Sunday, August 26, 2012

Stoke 0 - Arsenal 0

First, the good news: Arsenal are undefeated after two games, and have yet to give up a goal. Santi Cazorla continues to exhibit more speed and flair than most his teammates combined; Lukas Podolski also has showed that he has the pace, confidence, and ability of a top-flight Premier League player; and Per Mertesacker looks more solid in the center of defense than he did last season.

Now for the bad news: Arsenal have yet to win a game, score a goal, or even create more than a handful of legitimate scoring chances, despite huge advantages in possession in each of the two games they've played so far. Olivier Giroud failed once again to impose himself on the game, despite working hard as the target man (and taking one brilliant long-range effort that nearly missed toward the end of the match); he just doesn't seem comfortable yet with his teammates. Meanwhile, Gervinho, from whom so much more is expected in this, his second season with the club, seemed to move almost aimlessly about the pitch. Arteta looked good in patches, but seems less aggressive than at the end of last season, perhaps taking a back seat to Cazorla. I also think the jury is still out on Abu Diaby. He's got the size, speed, and technical ability to fill Alex Song's boots, but his passing is still less than sharp, and he seems to get caught on the ball too often.

Having said all that, Stoke City is a difficult ground on which to grab an away win. The Potters defend en masse and look for chances on the counter. Using that strategy today, they created nearly as many decent goal-scoring chances as the Gunners. But the Gunners, whether playing at home or away, really need to start creating more chances in the final third of the pitch. It's clear that they have players who can score goals a plenty; they just need to do a better job  creating openings and linking passes between midfielders and the forwards.

It's far too early to panic about the lack of goals. And starting the season with two clean sheets is a good sign of the team's overall defensive improvement. Nevertheless, until Arsenal do start scoring regularly, the large shadow of Robin van Persie is going to hover over Giroud, Podolski, and the rest of the Gunners.

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