Come on, admit it. That was pretty good wasn’t it? The Premier League has its knockers, and rightly so in a lot of instances, but for entertainment and watchability, it is up there with the best dramas, the best comedies and the best contests, no question.
The opening weekend of the season is a rare time in football, a time when all clubs start on an even keel, with shiny new strips, shiny new haircuts and shiny new players, not to mention some seriously elevated ambitions. Unless you are Portsmouth of course.
For English fans, ESPN has filled the chasm vacated by Setanta and its crude mustard/black presentation, and on Saturday evening the American company were treated to the game of the weekend as Arsenal produced a display of devastating efficiency and pleasing aesthetics to nail Everton firmly to the bottom of the embryonic Premier League table.
Inevitably, the fallout- on Everton’s side at least- from The Gunners’ 6-1 rout at a bewildered Goodison Park centred on Joleon Lescott, and the impact his on-off move to Manchester City may have had on both his own mindset, and that of his team.
Lescott was reported in some papers to have requested a day off on Saturday because his head was “not right”, and by half time it may not be unfair to say that David Moyes may have wished he had agreed to such a brazen, and unprofessional, request. Ok so he was faultless for Arsenal’s first goal, a simply magnificent curling effort from Denílson which left Tim Howard grasping thin air en route to the top right hand corner of the net, but the lack of organisation and awareness displayed at the free kicks which allowed Arsenal’s central defensive pairing of Thomas Vermaelen & William Gallas to wrap up the game before half time smacked of a team suffering a communication breakdown. Marouane Fellaini seemed to be at fault for at least one of the goals, but in truth no Everton player- Lescott certainly included- was doing his job.
Three down to Arsenal at home on the opening day of the season is probably the worst case scenario for a team struggling for inspiration, Arsène Wenger’s side can keep the ball for fun at the best of times, with Everton ragged it became a cakewalk. Cesc Fàbregas produced two classic finishes at the end of two classic counter attacks to make it five, before Eduardo Da Silva arrived from the bench to finish off a rebound after Andrey Arshavin’s deflected effort had spun like a Shane Warne flipper around Howard and against his post. Everton did manage a consolation through Louis Saha in stoppage time, but the roar that greeted it was akin to that of a man who finds a voucher for a free Bounty bar (i.e. not very loud).
It is hard to draw conclusions from the opening day of the campaign at the best of times, and in this case it is doubly so. Were Arsenal good? Yes, but how good? Were Everton bad? Yes but how much was down to distractions, how much was down to a lack of investment through the summer- ironically their only major acquisition, on-loan striker Jô, was as bad as anyone- and how much was down to the quality of their opposition?
It is an unarguable fact that no side moves the ball with as much fluidity and ingenuity as Arsenal, and Everton’s midfield was simply unable to cope with the pace and purpose of the Gunners’ passing game. Fellaini & Tim Cahill looked too inherently similar to deal with the movement and intelligence of Fàbregas, Denílson & the ever-improving Alex Song, whilst Leighton Baines was given a torrid time by the Nicklas Bendtner, who may well be one player to step up in the absence of his old sparring partner Emmanuel Adebayor.
On the other flank Arshavin is simply a magician, and looked dangerous just about every time the ball reached him, supported ably by Gaël Clichy from full back, whilst Robin Van Persie appears to be growing into the role of focal point with each game, keeping him fit will be pretty close to the top of Wenger’s wish-list for the season I’m sure. Better still for Wenger, the likes of Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri, Tomáš Rosický & Jack Wilshere did not even travel. How Everton would love just one of those names to add to their squad, which looks positively threadbare by comparison.
And even at the back, the place were most detractors are insistent that Arsenal lack quality, there were more plusses than minuses to take home down the M6. Vermaelen was assured and rarely troubled by Jô, Cahill or Fellaini on his debut, Gallas was equally composed, and in Sagna & Clichy they still have two of the best full backs in the league. If those are Arsenal’s problems, then I’m sure most clubs would like a slice.
Neither side is in league action in midweek, Arsenal face an enticing trip to Glasgow to face Celtic in the Champions League qualifiers, whilst Everton must pick their faces up off the floor in time to face Sigma Olomouc in the Europa Liga on Thursday night. It will certainly be interesting to see whether a certain centre back starts that particular game. Especially with reports linking Newcastle’s Steven Taylor, and Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross with a move to Merseyside as potential replacements.