Theo shines as Arsenal rout ten-man Blackpool
Arsenal returned to the Emirates for the start of a new campaign and put on an offensive show for the home crowd. The performance was impressive and encouraging, but I suggest that it be forgotten as quickly as possible. Playing against a newly promoted side, projected by many to equal Derby County’s record for futility, and with a man advantage for the majority of the match, any team with title aspirations would expect to cruise to victory. The fact that we did dominate the match and convert our dominance into goals deserves praise. However, if the team starts believing that the win over Blackpool was indicative of their general prowess, then complacency could become a concern. Surely we’ll be given a sterner test by fat sam’s team of thugs at Ewood park on Saturday.
There was an uneventful return to the team for Cesc Fabregas late in the match. He contributed little in his time on the pitch, but the match was well and truly decided long before he entered the fray. Seeing him in that beautiful new home kit was good enough for me, and he received a warm reception from the crowd. You could see that Cesc wasn’t 100% sharp, but the fact that he played a part in the match suggests that he could be on schedule to start at the weekend. It will be particularly nice to see him wearing the captains armband again.
The most newsworthy performance against blackpool was delivered by Theo Walcott. Despite scoring a hat-trick and setting up a raft of chances for Arshavin and Chamakh in particular, Alan Hansen was not impressed and ripped Theo on Match of the Day. You really have to wonder what Theo Walcott will have to do in football before his detractors will finally shut their holes. It seems that his every errant pass or poor finish is heavily debated and scrutinized, while his positive contributions are dismissed for one reason or another.
On Saturday, Theo was imperious. It’s so obvious that defenses don’t know exactly what to do with him. His pace is troubling, but his first touch and strength on the ball have improved. Two of his better contributions resulted in scoring chances for Arshavin and Chamakh that weren’t converted. His first goal was a wonderfully calm, side-footed finish, and his second goal was tremendous center forward play. He received the ball with his back to the goal, turned his man, and slotted home. It was the kind of play that had Arsene Wenger admitting after the match that Theo will soon find himself playing center forward more regularly.
Naturally, there were moments that went awry for Theo. At one point he cruised into the box and blazed over the bar when he had support on the left. On the very next attack he looked to atone for his mistake by trying to pick out a teammate when the shot was a better option. But, at 21 years old, his potential is finally being realized with some accomplished play, and his decision making improves with every start. Remember, Theo looked very bright two seasons ago before the shoulder injury wiped out most of his campaign. Last season was mostly lost to injury after the under-21 fiasco. So with a proper pre-season under his belt, and a little bit of fitness, perhaps we’re just seeing him pick up where he left off before the last two seasons. He’s been very short on playing time for Arsenal, and that’s what he needs more than anything else.
If Theo’s performance grabbed the headlines, then Tomas Rosicky’s quietly stole the show. He pulled the strings in midfield and almost made you forget that Nasri is injured and Cesc was on the bench. Rosicky was a monster in the 2006 World Cup and arrived at Arsenal with great expectations. After 18 months out of the game with injury, he looked understandably off the pace last season. But if you remember, few expected him to play much during the last campaign. Now he too is fit, rejuvenated, and looking like the player that we hoped he’d be when he first arrived. If we can get this level of contribution from Rosicky throughout the season, then it really changes the landscape in midfield. He’s experienced and talented and gives Arsene some real selection headaches.
Marouane Chamakh made his first appearance in front of the home crowd, and showed he was a perfect fit for Arsenal with his various efforts at emulating Nicklas Bentner’s brand of finishing. But to be fair to the new striker, he lead the line well, and scored a majestic header from a corner. While he did “Bendtner” some chances, he also had a few well saved. Regardless, his aerial abilities were not over-hyped and you have to wonder if it might be worth taking more advantage of that asset. We delivered precious few crosses for him on Saturday, and it doesn’t look like he would need many to convert a few.
Overall, the team contribution was excellent and after looking out of his depth at Anfield, Jack Wilshere made amends with a solid performance. He started slowly, but as the game wore on he began to find his rhythm. He setup Theo’s second and showed great energy pressing the ball in Blackpool’s half. It was important for him to get a good game under his belt because it will be hard for him to crack the starting eleven in the matches to come. With Cesc returning, Rosicky in form, and Song ready to reclaim his DM role, it’s unlikely that Wilshere will be asked to start many matches in the near future.
After receiving his fair share of criticism last week, Arshavin put in a much better shift against Blackpool. He had a nice half-volley well saved, set-up Theo’s first goal, and took the penalty well. It’s easy to dismiss the fact that he converted a penalty, but we saw various examples of poor penalties from around the league. Just ask Nani how much fun it can be taking a penalty.
Speaking of the penalty, there’s been some debate about whether we should have been awarded the spot kick. It did appear that the contact began outside the box. For me, it would have been fair to rule that a free kick. But if you remember, we had a penalty awarded against us last season from a foul that started about 10 yards outside the box. The defender certainly did not take any of the ball and he stopped a clear goal scoring opportunity. The tackle was from behind and he was the last defender. I’d say those are all sufficient reasons to award a red card. While the penalty might have been a touch harsh, I simply don’t see the argument against showing the red card.
In some ways, I wish Blackpool hadn’t had a man sent off. I think it would have been much better for the team to face a little competition. After two weeks, we’ve played a little more than a half of football against eleven men. And it wouldn’t surprise me if fat Sam had a player sent off this weekend. Maybe the trick to this whole trophy winning thing is to just play against opposition with fewer players. So far, so good.
There’s been some debate over on twitter about Abou Diaby. Many suggest that he’s a first choice midfielder. I just don’t see it that way. First and foremost, Diaby is not a defensive midfielder. He wants far too much time on the ball, and his giveaways can be fatal. He doesn’t have the energy or defensive nous or tackling skills to play the role. When I suggest that Wenger might start Rosicky and Cesc together with Song, most people argue that we’ll miss Diaby’s size and power, but the fact remains that his size doesn’t really translate into any solidity. He is talented, but inconsistent, and doesn’t add steel to the side. I’ve said many times, and only somewhat sarcastically, that Diaby is better suited to be a forward. He’s good with the ball at his feet and can be a lethal finisher. He also wouldn’t have to run as much which suits his style perfectly.
The fact is, our team sheet will be looking very different as we welcome Cesc and RVP back into the fold. Following the Blackpool match, Wenger suggested that he would only play RVP and Chamakh together in a traditional 4-4-2. Naturally he went on to contradict himself by saying that both players can drift out wide in a 4-3-3. Regardless, some players are going back to the bench in exchange for the returning superstars. It will be interesting to see who Arsene selects. Theo certainly made a case for starting with his performance, and Rosicky would be a big loss from the lineup given his form.
Overall, the Blackpool result was welcome and entertaining and a perfect way to open the Emirates for business this season. In reality, we might be a bit disappointed that it wasn’t double figures, but the team showed good concentration to keep going after taking a 3-0 halftime lead. However, the result needs to be put in it’s place. The team simply can’t afford to take too much away from such an easy win.
This weekend Blackburn will look to bring us down to earth with a traditional combination of hard fouls, long ball tactics and an all out physical assault on our keeper. We will arrive at Ewood park with a new defender in tow as Squillaci appears to have signed. (Arsenal’s official site will post the news whenever they get around to it.) What seems clear at this point is that there won’t be a new keeper. Sad really, because games like blackburn away are the reason why we need a new keeper in the first place. More on that match in the next few days.