroyer, with Kim dropping off into space behind Miller and seldom being picked up. Eboue is a player who spends too long rocking back on his heels and not on his toes to play this role.It was Denilson who was harrying Baggies midfielders, using an intelligence that belies his years to read passes and make the interceptions. Of course we were already aware of his economy with the ball. If there is a space up for grabs in central midfield, Denilson took a huge stride towards it yesterday. But our inability to defend the long ball through the middle was all too evident yesterday as Ishamel Miller
caused us problems. With all due respect to the young man, we will be facing better and more experienced strikers in this campaign.
van Persie and Toure came on to try and steady and vary a stagnating and nervy ship. Toure's introduction as a right winger may have been an attempt to stiffen defensively, but it was one of the poorer substitutions of the Wenger era. Toure predictably looked lost (and a little chubby it must be said) and the threat from the right was ostensibly over.

van Persie did add a new threat, Adebayor once again found space in the left channel, spooned the ball up to the backpost, but van Persie could not get the requisite power on the header to beat Carson. A piece of van Persie magic nearly confirmed the result with five minutes left, collecting Denilson's cut back, dancing his way through a three point turn in the area, but runing his chance by trying to curl the ball in with the outside of his left foot when a right footed strike would surely have scored. If you do not trust your right foot from eight yards Robin, it means you need to work on it. You know, when you can tear yourself away from the treatment table that is. In the end, one goal was enough to open the season with a victory. In a way, this win was the polar opposite of the opening day victory against Fulham last season.

There are plenty of positives, Nasri's debut was as good as I have seen for some time, Denilson looks to be carrying his pre season form into the new campaign, Clichy and Sagna still look impenetrable and we still have players to come back from injury. The first half display was one of swagger and poise, but the second half was slightly more nervy, we lacked some sharpness in the final third which will come in time. However, some problems persist, Almunia is still far too slow off of his line, the long ball through the middle causes us all sorts of problems and we van Persie isn't fit after a lactic acid sapping one game. Let's hope we can get a few players back next week and a few bodies in before deadline day.LD.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday August 17 2008

Time: 11:51AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Nice take on the whole day and the issues surrounding and arising from it. One of the good things about the season getting underway is that we get to read these match reports again. Match winning start for you too Tim.
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17/08/2008 12:42:00

Lovely stuff. Clichy and Sagna are the nuts. You beat whats in front of you and we did despite the injuries. Any bets on us staying unbeaten in August?
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17/08/2008 12:46:00

1st impression was for me that Nasri, looks a good buy, Denilson seems to be growing in confidence, Theo should make more runs at the opposition and drive into the box more. Bendtner needs to concerate on doing the easy things before he try little back flicks. Someone other than Eboue should be shooting from just ouside the box! Well done on your article, Tim
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17/08/2008 14:39:00

Lots of papers and bloggers and LD above mentioned the weaknesses still to be addressed. In a way I think a narrow win like this would put us in the right mindset: we had to score early, learn the defensive lesson and stay focused for 90 mins. It's better than beating a lesser team 3-0 and thinking we're top of the world only to get found out later against real competition. (Which sounds familiar..?) We got the positives in the right areas: Nasri seemingly able to replace or even improve on Hleb, Denilson stepping up, Djourou stepping up. And we know the sharpness up front will be there, the chances will be there with Cesc back. Again it's the half-full or half-empty thing, but for me it's positive overall.
Lou the Gunneress
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17/08/2008 14:41:00

LD - I recall you confidently predicting at some point in the summer that Arsenal would win the PL this season. Do you still think we will? PS - thoroughly enjoyable write-up as always, I always look forward to them as they are far better than the predictable drivel in the press and your writing and analysis is always outstanding.
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17/08/2008 14:46:00

