Arsenal is one of only two clubs yet to score in the Premier League this season. The Gunners fans are outraged, but at least they aren’t conceding recklessly, writes ANT SIMS.
Soccer – pardon, football – fans are an odd bunch. When it comes to apocalyptic reactions, nobody does it more extravagantly. This much was evident when Arsenal drew 0-0 with Stoke at the Britannia on Sunday. As Arsenal games go, it was frustrating. There were chances, there were misses and there was no Robin van Persie – something the Potters fans reminded everybody of by chanting: “Robin van Persie, he would have scored that,” time and time again.
The absence of Van Persie seemed to be the biggest talking point, and the outrage from fans was centred very much around how Arsene Wenger apparently didn’t know what he was doing, especially when it came to replacing big name players. Having vehemently celebrated the arrival of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla just a few weeks ago, fans were now lamenting the absence of their injury-prone talisman.
Teams, coaches and pundits often talk about positives to mask inadequacies, and while a certain spark and pinpoint accuracy certainly was missing for Arsenal on Sunday, they managed to keep a clean sheet again. This all despite having a reserve keeper, Vito Mannone, between the posts. The same Mannone who started in just his seventh game for the Gunners and the same man who, the last time he played, made such a hideous blunder during Arsenal’s 3-1 capitulation against Olympiakos that everybody thought he’d have been shipped off to some random lower league in Europe. Mannone, despite everything, dealt with Stoke’s aerial threat from set-pieces remarkably well and while he had little else to stop, he seemed composed.
Arsenal’s midfield also looked good and while the failings in the final third continued to plague them, the match at the Britannia wasn’t a complete and utter abomination. They remain one of just two teams yet to score this season, but considering the start the Gunners had last season – they opened their campaign by losing 8-2 to Manchester United – things are looking far more rosy than they have in the last few years.
Van Persie’s loss will sting for a while still, and Wenger is the first to admit it.
"If you want to convince me that we lost an exceptional player [in Robin van Persie] you are wasting your time. I was the first to say that," Wenger said.
"We have to find a way to get around that by sharing more of the goals than we did before with Van Persie. Giroud scored 20 [last season], Podolski scored 20. We will get some goals, I'm convinced, from [Abou] Diaby, [Aaron] Ramsay, [Theo] Walcott, Gervinho, so we have of course to share it around a bit."
The league has gotten off to a flying start, with both Manchester clubs dropping points and some other surprise results springing up all over. There is still time for Arsenal to come into their own and find a way to cope with life after Van Persie and Alex Song. All it takes is a spark to ignite the fire of the newly-acquired trio and pump some life into a team which has the ability to be truly great. And while Mikel Arteta, who was named man of the match, admitted that the team's inability to convert chances was a worry and rued the loss of the two points – the bright side is that at least they haven’t lost.
"It (two points from the first two games) is not good enough. We wanted the three points, but it is a hard place to come and try to get the points," Arteta told Sky Sports 1.
"We had some really good chances, but at the moment we are not taking them. The same thing happened last week.
“We are making them and conceding few chances to the opposition, but we lost two points again today."
The midfielder, however, talked up the ability of the newcomers, with heavy praise for both Giroud and Podolski.
“You know if you concede fouls and throw-ins they can put you in trouble because they get the ball in the box and are really organised at set pieces," he said.
"We didn't concede many chances and were well organised. We need three, four, five games together and then we will see (how good they are). They have the quality,” Arteta said.
The Gunners next play Liverpool at Anfield and they’ll fancy their chances against the Reds, who have looked out of sorts, having lost to West Brom in their opening fixture and having gifted Manchester City a point over the weekend.
Giroud reckons a win for the Gunners isn’t far off, and he might just be right. DM
Photo: Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger checks his watch as he walks to his seat before their English Premier League soccer match against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent, central England, August 26, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Staples