What did we learn from Arsenal’s performance against Olympiakos?
We have already seen the Arsenal who couldn’t score without Van Persie, the Arsenal who were revitalised with counter-attacking menace, and the Arsenal whose defensive frailties had been miraculously cured by the promotion of Steve Bould to assistant manager.
October 4th, 2012
Arsenal won last night against Olympiakos by a comfortable margin, but on this evidence the team needs more work.
The Arsenal side picked up from where they left off against Chelsea, and although they played well in spells, generally the performance was not up to Wenger’s usual high standards. Indeed Olympiakos were allowed to dominate the passing game at points, which is a rarity at the Emirates in general. In the end the stats showed more possession for the Arsenal at 57%, though the Greeks had more shots and shots on target.
The result was a little flattering, but a 3-1 win in the Champions League is excellent against a side who were well organised on the night. However, it was the manner of the performance which still leaves question marks hanging over this side.
This new Arsenal team are somewhat of an unknown quantity, and it is hard to judge over so few games. We have already seen the Arsenal who couldn’t score without Van Persie, the Arsenal who were revitalised with counter-attacking menace, and the Arsenal whose defensive frailties had been miraculously cured by the promotion of Steve Bould to assistant manager.
All those assumptions have been confounded by successive games, and it is clear that old habits die hard. Arsenal can score without Van Persie, they are incisive at times, but also wasteful at others, and though the defence has improved there remain weaknesses at the back. The matches against Chelsea and last night against Olympiakos proved this. Any changes introduced by Steve Bould will undoubtedly have an effect, but the changes may form part of a longer term process.
One key point from the Olympiakos match which should be mentioned was Mannone’s distribution. Too often this was slow and ineffective, hindering a quick burst, or incisive counter-attack, leaving him with the sole option of kicking the ball downfield, down the Greek gullet.
Mannone obviously has talent, but Szczęsny is clearly the stronger ‘keeper, and his return to the side will only continue his development as the club’s number one.
At centre back Koscielny, Vermaelen and Mertesacker are all strong options, however, over the past two games they have shown that when paired together they are susceptible to errors. Last night’s goal conceded was an example of such a mistake. This may be ironed out as the season progresses.
However, the two full-backs are the success story of the season. It has always been clear that Gibbs has talent, and now his injury problems have subsided he is showing his worth on the left flank.
Jenkinson is arguably even better on the ball and has been involved in much of the passing play on the right this season. Consideration for England selection is only a fair reflection of the effort he has put in this season, though it should be remembered that he is still young with much to learn.
Against Olympiakos, as against Chelsea, Mikel Arteta seemed to give the ball away more often than is expected given his high standards and excellent reputation. This actually seemed to stem from a lack of options – the team was rather static and the lack of movement at times saw him doubling back to find space. Alongside him Coquelin put in another promising performance, whilst Cazorla was his usual skilful self, though not all of his work was effective.
Gervinho is a conundrum this season, so often lacking the final ball or touch, his finishing, though somewhat erratic, has been of high enough quality to ensure he is amongst the goals, and he is rightly attracting praise. His movement and link-up play have been fantastic at times, though frustrating at others. He is a talent and one on form at the moment.
In general the best forward line remains to be seen. Theo’s situation is in the balance, whilst it is unclear whether Giroud will start to take more of his chances, it is too early to judge him fully.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is an excellent talent, and will surely go far, whilst Podolski is also a good addition. Last night both seemed to struggle a little on the flanks in terms of communication with the full-backs and central midfield – occasionally the timing of runs and link-up play was incorrect and frustratingly this meant that Arsenal didn’t always flow.
We must also consider that key members of the squad are out with injury at the moment. Diaby, so impressive against Liverpool is now away for almost a month – his flashes of brilliance always hint at promise, but too often his chances of consistency are removed by injury. Wilshere is only just making his return and it may be some time yet before we see him making a full contribution in the first team.
Overall, this side has potential to develop into a good team, and the acquisitions over the summer have added a new balance. Against Olympiakos they struggled at times, but eventually won with three well taken goals by Gervinho, Podolski and Ramsey. This type of attitude and the ability to get the winning result from a difficult game are also important attributes for a successful team.
More games together are needed to understand exactly how this unit will function. Currently this lies in the balance, but the group table doesn’t lie and Arsenal sit top with six points after two challenging games.
James writes about Arsenal on Arsespeak.com where you can find many more in-depth analytical articles on tactics, statistics and players.