One or the other, but not both
I've been saying for the last few weeks that, while nice to be winning, pre-season games mean nothing when we start the real football. Back in 1996 Arsenal didn't win a single game in pre-season, but the Premier League began with a 2-0 home win over West Ham. To follow a "perfect" pre-season campaign this year with a reversal of that result is one of those odd quirks you sometimes encounter.
I've only seen highlights from the game yesterday as I was working while it was being played and, having seen the result, I had zero interest in watching the whole game back. That being the case I can't comment too much on the performance of the team on the day, or any apparent lack of application or bad attitude. To be fair, the result probably tells me all I need to know in that regard. The goals were both very poor concessions. Koscielny and/or Monreal failed to go with their man at a set-piece for the first goal, with Cech haring out Almunia-style towards the edge of the area but not getting within about five-feet of the ball. The second goal wasn't dissimilar to a pre-season goal we let in against Everton in Singapore. Oxlade-Chamberlain, as he did in that game, got too casual on the ball near his own penalty area, while Zarate was allowed to turn unchallenged to fire a shot past a static Koscielny (who hadn't moved to close down the strike, nor made any attempt to block the shot) and Cech who was bizarrely wrong-footed by the shot. It was ironic that our only signing, lauded by fans and media alike, should make such an awful home debut.
A win yesterday would have made a draw perfectly acceptable at Palace this weekend. Now we have to win to get things going on a ground where we've had very fortunate victories in each of the last couple of seasons. Suffice to say that losing at home to West Ham was not in the script and was totally unacceptable from a side with ambitions of winning the Premier League.
One thing I have picked up on is the fact that Santi Cazorla has been used wide on the left in the last two matches. I don't understand this. Of course Santi can play there, but he is far more effective when played in the middle of the pitch. We have all enjoyed the impact made by Francis Coquelin since Christmas, but most people have easily overlooked what Cazorla has done alongside him. As a pair they were so good that Aaron Ramsey was shunted to the right-wing for the final part of last season. Ramsey is not a winger at all and it stunted his game, though to his credit he put in some decent displays from there, albeit coming inside and closing things down - that created space for the pacy Bellerin to exploit so we got away with it to a certain extent.
With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fit and in the side on merit Wenger has decided to shoe-horn Ramsey in to the team at the expense of the Cazorla/Coquelin axis. This leaves us more vulnerable defensively as Ramsey doesn't work as hard as Santi, and less effective going forward as Ramsey wants to be the man on the end of things, rather than the one pulling the strings as Cazorla does. This all makes no sense to me. We were exceptional at times with a midfield of Cazorla and Coquelin playing behind Ozil (who also remains a weak link far too often when things are not going our way - as the star player he should be the one taking the game over). Obviously we have no Alexis to play on the left at the moment, and we probably won't see him start on Sunday either. That doesn't mean that Santi should be shifted from the centre though. We would have been far better yesterday (and at Wembley) to have Theo and Oxlade-Chamberlain playing on either wing with Giroud up front. This would have allowed Cazorla to play next to Coquelin as he did last season, and provide a proper screen in front of Mertesacker and Koscielny. At the same time it would give us exceptional pace out wide for Cazorla and Ozil to find and utilise. I'm not saying Ramsey doesn't fit in to this side, but he certainly shouldn't be playing in order to simply accommodate him. If anything he has a claim to be playing in Ozil's position and supporting Giroud, but that isn't going to happen.
I just hope that Wenger goes back to Santi and Coquelin when we travel to Selhurst Park this weekend. We've made a disappointing and unexpected start. If it underlines to the Manager that there are elements of weakness then it could prove a blessing in disguise, but he's never bothered to notice them in the past, has he?