Team spirit looks strong and genuine
I am really pleased today. It seems slightly unusual to be quite so content following a draw, but such was the performance from Arsenal yesterday that I am seriously enthused now by our prospects for this season. If I have a criticism from yesterday it is that we didn't give the over rated Joe Hart enough to do, but I felt Arsenal dominated the game pretty much from start to finish. Frankly it would have been an utter injustice for the boys to have left Manchester with nothing to show for such a great display.
Arsene Wenger is becoming adept at springing surprises in his selection. Last week we had Gervinho thrown in as a central striker to great effect. Yesterday it was Aaron Ramsey who came in to play, in theory, on the right of midfield and put in a superb display. Ramsey's inclusion was, if you like, in the Yossi Benayoun role that was used with success in such fixtures late last season. The boyo turned in by far his best performance since having his leg shattered at Stoke. He seemed to find an extra yard of pace yesterday and he strode across the midfield taking people on, making tackles and passing the ball really well. There is no doubt that Rambo's game suffered last year from playing too much football, especially at the front of the midfield in the creative position now given to Cazorla. Yesterday, coming in fresh and not under pressure to provide the key passes, the Welsh wonder relaxed more and produced the sort of form he seemed capable of a couple of years back. With Jack Wilshere's return now imminent the competition for places in Arsenal's midfield is about to get tough. With his performance yesterday Aaron Ramsey served notice that he will not be put in the shade if he can help it.
The other star yesterday, for me, was Per Mertesacker. I have long sung the praises of The BFG on this site and so far this season he has been outstanding. For me he reads the game superbly and, as shown over at Arseblog this morning, he made seven interceptions across the course of the game. His positional sense is generally spot on and he has started to attack the ball properly in the air. It stands to reason that a man of his size should be able to dominate aerially as long as he actually jumps. His height is starting to be important in both penalty areas as we saw for Arsenal's equaliser (more on that below). I believe that the quality of Carl Jenkinson's displays have a lot to do with Mertesacker's influence alongside him, with his excellent communication to the fore (incidentally Jenkinson's improvement should mean there is no automatic selection of Bacary Sagna when he gets fit - his place in the side must now be earned on merit). The fact that Laurent Koscielny was able to slot in seamlessly alongside Mertesacker is also testament to the quality of both players.
Of course there was a negative, and it came in the shape of the Man City goal. The media have concentrated on Arsenal's zonal marking and how it causes its own problems. I'm not a fan myself - space does not score goals - but Lee Dixon is always at pains to point out that the famous back four also used to defend zonally at set-pieces. Vito Mannone obviously came for the ball and didn't get there, and I suppose many were waiting for an error from the Italian, but he went on to make some top saves thereafter. This time last year I reckon Mannone might have gone to pieces after such a mistake, but his confidence has been boosted immeasurably by playing for Hull and this latest run of games for Arsenal. Aside from Vito not getting his hands to the ball there are others who were culpable. Koscielny got himself under the ball, while Lukas Podolski simply didn't attack it, allowing Lescott to get that running jump. Even after the header a goal could have been stopped had Mikel Arteta not walked away from the post he was supposed to be stood next to. The fact is that, had Arteta not wandered off the ball would have hit him and gone clear. It was a bad goal to concede, but then all goals could be defended if you analysed it - what a boring game football would be if that was the case.
Arsenal's goal also came from a corner, albeit one that didn't quite follow the plan exactly. When I did my A-Level in Sports Studies my coursework was all about the old Arsenal near-post corner routine. What I discovered was that it didn't have to work properly to lead to a goalscoring chance. What you need is the right man at the near post to cause enough problems, and a player capable of delivering the ball at the right trajectory and pace to make it difficult to defend. In Mertesacker and Cazorla we have those very people. Of course we also have Steve Bould actually practising set-pieces with the players it would seem. For the first time in years Arsenal have some direction to their free-kicks and corners, thus increasing our chances of scoring from them. For too long Arsenal have turned corners in to short passes in open play, but with the aerial abilities of Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Podolski and Jenkinson (who should also come forward for corners in my opinion) we have a chance to hurt the opposition in their penalty area.
I really enjoyed Arsenal's performance yesterday. We were told by the press that Arsenal hadn't been tested, and that things would be different for our players when we went to Manchester City. I would say that we passed the test with flying colours and, had Gervinho been able to show more composure (the only disappointing thing in his performance yesterday was his finishing - his work rate and link play was exceptional again) we might even have come away with all three points. Ahead of the Chelsea game on Saturday (another test, apparently) it was enough to make you think we might have a chance to get some silverware this season.
Before we get to Saturday there is the start of the League Cup campaign. We have a lot of players who should be itching to make their mark in midweek and show that they want to get a place in the side every week. In theory Arsenal should be fielding a very strong side against Coventry and I hope that is the case. We'll build up to that over the next couple of days. For now I'm happy with a strong start to the season. Let's hope it continues.