Arsenal 2 Boca Juniors 2: New season, same old feeling
As expected, the Emirates Cup is a tourney that provides a spectacle for the Arsenal faithful as well as show off new recruits to the gooners in their home turf. Since its inception in the 2006/07 campaign, Arsenal has missed out of it just once winning three of the last four tourneys. The gooners didn’t expect the exact first team lineup that finished last season in fourth place but it was evident that blending was going to be the order of the day.
Arsene Wenger’s lineup for the team had a mix of experienced Arsenal heads as well as the newbies. Lukasz Fabianski was drafted back in goal for Wojciech Szczesny who was given a day off. This is more or less a hint that the younger Pole might be Arsenal’s custodian for the forthcoming season that resumes in a fortnight against Newcastle in St. James Park. Gunner rookie Carl Jerkinson was handed a non-competitive home debut ahead of Bacary Sagna and Farmer Eboue. At 6’ 1”, that lad seems too tall to be a full back but it’s something that I’ll have to get used to. Armand Traore was also given a shot to prove to Wenger that he’ll be good enough to deputize Kieran Gibbs in the worst injury crisis because we all know that Mr. Gibbsy has a thing for injuring himself. Djourcielny continued their partnership in the heart of Arsenal’s defense to pick up where they left off last season. Koscielny played more games than he would have liked last season but his combination with Johan Djourou was Arsenal’s best defensive combo last season.
The midfield triumvirate was more or less an Arsenal standard with the exception of the African Blondie, Alex Song. Emmanuel Frimpong was brought in his stead. Jack Wilshere and Samir Nasri completed the trio. The attacking trio had an exciting outlook with Arsenal’s Flying Dutchman Robin van Persie spearheading the attack with Andrei Arshavin and new signing Gervinho providing wit on the flanks.
On paper, the squad was still strong enough to beat a Boca side that had Juan Roman Riquelme as the only household name. Before the match commenced, the commentator labeled Arsenal’s trophy drought as “a genuine burden rather than a mere annoyance”. Even if Arsenal was the home side, Wenger’s boys wore their blue away strip. The game went off to a flyer with Arsenal drawing first blood. Gervinho combined well with Wilshere in the box but 2011’s PFA Young Player of the Year was clipped inside the 18-yard box and the man with the whistle did nothing about it. This was the same Martin Atkinson that awarded Chelsea a penalty against Manchester United after the theatrics of Yuri Zhirkov.
Riquelme is renowned as one of the best passers of the ball in his generation and it was evidenced in today’s game but his proposed pass to Lucas Viatri was intercepted superbly by Mr. Anticipation himself, Laurent Koscielny. The tables were turned with Wilshere and Gervinho combining superbly to tee up Arshavin. After his customary twist and turn in the box, the ball was cleared away for a corner to the home side. Minutes later, Gervinho used his pace to go round Boca’s full back before sending a good cross to rVp but his chocolate leg let him down because the shot hit the side netting. Nasri was clipped outside the box but rVp’s free kick was easy pickings for the keeper.
Riquelme then sent another defense splitting pass for loanee Mario Cvitanich but Jenkinson was wise enough to move up the field thereby leaving the linesman with no other choice but to raise his flag up. Even after Atkinson had blown his whistle for an offside, Cvitanich lashed his shot at goal and thoughts of Massimo Busacca ran through my head. Gervinho was a very lively figure as the game progressed and he used his pace well to win another free kick for Arsenal. Nasri killed a bird with his attempt though. Koscielny changed defense to attack in a swift fashion with a long diagonal ball to Arshavin who was on the right hand side of the attack. He fed Frimpong who quickly teed the ball up for Gervinho. The Ivorian winger put his hands into his hat of magic tricks but no rabbit came out because the ball was intercepted easily by the Boca defender. Traore and Arshavin connected well on the left but van Persie was sandwiched by two players as soon as the ball got to him but Atkinson waved play on.
