Connect in the back of the net

What started out with so much promise ended in quiet disappointment. Drawing Sunderland at home isn’t the ideal start to the season, but it’s by no means the beginning of the end. We have to remember that our players have had a very busy summer with the Euros, Olympics, flying all over the world for our tour and international friendlies. It’s no surprise that not everyone was as sharp as they would have liked to be. Despite it being a rather subdued performance, there are some positives to take from this rather uneventful match.

First thing’s first, our new boys. While Olivier Giroud and Podolski may have struggled slightly, both had bright spots in the cameos. Giroud showed intelligence in his movement, and a decent first touch and fine dribbling skills. His one clear cut chance of the match went unfinished, but don’t give him a hard time over his debut in which he was shoved on under a lot of pressure to perform. While Giroud didn’t have much time to make an impact, the opposite can be said of Lukas Podolski. In the friendly vs. Koln, he was everything I had hoped for. An aggressive, playmaking centre forward who wasn’t afraid to run at the defence.

Now I know that Koln didn’t park 10 men behind the ball at all times, but Podolski went missing far too often for my liking. He’s a striker who can do so much more than poach, but really seemed frustrated without the ball, but didn’t do much to receive it. He should be more inclined to drop into midfield to create chances for himself, his second goal against Koln being the perfect example.

Receiving a pass in the middle of the park, putting through Gibbs on a through lob, then darting into the box to finish off a perfectly orchestrated move. That’s the Podolski that everyone knows, and that’s the Podolski everyone wants to see.

Santi Cazorla managed a mammoth 7 key passes today, and that says a lot about his immense quality, especially considering most of our players’ legs seemed glued together. So many things set him apart in quality from our other attacking midfielders at the moment, but I’ll narrow it down to two key factors: aggression and intelligence.

Cazorla is the midfield engine at the moment, he’s involved in almost anything in the middle of the park. Just to give an example of his destruction of the middle alongside Diaby, Arteta and later on Ramsey, let’s compare him to his opposing central midfielder, Sebastian Larsson.

Player Cazorla Larsson
Pass Accuracy 94% 67%
Touches 104 28
Fouls 1 1
Shots 4 0
Tackles 3 1

While Cazorla was helped by excellent performances from Diaby and Arteta, this data alone shows that Larsson and his men were played off the park. All they could do was sit back and pray we didn’t score. Unfortunately, that seemed to work. Despite our strikers misfiring, the signs from a largely untested midfield are extremely positive. We’ve got the work rate, technical aptitude, and creativity to supply our strikers with the killer ball again and again. After this week of training sessions, we can hope to do much better in the goals department with such a solid looking midfield.

While the defence as a whole was quite solid, what came as a surprise were the shifts put in by Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs. Last year, they were two players who didn’t seem to convince many fans. This game is a sign of things to come, as we take a look at some encouraging stats from the pair of youngsters.

Player Kieran Gibbs Carl Jenkinson
Total Passes 69 81
Pass Accuracy 93% 85%
Key Passes 1 2
Crosses (Accurate) 6(1) 5(2)
Long Balls (Accurate) 6(5) 9(7)
Tackles 3 3
Interceptions 5 1
Clearances (Effective) 3(3) 4(3)
Fouls 0 0
Aerials Won 25% 67%

Both got up and down the flanks well, and both managed respectable passing stats. Each tallying 3 tackles and 0 fouls, it was a tidy game at the back from English duo, and nothing more. Podolski is not a strong header of the ball, which goes a long way explaining the fullbacks’ lackluster crossing stats, but no matter. Hopefully they’ll continue to improve at a steady pace this season, as I have tipped both -Jenkinson in particular- to succeed.

This team is still getting used to each other, and it showed at times, especially in our passing. While we were accurate with a 91% success rate, our movement up the pitch was often hindered by our reluctance to make any sort of forward runs, due to a general lack of understanding between players. We kept the ball well, retaining 70% of possession, but it didn’t seem to occur to anyone that all we had to do was draw Sunderland’s attention with a well timed sprint behind the back line.

Overlapping runs from the fullbacks in attack as well as tracking back from our wingers was good, but you get the sense that our flanks don’t exactly have iron clad partnerships as of yet.

I think Walcott does performs at his maximum with Sagna or Gibbs at his aid the entire match -of which he had neither- and Gervinho is suited to Jenkinson, who crosses the ball into the box quite frequently, leaving Gervinho to dart inside in an effort to squeeze out a chance from any defensive error. The more everybody plays, the more comfortable they become around their teammates. Simple!

That’s enough for today really. I may go into more detail about the dynamics of our midfield, so keep your eyes peeled!

Bring on Stoke!


Written by Anders Marshall

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