I think it was Arsene Wenger, currently deluding only himself with his non-starter transfer policy, who likened a Shawcross challenge to a rugby tackle. I’m amazed that one, it was an incident the professor actually saw, and two, unlike his transfer policy, he might actually be on to something. On Sunday there were occasions when Stoke’s set pieces resembled more of a lineout, or even a vertical scrum, than anything relating to the game of football we know. The one in fact most of us love to watch. The barging and pushing in both penalty boxes was one thing. The time-wasting was another. The long, high thumps forward in the general direction of Ashley Cole you can understand. The late tackles, the men behind the ball – it all made it predictably difficult. But a full stadium paying to watch that dirge every week? The mind truly boggles.
It was a strong start to the season at the Britainnia Stadium but it wasn’t quite enough to secure the three points, despite our play in the second half warranting a win. Of course it is far too early to judge whether Villas-Boas’ philosophy is bearing fruit but there was enough encouraging signs to whet the appetite for the season ahead. Firstly the defence were excellent, Alex, Terry and Cech superbly fought off Stoke’s aerial bombardment. Although we had an excellent record our backline did look wobbly throughout last season. The players were sharper in the tackle, pressed earlier and were much quicker to commit to a tackle. The difference was we won the ball back higher up the pitch in the second half whereas in the first we cut out the threats out wide before crosses could be delivered.
As noted in the friendly games we are moving the ball sharper, movement was good and the players are trying not to dwell on the ball so the tempo was kept high. The standout performer who was constantly looking to stretch the defence was of course Mr Torres. It looked like our number nine has remembered how to play the game – he showed nimble skills, a great turn of pace and an excellent first touch that we could start attacks from – a hugely encouraging display. If Fernando can maintain that level of performance he’s going to get a lot of goals in the coming months.
I mentioned in my last blog you don’t have to look too far to see how the management have been quick to improve players. Whether this is an attitude thing or the coach backing the player I’m not sure. I thought Malouda looked back to his best and he was unlucky to be subbed when he was, he battled and offered great width and trickery on the left flank. Bosingwa’s confidence has returned, he was assured on the ball as he was in the tackle and it was noticeable performance from the right back. Especially given the worrying personal circumstances that have since came to light it was also a wonderful ninety minutes from Mikel. He looked much more dangerous on the ball, sprayed some sublime long passes out wide and was unlucky not to be rewarded with a rare goal. Much kudos to the man for playing so well given the news about his father, fans thoughts are with him.
Whereas many players have upped their game I think Kalou didn’t grab his opening opportunity quite so well. He was caught in possession too easily, drifted consistently into the congested centre and choose the wrong pass so often I had to check he wasn’t wearing blinkers. He’s a capable footballer but it looks as though Soloman needs to rebuild his confidence as much as others have already done. We have to expect Benayoun or Anelka to be given the right wide position in the next match.
It’s still all quiet on the transfer front but I hope we don’t fall foul to any panic buying as the deadline looms closer. We all know that we’re crying out for a creative midfielder and a winger but if they don’t arrive I think we still have enough quality in the squad. Why not give McEachran and Kakuta more minutes from the bench this season and see what they can do? Before we spend big let’s continue to invest in our young players and make sure the opportunities are there for them to make an impact.