The start of the 2012/13 season was a frustrating one for Arsenal, who drew 0-0 against Sunderland on a sweltering day at Emirates Stadium.
Despite the departures of Robin van Persie and Alex Song, there was an unusual sense of optimism coming into the game, as if it was a fresh start, a new chapter, a time for the team to step up and be counted as a collective unit. The additions of Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud to the squad certainly helped create this buzz. The former two started, with the latter beginning the game on the bench.
With the Olympics still fresh in everybody’s minds, Arsenal were quick and explosive out of the blocks, looking to grab an early goal and settle any nerves. Cazorla was bright throughout and stung the palms of Simon Mignolet after 10 minutes.
Sunderland very much set up to take a point back to Wearside, and executed their defensive strategy well, but never looked like scoring, despite a couple of first-half efforts from Jack Colback and James McClean. In terms of possession and territorial advantage, it was all Arsenal, but, in an all too familiar manner, they were struggling to break the visitors down.
Gervinho also impressed for the Gunners and on 20 minutes skipped his way to the byline and cut the ball back for Cazorla who shot inches wide, before Mignolet tipped Abou Diaby’s drive round the post. Podolski was not quite getting sufficient service and struggled to make a real impact, although his strong build and ability to hold the ball up will stand him in good stead in a notoriously physical Premier League. He did get a chance towards the end of the half, however, when Theo Walcott delivered a low cross but the German couldn’t direct his effort goalwards.
Perhaps the heat was having an effect, as there was very little urgency in Arsenal’s offensive play; very little conviction in the passing which often went sideways. Cazorla tried to thread the ball through the eye of the needle, and frequently succeeded, but was often not on the same wavelength with the forwards trying to generate space for themselves in the box. That will surely come in time – it would be naïve to expect things to click instantly.
The chances kept coming. Podolski curled a free-kick just over before he was replaced by Giroud who instantly looked more of a threat with his clever movement. The golden opportunity came eight minutes from the end when the French striker was released by Cazorla, but Giroud snatched at the chance with his weaker foot and missed badly.
That was just about that as the Gunners seemed to run out of steam. There were apparently one or two boos around the stadium after the full-time whistle which is, frankly, ridiculous, and sadly indicative of some of Arsenal’s spoilt ‘fans’. Giroud was receiving a lot of criticism where I was sat, already being written off as a dud after playing 20 minutes. I personally left the stadium more annoyed with some supporters than I was with the team who played reasonably well.
Cazorla was a major positive: neat, tidy and explosive with both feet, he provides a genuine creative spark that was perhaps lacking last season; one that I’m sure will be an invaluable asset to the side during this campaign. A typical Spaniard that looks set to have a similar impact as his compatriots Juan Mata, David Silva and former Arsenal skipper Cesc Fàbregas.
Frustrating certainly, but when looking at some of the other results, particularly Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat to West Brom, one has to appreciate that it could have been a lot worse. Anyone writing Arsenal off after one game will be in for a shock sooner or later.