FC Koln 0-4 Arsenal: New Boys Impress In Germany
Arsenal ended their German side-trip with an emphatic 4-0 thrashing of FC Koln as the Gunners inched a step closer to completing their preparations for the Premier League opener against Sunderland on Saturday. I know it was just a pre-season friendly and the opposition was only last season’s relegated Bundesliga club, but it’s difficult not to acknowledge the positives in yesterday’s performance.
Expectations were that Arsene Wenger would start with the side most likely to take the field at Sunderland. As it turned out, the manager balanced the team in both halves although based on the performance it’s quite possible many of the players who started this game will stake a claim for a starting berth on 18th August.
All our new signings started the game and all three played in the front four, Cazorla through the middle flanked by Podolski and Walcott with Giroud as the lone striker. And all four impressed with their performance.
Podolski was heavily involved throughout. The German showed why he’ll be a big asset for Arsenal this season. He worked tirelessly in pressing the ball from the top, tracked back to help out Gibbs when required, dropped deeper to get the ball and drifted inside to play one-twos with Cazorla and the two deep-lying midfielders.
He also scored two goals against his former club, the first of which was a cool finish from the penalty spot. The second was a thing of beauty, the German starting the move deep and central in midfield, finding the run of Kieran Gibbs down the left. Although there were two Arsenal players ahead of him, Lukas still went charging forward. When Gibbs looked up from the byline, he found Goldi Poldi storming into the penalty box. The left-back’s perfectly weighted pull-back was buried emphatically by the ex-Koln man.
It’s the kind of goal we don’t see very often from Arsenal, a runner coming from a deeper position to provide options for a cross. Podolski has this uncanny ability to time his runs expertly and find space in the box. He may not be the most eye-catching footballer and can be anonymous for large parts of a game but when the opportunity presents itself, Podolski can be the difference between one point and three.
Olivier Giroud’s performance was encouraging too. The Frenchman combined nicely with the three behind him, held up the ball when required and drifted onto the left flank when Podolski cut inside providing an outlet for Cazorla’s searching balls. All four of his shots were on target which is very encouraging indeed. Last season’s Ligue 1 top scorer will face a sterner physical examination in the Premier League though and I suspect he needs a bit more time to be eased into the rough and tumble of English football.
Santi Cazorla had an excellent start to his Arsenal career. His quick footedness in close quarters, one-touch passing, awareness of runs made by wide men and quick switching of play form side to side were a joy to watch. He doesn’t look fully match fit yet so there’s more to come from him surely. In England, he’s likely to be harrassed off the ball a lot more so he’ll need that high level of fitness to cope with the pressure.
Most impressive about Cazorla’s performance yesterday was the high tempo he brings to our game. Many a times, Arsenal have been criticized for being too slow in the build up. The speed at which Cazorla plays the game will be vital in stretching opposition defences. Below is an excellent compilation by CWDComps showing the Spaniard’s impressive debut for Arsenal.
Among the regular players, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both impressed immensely. With his pace, Theo looks like he’ll benefit the most from Cazorla’s through balls. What was more encouraging was how Walcott combined with the other strikers and midfield, playing one-twos, making runs and inviting the ball over the top. He has looked stronger, more matured during this pre-season and while there will always be some inconsistency in his performances, Theo is due a fantastic season very soon – let’s hope it’s at Arsenal.
The Ox was influential as well, starting in a deeper midfield position. The youngster showed a good understanding with Cazorla and provided another threat from midfield with his strong dribbling runs. He earned the penalty that led to the second goal as well, inviting a rash challenge in the box from the defender.
Arsene Wenger seems to have finally settled on the best position to play the Ox in at present, which is as one of the two deep-lying midfielders. When he’s played wide, the youngster can go missing for large portions of the game when Arsenal are being harried in midfield. In those matches, his enthusiasm and eagerness to make things happen when he does get the ball usually leads to loss of possession. When he’s played in the CAM role in midfield, pressure from the opposition defense has made it hard for him to influence the game.
As a player with excellent dribbling ability, good strength, willingness to get involved and a penchant for making driving runs through the field, the deeper role in midfield seems ideal for Alex at present. It allows him to see a lot more of the ball and combine with the CAM ahead of him. Additionally, the holding midfielder along side him and the full backs also provide an outlet for his passing. This enables the Ox to remain heavily involved in the game and then those driving runs at defenders make him very dangerous.
In the second half, Gervinho impressed the most with some fantastic pace and trickery down the flanks. He scored a good goal at the near post too. I felt he was a bit selfish at times though, there were a couple of opportunities when Podolski and later Van Persie were better placed. It’s perhaps an indication of the competition within the team that Gervinho finds himself desperate to make an impression to remain in the manager’s thoughts and starting line up.
If we avoid major injuries to key players, there’s good squad depth at present to compete strongly throughout the season. Come Saturday Arsene Wenger will have a different headache, one the Frenchman hasn’t had for a while – who to leave out.