Arsenal kicked off the 2008-09 season yesterday with an unconvincing 1-0 victory over newly promoted West Bromwich Albion. A 4th minute strike by debutant Samir Nasri was enough to see off the wolves as the gunners held on to their lead for the next 86 minutes.
Arsene Wenger was forced to play many players out of position due to injuries to his squad. The 21 year old old Denilson took on the mantle of holding midfielder with Nasri and Theo Walcott on his left and right with Emmanuel Eboue incongruously playing in the centre of midfield. Youngster Johan Djourou was given a start alongside Willam Gallas in the back as usual suspects Manuel Almunia, Gael Clichy and Bakary Sagna completed the defence. Upfront were hitman Emmanuel Adebayor and surprisingly, Nicklas Bendtner.
Arsenal began the first half in hot form with some brilliant plays along the left flank thanks to overlapping runs by Clichy and Nasri and only 4 minutes into the half, their efforts bore fruit and Denilson latched on to a Clichy pass and just did enough to turn it in for Nasri who finished it like he had been playing with the team forever. A few minutes later Theo Walcott headed the ball off an Adebayor cross, only to be denied by Scott Carson. Not too long afterwards William Gallas thundered in a shot which was just instant away.
Just when the Arsenal fans were expecting a rout, the Wolves became sharper in defence and managed to kill off some good moves. Walcott looked unsettled and was unable to put his pace to any use. Eboue always looked short of ideas and Adebayor revealed a selfish streak as he refused to pass the ball to a better placed player and prefered to shoot wide.
The Wolves were impotent in the first half with only one good chance which was parried by Almunia. The second half saw them more lively as they threatened to score on more than one occasion. An Ishmael Miller shot was replused by Almunia who was helpless to stop the rebound by Paul Robinson, but it was cleared off the line by Djourou. Things did not favour either side as Robin Van Persie replaced Bendtner with Kolo Toure coming on for Walcott. The match ended in a well fought victory for the gunners and as for West Brom, there is really no shame in losing to Arsenal at their home ground after putting up a good fight. If they show this tenacity in all their games, even a top half finish cannot be ruled out.
As for Arsenal, it was clear they were missing the creativity of Cesc Fabregas. The fans would be relishing the prospect of seeing him and Nasri working in tandem. Denilson rose to the occasion and made a few good interceptions and generally held the ball well. It would be interesting to see how he holds up against the bigger clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea. At back, Djourou made a few errors but that came from a lack of confidence and he should shape up pretty well. Gallas led the lads well and it was a correct decision to let him retain the armband.
Theo Walcott has to get more creative and improve his dribbling. A case of stiff legs perhaps? Adebayor had better not let his ego get in his way and Bendtner needs to combine better with the Togolese. Van Persie is due for a bit of luck as far as injuries are concerned and will hopefully start scoring soon.
What one looks forward to is the return of Cesc Fabregas, Thomas Rosicky, Eduardo and the free flowing, mouth watering football that flows when this young (now also experienced?) and unlucky (but not for long hopefully!) side takes the field. Next up, its Fulham.