Sunday, August 17, 2008

Three Points and Doubt in North London

Looking rusty and a wholly inferior side without Cesc Fabregas and a seasoned holding midfielder, Arsenal failed to start their Premier League campaign with any improvement over their lackluster victory over FC Twente at midweek.

Though three points were won by Arsene Wenger's inexperienced squad over last year's "Arsenal of the Championship" West Bromwich Albion, were it not for Samir Nasri's goal in the fourth minute, this could have easily gone down as another game given away to a lesser team.

One had to imagine the red end of North London expected a goal from West Brom in the last ten minutes, surely a result of a defensive lapse so reminiscent of last year's quick descent via a multitude of draws. And perhaps so felt Wenger, who substituted defender Kolo Toure, still recovering from a bout of malaria, in for the attacking Theo Walcott, who was anonymous at best on Saturday.

But the Gunners held their one goal lead, through a good save from Almunia, despite the laziness and predictability of Emmanuel Adebayor, and the lack of sharpness for Robin van Persie, in for a nonexistent Nicklas Bendtner. If this game came at the other end of the season, even with the current absences in the squad, this would be a grind-it-out game of a top team, one of those wins where your strong points keep you in it for the three points, ala Nasri, William Gallas and Manuel Almunia. There is not nearly the same sentiment at the start of the season.

It is a win, however, and three points fail to lose their importance in the face of a disjointed performance. But, despite winning the match, this game reminded me of the opening match at Emirates Stadium against Aston Villa, which resulted in a draw due to a late Villa goal. Saturday's opening day ended in a more positive position on the fresh table of the Premier League, but it still felt the same. A combination of West Brom's early nerves and a little bit of luck kept the ball out of Almunia's net.

The anxiety in Goonerland is more than palpable, with most fans doubtful of a trophy coming to a team that hasn't started to gel and find it's own identity in a league that ill affords mistakes against lesser sides. There is no argument that Wenger's young team of pass-and-move merchants are not talented; it is whether they are talented enough now to keep this team in the hunt.

Arsenal 1 West Bromwich 0: Nasri makes instant impact as familiar failings haunt Arsenal [Independent]


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