Saturday, August 16, 2008
ESPNsoccernet: August 17, 4:13 PM UK
Arsenal suffer same old problems
Arsenal 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
Arsenal fans have to hope delusion does not blur Arsene Wenger's legendary vision in the next couple of weeks.
A summer of discontent for Wenger saw him spending more time trying to hold on to star names rather than adding to his talented if youthful squad, yet the time has come for him to make the transfer moves to propel this side from eye-catching losers into winners.
While last season's Premier League and Champions League near misses were commendable efforts for a young side who went into the season with limited expectations, more is demanded of Wenger and Arsenal this time even though they are operating without the departed Alex Hleb and Mathieu Flamini.
On the evidence of this first home game of the new Premier League campaign, the fatal flaws that haunted them in the final two months of last term have not been solved as their brilliant passing and silky movement were undermined by an inability to kill off an opponent when they have them at their mercy.
A less than convincing 1-0 win was secured thanks to Samir Nasri's debut goal, but Arsenal's inability to capitalise on their domination of possession and add to their lead led to some edgy minutes in the closing stages against a newly promoted side who must go away thinking the Premier League is not so tough after all.
Wenger's post match press briefing was a typical mix of the charm and good humour he always shows when his side have won a game, yet any inquisitor who suggested his starting line-up featured too many young players was met with a typically bullish response.
'We have got the win and that is all you can do on the first day of the season,' he stated. 'Our passing a movement was excellent, but we lacked a bit of sharpness around the box and that will come in the next few weeks. Also, I give some credit to West Brom for defending as well as they did.
'I always felt the second goal would come, but it can get nervy in the last ten minutes if you don't confirm your advantage and we had games like this in the final stages of last season.
'There will always be questions about new signings, but I remind you that even if the players we had in the team today are young, they are still experienced at this level. You don't want to just sign players because you want to add numbers. The quality has to be there.'
It took a little over three minutes of the new season for Wenger's men to back up his notion that the title will be coming to Arsenal next May as a typically flowing move concluded with Denilson and Nasri combining to score the opening Premier League goal of the season.
It was a glorious moment for Nasri, who has missed much of the pre-season programme due to injury and was rushed back to make his Arsenal debut as Wenger's midfield resources rapidly waned in the last couple of weeks.
Swept aside by a moment of brilliance, West Brom must have feared the worst and at that moment, it would have been tempting to join Wenger's bandwagon of optimism when you witness a goal of such sublime class and simplicity.
As ever, Arsenal have clearly spent their summer trying to work out a solution to their desperation to score the perfect goal and they wasted a little more the 200 seconds to give a glimpse of where they would try and go in the months ahead, yet the remaining 86 minutes doused more than a little chilled water on their optimism.
Like a boxer who had been stung by an early sucker punch, the Baggies took time to recover from their early setback, but their heads began to clear after ten minutes and they then set about exposing the old flaws Wenger's sides always seem to show.
Arsenal are always better than their opponents when it comes to youthful magic in the attacking third of the pitch, but a soft centre in both their midfield and at the back gave the Baggies hope and they grew in confidence by channelling much of their attacking intent through the impressive Ishmael Miller.
The half time interval was greeted with polite applause rather than a rousing ovation from Arsenal fans who feared a second half dip from their side and as Miller crashed a shot on goal and Paul Robinson saw his goal bound follow up hooked off the line by Johan Djourou, their concerns were so nearly confirmed.
That was followed by a tense finale for an Arsenal side who still clearly carry scars from their belated demise last term and West Brom left with more than a little credit and with words of optimism from manager Tony Mowbray ringing in their ears.
'We obviously got off to the worst start possible and had a little problem on the right side of our defence, but we sorted that out and come away with a lot of credit,' he reflected. 'Arsenal's quality and talent is obviously first class, so we knew what to expect and they can be hard to stop.
'The disappointment of losing is there, but we have not gone away after a thrashing and can take plenty of positives from this performance. We can improve and if we do, we won't be far away.'
It may be as much down to limited transfer funds as choice that Wenger was forced to field a side more akin to his second string Carling Cup selections for a first Premier League game of the season, with the likes of Kolo Toure, Eduardo, Tomas Rosicky, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie all missing from this starting line-up.
Yet not even the more optimistic corner of Wenger's mind can believe that a squad so lacking in proven winners can end the club's trophy drought this season. Not for the first time, Theo Walcott disappointed when given a start and while the likes of Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner and Djourou have plenty of top level games under their belts now, they are yet to prove they can claim trophies of an important nature.
Wenger's programme notes suggested he was in the market for additional players, but his caution in adding to the settled family he has worked so hard to nurture means he will not sign genuine winners unless they are willing to commit to his Arsenal project long-term. The fact that he needs a ball winner in the middle of the park should not be ignored, but history suggests such negative signings are not his style.
Arsenal remain the most eye-catching side in the Premier League, but they may well find themselves as the bridesmaids to the true giants of the league unless Wenger appreciates the need to strengthen his squad right now.
• MAN OF THE MATCH: Samir Nasri - Arsenal supporters have taken to screaming shout at the top of their voices as their team pass their way to nowhere more often than not and Nasri answered the call as he looked more willing to fire at goal than most. This was a decent debut from the £12m man.
• FOOD WATCH: The vast Emirates Stadium press room was filled with the waft of a fry-up for this early kick-off.
• BAGGIES LOOK BARE: Someone at the Hawthorns needs to explain why West Brom took to the field without a shirt sponsor as they returned to the biggest league in world football. In a commercial gaff of the highest order, the club have failed to find a taker for their prime advertising slot this summer.
• ARSENAL VERDICT: Wenger must buy players of proven experience or this will be another season of exciting failure for the Gunners. This tight win merely confirmed what many an observer has been saying for months - Arsenal lack strength in depth.
• WEST BROM VERDICT: Ishmael Miller was a major plus for the Baggies as he led the line well and their ability to bounce back after the early Arsenal barrage suggests they will have a good chance of making progress in the Premier League this season.
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