What a relief - all the speculation is silenced for a while and we get back to what we do best, which is on the pitch. This game showed perfectly everything that's positive and equally everything that's negative about where our squad stands. The positive being that we play enviable football and have talent and potential in abundance, and the negative, that it was obvious (despite flattering opponents) that midfield needs at least another seasoned warrior for any title charge. There were many things to like about yesterday, but one of the best was the way we didn't dawdle so much around the box - we seemed to be more incisive and I think this is down to the Hleb for Nasri swap. As for the corners - let's hope Nasri takes them in future. He does them the old fashioned effective way, showing in the process how appallingly wasteful we've been with them. It was hard to pick a man of the match, but I think it was between Clichy and Nasri, with Denilson close behind. Johan Djourou also had a great day, so lets hope he stays and develops with us. As for Toure's introduction, LD hit the nail on the head that it was one of Wengers worst subs...what a joke! He brought nothing to the side and potentially could even have cost us. As for Eboue, he started off okay, but he doesnt bring a clear benefit to the squad. Can we just sell him to the neighboursplease Arsene? Anyway there was also a delightful cherry on top of the opening day - stand up Boro for gunning down the Spuds!
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17/08/2008 14:51:00

I don't think we will win the league, because we clearly need a centre half and we won't buy one. I'm certain we'll see a midfielder, I'd like a class GK too but don't think that's quite so pressing because,whisper it quietly, I really rate Fabianski on what I've seen so far. Actually our corners last year bore a lot of fruit, Cesc's delivery was a huge factor behind the improvement of our points total. Think of all of our goals in March of this year. There was less dallying around the box, I think this is largely down to the improvement in Clichy's delivery, he is no longer afraid to swing the ball in and of course that is why Adebayor is so crucial to us because he is direct. I thought Djourou had a very good game but people underestimate how well Gallas shepherds less experienced colleagues at the back. I was also impressed by Bendtner yesterday, even if his delivery was a little wayward at times, his ideas were always right and that's a good basis for a junior player.
Little Dutch
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17/08/2008 15:08:00

what's your take on booing Ade, LD? and it seemed that the atmosphere wasn't as electric as one would expect with certain patches of the stadium quite empty. It looked so on the telly.
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17/08/2008 15:50:00

I think Lou makes a very valid point, and one that helps to contradict that of Joe Cole, who pointed out Arsenal's main problem as the ability, or lack of, rather, to win games 'ugly', by not playing well. But I guess he was right. Last season we really struggled to pick up points when the going got tough. However, two games in, and, despite having a smaller squad, with several key players missing, we've got two important wins, both in pretty average performances. We were brilliant in the first 15 minutes yesterday but the tempo just dropped from there. I thought Eboue and Djourou had good games as well as the mentioned Denilson and Nasri. It should have been more, and after seeing Chelsea rip Pompey to shreds, I am a little disappointed, but this team is learning. We've picked out weaknesses from previous seasons (conceding from set-pieces, being "too lightweight") and have learned. And we look a better team for it. I don't believe we'll win the league, I think a quality holding midfielder is needed and I can't see him coming in with so little time left in the transfer market. However, like last year, we're gonna push all the way, again. One thing that stood out on Wednesday night was a lack of creativity, thus Adebayor saw very little of the ball. But you can't put that on the likes of Ramsey and Denilson, we did have Cesc, Rosicky and Nasri missing. However, the latter returned yesterday and was the creative spark we lacked in midweek. When the others come back, we will be even better, and can win games 'The Arsenal Way'. But I think this performance, and those in pre-season prove we've added variety to our game.
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17/08/2008 16:01:00

I fully understand the booing of Adebayor. I didn't join in myself, nor would I. But footballers really need to wake up and stop thinking they're so untouchable and if the treatment Ade got yesterday makes him and others realise that, in the words of Cypress Hill, 'we ain't goin out like that' then fair enough. Like I said, the bloke did it to himself and now he must get on with it and live with the consequences. That said, I was surprised. Point made I'd say, let's drop it now. (Interestingly just after the boos, his name was sung which suggests it wasn't the majority that were in the booing camp and that chant struck me as a protest against the booing).
Little Dutch
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17/08/2008 16:12:00

