Terrace Talk: Arsenal - Gunners fire opening day blanks after believing hype

Five minutes into yesterday’s disastrous derby day opener, I turned to my mate to say that I wished I’d had a five quid punt on the Irons, as I heard the radio commentators expressing their surprise at the outrageous odds (in a two-horse race) of 14/1. 

Yet, with such a wealth of the game’s so-called authorities all tipping an Arsenal squad, including the single addition of Petr Cech, as being far more capable of challenging for honours this season, I don’t think anyone really expected the bookies to be paying out on a West Ham win this weekend?

Well, anyone except Slaven Bilic and his impressively staunch Hammers outfit. It remains to be seen if Bilic’s new-look Irons have indeed become the sort of formidable opposition who can reproduce this form against teams who, unlike the Gunners, don’t turn out in so phlegmatic a fashion, as if they’ve swallowed all the pre-season hype and fully expected the Hammers to roll over and gift us all three points just for showing up.

After Chelsea had dropped two points at Stamford Bridge and proffered us an opening weekend leg-up, I was confident that the Arsenal would come flying out of the traps, determined to take full advantage, while laying down an opening-day marker of our intent to lead from the front.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth, as we sat back for theopening 20 minutes and presented an unfamiliar West Ham side - that included newcomers Ogbonna and Payet (who, on first impressions, both look like shrewd additions) and the 16-year old centre-back Reece Oxford playing in a pivotal role in the middle of the park - with the opportunity to assuage their butterflies and to grow in the belief that they were anything but cannon fodder.

Everyone swallowed the consensus of punditry opinion that Cech’s arrival would present us with the additional 10/12 points necessary to put us in the title frame. On Sunday’s showing, Cech looks less like the Gunners’ saviour and more like “the Man From Uncle”, inserted into the Arsenal squad as Roman Abramovich’s secret weapon.

I can’t help but feel that Le Boss must bear a large portion of the blame for what proved to be such a massive anti-climax. Obviously it’s not Arsène’s fault that pretty much everyone, perhaps with the exception of the Ox, had a lamentably miserable day at the office. Yet in the never-ending absence of any demonstrative leaders, headbutting lockers to liven up the dressing room à la Tony Adams, surely it falls to the backroom staff to be putting up posters up of Roy Keane’s disparaging “selfies and six-packs” comments, or to find some means of inspiring their charges with sufficient electricity that they don’t end up starting such a potentially significant encounter like a laid-back Sunday kickabout in the park.

Then again, perhaps it was me who was entirely culpable for this catastrophe, having forsaken my lower tier seat for the comforts of Club Level.

With just about the best seat in the house, it was screamingly obvious to me that the Gunners should have been targeting regular lumbering centre-back Tomkins at right back. Yet I cannot ever recall Arsène making tactical changes to target the opposition’s potential weaknesses. In the absence of Bellerin, the only pace we had on the pitch was the Ox, operating on the opposite flank. Tomkins must’ve been delighted to find himself facing rare forays forward from Monreal. Compared to how effective Cazorla was at the end of last season, in a central partnership with Coquelin, Santi looks like the archetypal square peg in a round hole out on the left, as he inevitably gravitates towards the more congested middle of the park.

Everyone was surprised to see Alexis on the bench. It was assumed he was there merely as insurance but we certainly weren’t expecting Le Prof to be left cashing in this policy at 0-2 down. However, even with all our firepower out on the park as we chased the game at the death, we failed to stretch the Hammers’ defence. In truth, our guests looked more likely to nick a third on the break than we did of scoring even a consolation goal.

Talk about coming down to earth with a bump. We can but hope that theGunners will bounce back at Palace, suitably chastened by a reality check. We can hope too that this defeat will loosen Le Prof’s purse strings and convince him that the £200m will serve us a lot better out on the park than earning interest in the bank. I’m really not sure Benzema would be the answer but we could do a lot worse than Reece Oxford as some powerful young midfield protection.

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