Club Focus – Arsenal – The Gunners draw with Liverpool as Wenger renews his contract

Arsenal’s 2010/11 campaign opened with a draw against Liverpool as they scrambled a late equaliser to avoid leaving empty-handed. The point sees them off the mark for the season, but with absent personnel and familiar failings, it appears as though Arsene Wenger’s faith will be tested once more.

The Gunners failed to convert their possession into chances and, crucially, goals, with the result giving limited credence to the familiar jibe that Wenger’s sides are all style and no substance. The fighting spirit shown in gaining a late equaliser was a much more welcome reminder of seasons gone by, as the battling qualities of the side were again in evidence. Wenger will seek to utilise this spirit to convert his talented group of youngsters into a side capable of delivering silverware, a fact he alluded to when he recently signed a contract extension: “Signing a new deal means that I can see this talented group of players reach their potential. Trust me, they are ready to deliver.”

In stark contrast to this statement of intent, a decidedly threadbare side failed to deliver on Sunday. They failed to break down Liverpool’s resolute defence and needed a gift from Pepe Reina to gain anything at all. Had Reina been as sure-handed as when he gripped the microphone to declare Fabregas the future of Barcelona, Arsenal would have left with nothing. The familiar feeling that the Gunners flattered to deceive was again forthcoming as the final ball to penetrate the defence was desperately lacking. This assessment of Arsenal’s play seems all too familiar and cynics will cite this as the reason that the Londoners will not lift the title this term. However, in only the first game of the new campaign, it is worth noting that Sunday’s selection did not represent a full strength side. The midfield was shorn of Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song whilst Robin van Persie looked desperately short of match sharpness in his cameo appearance. It was always Wenger’s intention to withhold the Dutchman, but his introduction represented the last roll of the dice with the game slipping away.

Gaining only a point from a match in which Arsenal dominated will inevitably disappoint, and is only compounded by the fact that the opposition was reduced to 10 men for the majority. The Gunners’ bright early passing spells augured well for the side, but they failed to maintain the tempo when 10-man Liverpool dealt a hammer blow by taking the lead. Despite the obvious disappointment of the result, in context, it was a point gained rather than two lost. Match sharpness, crispness of passing and cutting edge will all develop over the coming weeks, as will the team’s cohesion as summer additions in key positions continue to gel. It is worth noting that the same can be said of Sunday’s opponents who will only gain confidence and momentum under their new manager, meaning that a point away from home may yet come to represent a respectable return for the Gunners. Heading into the match a point from their opening day trip to Anfield represented a decent return – it is the surrounding circumstances that taint an otherwise objectively good result.

Encouragingly, Marouane Chamakh showed enough to indicate that he can be a key player for the side this term, giving an added dimension with his aerial threat – a key factor in the late equaliser. His quick feet enable him to fit in with the passing ethos of the side and his link-up play will develop as he acclimatises to the physicality of the Premier League. Laurent Koscielny’s late double booking blemished an otherwise impressive debut in which he looked remarkably well adjusted to the rigours of the league, despite his earlier admission that: “I believe I will have to work hard, doing a lot of bodybuilding exercises to resist Premier League forwards.”

The pair represents the latest of Wenger’s shrewd, budget signings as he has maintained the club as a top four side whilst balancing the books. Although he is unlikely to abandon this policy in his final term, he may yet have to adapt the philosophy that has accompanied his tenure: “My concern is that the policy we have chosen delivers trophies. In the last four, five years we have gone for a young team, to bring them up, while we built the new stadium and I believe we have managed quite well to stay in the top four. But we need to deliver trophies now.” Should he manage to reinforce sufficiently before the transfer window closes, then the manager’s faith in youth development may yet be vindicated by silverware.

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