I think Adebayor got the message and booing him further won't help him, and won't help the team. He still ran his socks off but made the wrong decisions in a couple of situations. However he still produced a couple of good crosses (RvP and Walcott) and I believe he tried his best. As you said, I too believe it is time to put it behind and support him rather than boo him.
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17/08/2008 16:17:00

Ade got the message in pre-season already. I think the reason why he made the selfish decisions was exactly that he's trying too hard to win the love back. The pressure of having to please the crowd clouded his judgement in those circumstances. He'd've learned from it after getting the exact opposite response from the crowd.
Lou the Gunneress
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17/08/2008 17:12:00

Im not worried at all about the scoreline. Last year Man U tied Reading on the opening weekend and still went on to win the title.
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17/08/2008 17:52:00

GK they just tied again... against Newcastle at home this time. I hope it doesn't imply the same thing this time...
Lou the Gunneress
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17/08/2008 18:02:00

It seems Ferguson's hesitation in signing a striker has cost United two points today, just as a lack of a midfielder could have cost us. With Utd off to the Super Cup, they will be a game behind for a while, a good chance to establish an early gap in time for when we meet one another. I know it's early season, but one cannot underestimate the psychology early season results can play for us. In the words of Jim Morrison, the time to hesitate is through.
Little Dutch
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17/08/2008 18:06:00

It won't. They've finally entered the world of injury hell, they ended up bringing on two unknowns as well as starting with Frazier Campbell up front! They're getting desperate up there, and I think Fergie will be 'panic buying' in the next week or so. Suddenly, they don't seem to have the strength in depth they supposedly had. I don't believe they ever did. The likes of O'Shea, Fletcher, Brown etc are average players at best, and when they miss a few key players, like today with Ronaldo, Tevez, Hargreaves and Anderson, they expose weaknesses. Of course I'm not naive enough to completely write them off but with Chelsea looking 'Arsenal-at-their-best-like' and us growing every game, if they lose points now, they'll struggle to catch up, even when Ronaldo returns.
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17/08/2008 18:09:00

Good points there LD. You seem to have covered all of them, but the one that concerns me the most was the defensive weakness with the long ball down the middle. If a striker like Miller can trouble the defence, better strikers will make us pay, and Toure replacing Djourou isnt the answer. Everyone can see that weakness, and I wonder what Wenger is planning to do about it. There are still too many unanswered questions for comfort, although there were several positives.
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17/08/2008 18:42:00

Nasri is certainly an excellent aquisition and will be a massive player for you guys.
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17/08/2008 18:58:00

G4L, on average it was mild mumbling around the stadium. There were pockets of booing but only pockets. Like LD, I cannot bring myself to boo, however *****ed I am at the lumbering oaf! I think that the point to Ade and he isn't deaf. I'd say the booing should now stop as the point has been made. I dont believe that constantly berating anyone gets the best out of them - look at Tottenham - we've been berating them for years and it's stunted their growth too :-)
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17/08/2008 19:02:00

About atmosphere there was honestly very little - the least I think I've seen at the Grove. It was like everyone was comign out of hibernation and hadnt woekn up yet... we could barely be arsed to answer the Albion fans when they sang "Your support is effing *****!" Regarding United, didn't they start off poorly last year too?
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17/08/2008 19:11:00

United also have a tough run of games now with three away fixtures on the trot at Portsmouth, Liverpool and Chelsea so this a very good opportunity for us to get ahead of them.
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17/08/2008 20:34:00

Wenger is so normally astute, why can't he just see that two top-quality additions at centreback and centremid could be the tipping point between being champions and almost champions again? Surely it's worth a gamble.
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17/08/2008 20:37:00

I rate Alex Song very highly, was very impressed with his performances at centre back towards the end of last season. I think he can do a great job as DM, perhaps better than denilson IMO as he has more of a physical presence. Even Flamini lacked physical presence, though he compensated for this with great stamina, tackling, and tactical awareness. But I wasn't too disappointed to see the flamster leave because of this. It will be interesting to see who AW brings in before the deadline.
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17/08/2008 22:14:00

u guys call robinson the flying potato....nice....
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20/08/2008 05:39:00


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