And just like that, it’s back to work! Less than six weeks since that euphoric night at Wembley, Scott Parker’s men were gracing the hallowed Cottage turf once again, Premier League badges on sleeves and the BT Sport cameras pointing at them (with commentary apparently provided by AFTV).
Given the short turnaround between seasons, it wasn’t overly surprising to see Scott name an almost identical XI to the one that crushed Brentford’s promotion dreams, with the only change not being the expected starting place for Mitro but Cavaleiro replacing Decordova/De Cordova-Reid (depending on where you read his name). Of the new signings, only Areola claimed a place on the bench, along with the returning Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. The rest of the new batch will have to wait for their chance, which given the result, may not be too long in coming. Personally, I think it was the right call to give the playoff-winning players the opportunity to show what they could do, especially given there hadn’t been a full pre-season for the new players to get used to the system, but I think we all agree that last year’s squad was going to need new blood in order to make it anything near competitive in what is an exponentially better league than the Championship.
The opening moments of the game instilled a bit of confidence as the Whites pushed forward with AK47, who was leading what appeared to be a somewhat fluid frontline, having a good opportunity following an Arsenal defensive mixup but he couldn’t quite find the composure to round Leno as the German got down quickly…which obviously raised the question: would Mitro have managed it!? Unfortunately, the sense of hope lasted less than 10 minutes as Arsenal took the lead in what was a classic shambolic Fulham defensive moment. Although watching the replay a few times, I do feel the criticism being laid at the feet of Tim Ream was somewhat harsh – sure it wasn’t great and he should’ve hoofed it clear but it seems more of an unfortunate bounce rather than complete ineptitude, which seemed to be the general feeling in Twitterland. In my opinion, any mistake by our centre back, who was making his 200th appearance for the club, was going to be met by a chorus of “Where’s the CB we need, Tony?!” as there seems to have been a premeditated judgement on the American’s abilities to cope with the step up rather than concentrating on the fact he’d formed a solid partnership with Michael Hector over the last few months. Ironically, it was Hector who looked to be the one struggling with the increased pace, although casting judgement on a player making his first start in the top flight when he’s faced with Aubameyang and Lacazette may be jumping the gun a bit. However, he is certainly going to have to put in dramatically improved performances if he’s going to replicate his rock-like state of the Championship.
The goal certainly seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Whites and that is something they’re going to have to be wary of during the campaign. We are going to concede goals, but the reaction to that is going to have to improve if we’re not to going to see a replica of 2018/19. I’ve said it before and I’ll likely say it again throughout the season, the need for a proper captain on the pitch cannot be underestimated and does it look like TC has suddenly transformed into that commanding leader? No. It does make you wonder whether Parker is going to make the awkward call to give the armband to someone else some time in the future…although the young boss clearly doesn’t concern himself with awkwardness; seems he advised the board not to sign his brother-in-law after all!
The 2nd and 3rd goals perfectly displayed our weakness and Arsenal’s strength. They showed that a) we know that mistakes will more often than not be punished and b) there is some extraordinary talent in this league that we need to get to grips with far quicker than two years ago.
What I considered to be one of the big pluses to come out of the game was the introduction of Anguissa on the hour mark, and whilst he may split opinion of fans given his ship-jumping at the beginning of last season (perhaps due to FFP more than personal preference) and the fact he came on when the game was already over, he showed what a quality player he is and what he could bring to the team if we keep hold of him. Just to look at how he wanted the ball and played it around in his somewhat brief cameo, you can see that he will be vital moving forward. I’d go as far as to say that there was almost an Original Dembele quality to him in his style. Obviously, we still have to see what Lemina can offer and perhaps Florentino Luis should he join but I think the fans should quickly forget that Zambo wasn’t here last season and hope that the Khans are able to keep him on board.
Overall, it obviously wasn’t an ideal start to our latest attempt at the Premier League. It was always going to be a baptism of fire for the team against the side now officially “managed” (harking back to the old school days!) by the man with a PhD from La Universidad de Guardiola, but there were enough moments to make me think that this won’t be the same sh*tshow that we saw last time out. It will take time, but as long as the team can keep their heads up and Scott is able to blood the new heads into the team as seamlessly as possible, I think we have reason to be optimistic of survival (possibly more but let’s not go crazy).
Next stop: some northern city.