Arsenal kept launching wave after wave of attacks on the South American counterparts to with no end product. Jenkinson did well to create space for himself on the right and sent a delicious cross into the danger area but no player on blue was there to capitalize on it. Gervinho then fed the French Greedy Boy at the edge of the area but he chose to pass the ball to a Jack Wilshere who was expecting him to shoot. Same ol’ Arsenal.
After another swift attack spearheaded by Gervinho, Arsenal got their breakthrough. Traore’s panicky clearance in the defense found Jack Wilshere who noticed that Gervinho was free on the left hand side. A delightful over the top through ball went ahead of Gervinho but he used his pace to reach the ball, his amazing first touch to bring the ball under control before raising his head to see Robin van Persie through on goal. A simple pass followed and van Persie did the rest with his right chocolate leg. The fans were doing the Mexican Wave in the buildup to the goal but the wave was halted and clapping and cheering followed up when van Persie hit the back of the net.
Gervinho was still on the thick of things when Nasri fed him on the right hand side. His chipped cross went above the keeper but there was no Arsenal player available to guide the ball into an unguarded net. Wilshere was at the end of many rough tackles from the Boca but the ref’s patience went thin in the 33rd minute after a challenge by Somoza on Wilshere thereby earning him a place in the referees jotter with a yellow card brandished. rVp, Nasri and Arshavin turned on the style in the midfield and the diminutive Russian was fouled outside the area. Shortly before van Persie geared himself up for the free kick, I noticed three gulls that were flying past Boca’s goal area. Van Persie forgot the net and killed one of the birds with his proposed free kick. Van Persie’s last free kick was scored in January courtesy of a slight deflection. He really needs to work on his dead balls because Arsenal is a side that wins a lot of free kicks at the edge of the area.
There are teams in football that use the tactic of a set piece to their advantage and Arsenal needs to join that league instead of hoping for the perfect goal they always try to score. In the days Juninho Pernambucano was in Lyon, Florent Malouda and Sidney Govou were allowed to run with the ball till they ran out of ideas because no team wanted to concede a free kick to Lyon. In recent times, teams hardly concede throw-ins to Stoke City because of the threat called Rory Delap. In van Persie takes some time out to work on his free kicks, he’ll be a real force to be reckoned with. He has the technique, shot power and curl to make his free kicks count. He just has to work on the trajectory of his kicks. I’m laying so much emphasis on van Persie’s free kicks because I felt hurt after the commentator made a comment after he spurned the free kick.
“If they built the post twice as high, the ball would still hit the bar”
Koscielny did some good defensive work from a Riquelme free kick and the ref blew his whistle for half time. Everything seemed as if it was going to plan for Wenger’s men. At the start of the second half, Wenger brought on five new faces into the playing squad. Fabianski had a very boring at his office so he was substituted for Vito Mannone, Arsenal’s most “experienced” and worst defender by a far mile replaced his compatriot Laurent Koscielny, Wales’ captain replace Jack Wilshere, Arsenal’s left-footed Aztec Warrior replaced the best player of the first half Gervinho and the Snood master Marouane Chamakh replaced van Persie. This was the first time in many months that I saw Chamakh without a snood and it felt awkward thanks to FIFA.
Shortly after kickoff, Arsenal fired all cylinders with a goal after 43 seconds by Aaron Ramsey after some brilliant work from Carlos Vela. Vela waltzed past three Boca defenders before leaving the ball for Ramsey who was poised on pulling the trigger and the unstoppable cannon he released was strong enough to push an immovable object. The keeper also played a part in the goal because the ball literally passed through him.
