This Week in: English Football – Arsenal Fans Frustrated on Opening Weekend

Ironically, this sign could not have been made any more cheaply
Ironically, this sign could not have been made any more cheaply

For the first time since August 2000, Arsenal lost their first match of the Premiership season and the home supporters at the Emirates let Arsene Wenger know their displeasure about his lack of spending in the transfer market.  Although the Gunners have been linked with (among others) Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Williams and Luiz Gustavo this summer, the only player the club has added over the summer is the 20-year-old French striker, Yaya Sanogo, who is currently injured.  An inability to get from bid to sealing the deal has been identified as a major problem for Arsenal, with the board seemingly unwilling to spend an extra couple of million to ensure their target does not go elsewhere (as happened with Higuain and Gustavo, who went to Napoli and Wolfsburg respectively).  Some fans have been pointing to the departure of former Vice-Chairman, David Dein, as the point when the Gunners began to struggle in the transfer market, as he was considered responsible for convincing many of the best players the club has ever had to join, including: Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell, Cesc Fabregas, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Robin Van Persie.

As a Tottenham fan, I cannot deny getting some enjoyment from seeing Arsenal supporters upset at their team, heading for the exits early and holding up signs saying “Spend Spend Spend” to Arsene Wenger.  However, the actual events on the pitch do not reflect this level of aggravation from Gooners, since they were very unlucky to lose the game and only did so because of poor decisions from the officials.  The record shows Aston Villa won the match 3-1, having gone behind early to a strike from French striker, Olivier Giroud, but Paul Lambert’s men responded with a double by Christian Benteke and a goal from Antonio Luna on his debut for the Villains, but this does not tell the whole story. Many pundits pointed out that the away team’s second penalty, which gave them the lead just after the hour mark, was an incorrect decision, since Laurent Koscielny played the ball first, but what was not picked up on was that Villa’s equalizer was also dubious.  In the 21st minute, Gabriel Agbonlahor went on a strong run through the Arsenal defence and was brought down in the box by Wojciech Szczesny – a clear foul, but referee Anthony Taylor played the advantage as the ball broke to another Aston Villa player in the box, who subsequently shot into the side netting.  At this point, Taylor went back and awarded the penalty, which is incorrect, since Law 5 states that he should only go back and penalize the original offence if the anticipated advantage does not develop – allowing the shot on goal was in itself the advantage and he should not have brought the play back to the foul once that attempt went wide.

These two mistakes, combined with Koscielny being sent off for two bookable offences (the incorrect penalty decision and another soft yellow card a few minutes later) were the main reasons why Arsenal lost, rather than their inaction in the transfer market.  What they did miss was the presence of the injured Mikel Arteta in the centre of the midfield, as Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere looked lightweight there without the more experienced Spaniard alongside them.  It was Wilshere’s misplaced pass that setup the move for the second penalty (it may not have been a foul, but the ball should never have been in Villa’s possession at that point anyway) and a tough tackling midfielder is what Arsenal need, even more than a glamorous big name signing to add to their strike force.  While I am sure they will be active before the end of the transfer window, I refuse to get excited about the Gunners having a slow start to the season: in 2011/12, they managed only 1 point from their first three fixtures, but ended up third; and last year they drew their first two matches against Stoke and Sunderland, but still finished in fourth place and above Spurs.

Speaking of the Tottenham Hotspur Waffles, they gave debuts to all four of their summer signings and the highest priced one of those, Robert Soldado, scored the only goal in their game with Crystal Palace, converting a penalty – it was something of a surprise that Spurs got a spot kick in their opening game, as they were not awarded one at all in the last league campaign.  Also impressive in their first appearances for the club were midfielders Paulinho and Etienne Capoue, the latter as a substitute, who both looked like strong, skilled units in the middle of the park – and Nacer Chadli, with the right-footed Belgian playing in his preferred position of the left-wing.  Those four players have been brought in for a combined total of £59.5m and the Waffles look likely to add to their summer spending as they close in on Willian from Anzhi Makhachkala for a fee of around £30m, as the Dagestan club look to slash their wage budget since their owner got bored with paying out huge salaries to star players without getting anything on the pitch in return.  Aside from Tottenham adding a third Brazilian to their squad (alongside Sandro and Paulinho) equalling the number of Belgian players the Waffles have, the signing of Willian will also bring a barrage of the already tired joke that he is Will.I.An from the Black Eyed Peas mean that this time Spurs have done their spending early and if when Gareth Bale is sold to Real Madrid, his replacements have already been acquired.  Others (Huddlestone, Livermore, Dempsey and Caulker) have already left the club and this week Scott Parker became the latest former Spurs man to move to Fulham, where he joins manager Martin Jol, and forwards Dimitar Berbatov, Darren Bent and Adel Taarabt.

Robin Van Persie opens the scoring against Swansea last Saturday
Robin Van Persie opens the scoring against Swansea last Saturday

Although all of last season’s top three – Manchester United, City and Chelsea – have different men in charge for this campaign, they all began with wins for their new bosses.  Swansea were the better side for the first half-hour of their game with Manchester United, but lost 4-1 as Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck each scored twice to give David Moyes a victory in the first league match since 1986 that the Red Devils had played without Sir Alex Ferguson being in charge.  Jose Mourinho maintained his unbeaten record in home Premiership encounters, as his Chelsea team beat Hull City Tigers 2-0, to start off the Portuguese manager’s second stint at Stamford Bridge with three points; while Manchester City looked impressive going forward, utilizing reverse passes to carve through Newcastle in a 4-0 thrashing on Monday night.

One man who did not enjoy a victory in his first game in charge of a new club was Mark Hughes, who saw his Stoke side lose 1-0 at Anfield, with Daniel Sturridge getting the crucial goal.  It was Liverpool’s new goalkeeper who made the headlines however, as Simon Mignolet repaid some of his £9m fee with a late penalty save from Jonathan Walters to secure the three points for Brendan Rodgers’ men.  Elsewhere, both Fulham and Southampton secured 1-0 away victories, against Sunderland and West Brom respectively; Cardiff lost their first ever Premiership match, 2-0 at West Ham; while Norwich and Everton shared four goals and the points in a 2-2 draw at Carrow Road.

This week, Chelsea have a rearranged fixture with Aston Villa on Wednesday night, as next weekend they will be taking on Bayern Munich for the European Super Cup, but before that they have another Premiership match against Manchester United on Monday.  Swansea follow up their game of taking on a team no longer managed by Fergie to playing one that looks like they will have Will.I.An (see, I told you there would be far too many Black Eyed Peas jokes…) as they go to White Hart Lane to take on the Waffles; Arsene Wenger and Martin Jol will square off again in a London derby as Arsenal travel to Fulham; and Aston Villa host Liverpool.  The Hull City Tiger Prawns host Norwich City; Everton have a home match with West Brom; Sunderland have a long trip down to Southampton; Cardiff have a tough first ever home Premiership match against Manchester City; Newcastle take on West Ham at St. James’s Park; and Crystal Palace are away at Stoke.

Predictions

Wednesday

Chelsea vs Aston Villa – Home win

Saturday

Fulham vs Arsenal – Away win

Everton vs West Brom – Home win

Hull vs Norwich – Away win

Newcastle vs West Ham – Draw

Southampton vs Sunderland – Home win

Stoke vs Crystal Palace – Home win

Aston Villa vs Liverpool – Draw

Sunday

Cardiff vs Manchester City – Away win

Tottenham vs Swansea – Home win

Monday

Manchester United vs Chelsea – Away win

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