With the first match since the close of the summer transfer window, with the lack of some usual starting XI members in the likes of Sanchez and Xhaka (yes, I believe he is and will be a usual XI from now on), we could see what our season may look like going forward. Mustafi paired with Koscielny at the back, while Lucas Perez was told to lead the line. Our midfield was the familiar combination of Santi with Coquelin, while The Ox and Walcott manned the wings. Ozil played the number 10 (despite still being #11…), while the usual solid Bellerin and Monreal provided fullback service and wing support. Petr Cech was no question.
The first goal, to be honest, was something that was quite difficult to blame Petr Cech for. It was an own goal, but Petr Cech’s really done more for us than this “blunder”, if you could really even call it one. Fortunately, the equalizer came quick enough. Captain Kos showed why he is really one of the best defenders in the world right now, and extremely lethal in setup plays. His bicycle kick has to be one of his best goals. Then, Santi successfully put in a penalty to win us the game right before the whistle.
This game had a few talking points. In my opinion, the usual is the performance of the two debutants, while another couple are Lucas Perez’s dissimilarity with Olivier Giroud, and the penalty controversy.
Mustafi and Defense Looks Promising
When you have Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, and Nacho Monreal starting in your defense, this is one of the stronger defenses (if not the strongest) in the league, and will eventually become the best in the league. If you compare this with the other starting lineups in the league, we actually are indeed very good. The only team even slightly close may be Manchester City, assuming Kompany does not fall apart with Guardiola and overtakes Otamendi, who is currently the preferred starting CB for them. Even with the toll of the season eventually taking on the players, we still have decent players in the back in Ospina, Holding, Per, and Gibbs, things look promising at the back.
Things will take time however, in my opinion. The key is the minimize the mental lapses in defense until everyone is comfortable with everyone else. We had a few times where Mustafi seemed to overlap with Koscielny, particularly in the leadup to Shane Long’s first sitter. It is harsh to expect a new signing in a part of the field where coordination is imperative to play a perfect game. Hence, the important part is that the losses need to be minimized until everyone understands everyone else.
Lucas Perez and No. 9…?
On the other side of field, I think Lucas Perez had a less impactful game than Mustafi. He seemed nervous and out of place especially in the first half (which is understandable, since La Liga and the EPL have very different playing styles). We did not get to see any of his trademark “Vardy-like” runs. Often times, he seemed to be more of a winger overlapping with The Ox, rather than a forward that plays his game in the box and makes his runs when he can. He really seemed to not enjoy being in the box in this game. Hopefully this changes though, because this is not what we signed him for. Also, hopefully, this is not another Arsenal No. 9 curse playing on a talented forward pre-Arsenal.
Perez is NOT Giroud
Assuming Lucas can play more in the box, I think the combination of him and Giroud will be entertaining for us going forward. I know that Giroud has a pretty good record when coming off the bench. He won the penalty for us (controversy will be talked about later). However, what I want to emphasize is that once Giroud came in, the way we were bombing forward was different. It was definitely more of a direct one-two pass with Giroud or a lob to Giroud once Lucas was substituted out. With Lucas in though, it was more free flowing football and more spread-out/wide attacks. Again, assuming Lucas adapts well to the environment, I think it is safe to say that we can now definitely deploy two very distinct tactics. However, I am well aware that it is premature to make such assumptions after one game.
Penalty was Penalty
I may be biased, although I strive not to. However, I think the last play was clearly a penalty. Monreal’s tackle on Shane Long before Arsenal’s corner kick is an independent play in my opinion. Sure, it lead to a corner kick after all, but significantly more plays happened after the corner, until Mustafi (yes, Mustafi!) played a nice lob to Giroud, until Olivier was pulled down. As Ian Wright put it, Fonte made sure that Giroud’s “Fly Emirates” logo was completely distorted.
With the PSG game in only three days, I think this was definitely a good test against a less competitive team, on what Mustafi and Perez can offer us. PSG without Zlatan is definitely weaker, but they are still not a pushover, and this test will give Wenger more flexibility on what we can do against them.