Riquelme was a peripheral figure in the first half but he stamped his authority in the second half with a series of defense splitting passes that terrorized the Arsenal defense. He fed Lucas Viatri who lashed a hard volley straight at goal but Mannone was on hand to tip the ball over the bar. While Arsenal was getting ready to enter their comfort zone, Sebastien Squillaci showed Wenger and everyone else why he has been regarded as a calamity. After receiving a simple pass from Djourou, he dwelt on the ball and was dispossessed easily by a Boca chap who quickly passed it to Riquelme. The creative midfielder sent a simple through ball to Viatri and he smashed Mannone’s goal with a first time shot. From basically nothing, Boca was back in the game thanks to the tomfoolery of Squillaci. Wenger withdrew Arshavin and brought in Farmer Eboue to sure up the defense from Boca’s half but Arsenal was the plotter of its own downfall thanks to another goal from Boca sub, Pablo Mouche. Riquelme did his thing in the middle and sent a through between Djourou and Squillaci. Djourou noticed that Mannone was coming for the ball but he wasn’t fully aware of Pablo Mouche’s presence. As soon as he saw Mouche, he executed a sliding tackle and guided the ball for Mouche who wasted no time in planting the ball to an unguarded net.
Two goals scored in just three minutes. All the hardwork done by Gervinho, van Persie, Wilshere, Vela and Ramsey undone by Squillaci and Djourou in just three goddamned minutes. Typical Arsenal.
Vela sent a quick through ball to Nasri but he couldn’t get past the last defender that happened to be a slow 38-year old veteran called Schalvi. With all his cries for more money, he couldn’t even dribble a 38-year old slow poke yet he wants pay parity with Fabregas. Oh well. Eboue had a late effort that went wide and Jenkinson got booked at the death for retaliating on Pablo Mouche after he was skinned by the forward. Riquelme had the chance to win the game for Boca with a free kick on the left hand side and I was hoping for the worst. That was the same spot where Tranquillo Barnetta beat Joe Hart in that Euro qualifier. Mannone set up his three-man wall and positioned himself superbly. The Evil Riquelme fired the free kick straight at goal from that impossible angle but Mannone pulled up another great save to keep the game level.
Mr. Atkinson blew the final whistle and that was it. Arsenal 2 Boca Juniors 2.
Gooner Daily Ratings
Fabianski (6.2) had a very boring day at the office. He didn’t even make a single save.
Jenkinson (7.0) was a constant threat down the right and he sent in quite a large number of crosses.
Traore (6.4) didn’t really impress me but he wasn’t really exposed.
Koscielny (7.5) was a colossus in defense. Djourou (6.2) was at fault for Boca’s equalizer.
Frimpong (6.8) did a lot of running in the midfield.
Wilshere (6.9) suffered a lot of tackles but did okay.
Nasri (6.4) twisted and turned to no great effect.
Gervinho (8.0) ran at the Boca defense times without number and switched flanks with consummate ease. He even provided as assist for van Persie (6.8) who took his goal well.
Arshavin (6.5) had a decent game by his new standards.
Mannone (7.5) was very impressive in the second half with some top notch saves.
Squillaci (6.0) was as disappointing as ever.
Ramsey (7.3) scored a screamer.
Vela (7.1) provided a good assist.
Chamakh (6.7) worked hard for his team.
Farmer Eboue didn’t stay long enough to get a Gooner Daily rating.
The new season is just a fortnight away and Arsenal is still suffering from the same injuries that crippled the club last season. The Gunners were impressive with the corners and free kicks they faced so Szczesny’s claims of training hard against set pieces might be true. However, a new center back is badly needed in Arsenal Football Club. Be it Samba, Cahill, Jagielka, Harry Potter or Captain America, Arsenal needs a mentally sound center back to support Thomas Vermaelen.
In other news, the club has reported that Walcott’s ankle injury isn’t as bad as it was feared, Wenger has revealed that he’ll seal up his proposed deals sooner rather than later, Henry believes that Gervinho would be a hit and Gervinho has even labeled Henry as his idol.
I’ll also implore you to check out Sounak Mukherjee’s brilliant article on the Arsenal Transfer story so far.
Arsene Wenger, It’s a new season.
Please we don’t want to have those same ol’ feelings.