Thursday, 29 September 2011

Oxlade-Chamberlain and Song take the plaudits as Gunners win

Morning Gooners.

Three games in the last eight days and three wins have been recorded. Who would have predicted that with the way we've started the season?

Personally I wasn't convinced by our performance last night but a win is three valuable points to us and at this point in time with the team the way it is - inconsistent - we need to get these results to create some momentum.

Arsene Wenger completed his touchline ban so Pat Rice took charge of the team. Wenger made five changes from the side which beat Bolton at the weekend. Alex Song and Andre Santos started in defence. Emmanuel Frimpong anchored our midfield. A European debut was handed to Alex Oxlade Chamberlain who started on the right of the attacking three alongside Tomas Rosicky who replaced Aaron Ramsey. Up front Marouane Chamakh was handed a rare start.

And it was The Ox who made an immediate impression. Inside eight minutes he'd given us the lead running on and collecting a diagonal ball from Song, going past two players and firing home a left footed shot after the ball hand bounced in his favour.

I thought he took his goal really well. He didn't have the most solid of starts giving the ball away but burst into life to give us the lead.

However the away team should have pegged us back had it not been for an off the line clearance from Mikel Arteta six minutes later. It was from a corner that the Spaniard found himself blocking a shot at the near post with Szczesny stranded.

This zonal marking system really needs to go - a point I will return to later.

However we added to our advantage in the 20th minute. Andre Santos making his home debut collected the ball on the left and cross in for Chamakh. His shot was blocked and the ball ran free for Santos to fire in right footed.

Our two goal advantage was short lived. Terrible defending from a set piece allowed the Greek side back into the game. No one appeared to be alive to the fact Olympiacos had taken a short corner and when the ball was swung over into the box David Fuster had a free header and put the ball past Szczesny.

It yet again shows how we're easily undone by set pieces. No one was watching for the short corner and in turn the marking for the header was non existent. This really has to be a priority picked up on by Arsene Wenger and his coaching team. Last season we conceded an unacceptable number of set piece goals and this zonal marking system was brought in as a result. However I'm not fully convinced it works at all.

And despite our lead it was the visitors who came into the game as the half progressed. Arsenal looked good with the ball but very poor without it. And for me it was Szczesny who kept us in the match with some good saves.

The Greek side had 14 shots at the Arsenal goal, five of which were on target. Whilst Arsenal had just four shots of which the only attempts on target were the two goals.

The second half wasn't much better from an attacking point of view for the Gunners. Nine shots with just three on target. The other six were blocked. Whilst the visitors had five attempts none of which were on target. However Szczesny was beaten half way through the half however his cross bar saved him.

Rice had obviously asked for more protection of his defence at half time because as the stats suggest, we were better at the back.

There were huge sighs of relief at full time. Three points had been achieved and we now sit second in the group behind Marseille who beat Dortmund in France.

Afterwards Rice told the media:
"I think in the first 20-25 minutes we were really in it well. After that for about 15-20 minutes we maybe lost our way and they came back into it. Second half we had to knuckle down, fight and get our shape right which I thought we did better in the second half."
Despite the makeshift defence's very good performances, I thought we looked very vulnerable at the back. I thought that  both Per Mertesacker and Alex Song - who had been drafted into the heart of the Arsenal defence because of an injury crisis created by us having just one fit central defender - did very well.

Although it did seem we could concede at any minute - especially in the first half - the midfield weren't protecting the defence enough especially, it seemed the adjustments Rice made at half time helped put us on firmer ground..

However it did seem to be us holding on rather than Olympiacos.

Overall I think we probably deserved the win. The victory add to our momentum and scrapping out a win under the circumstances with all our injuries is positive. Now we've got the first north London derby of the season to prepare for.

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