Rust apparent in Arsenal victory
Arsenal will look back on the opening-day 2-1 win over Crystal Palace and be thankful for three points from a game in which they struggled to break down an obdurate and hard-working visiting side.
Beforehand, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted he was worried that his team wasn't quite where he wanted them to be in terms of physical preparation.
"Honestly we are a bit short in our preparation, because after the World Cup, we had 11 players at the World Cup, and many of them had longer holidays after that," he said.
And that was apparent throughout. At one stage in the first half Aaron Ramsey had the ball in midfield, looked around for somebody to give it to, implored his teammates to provide him an option, but none was forthcoming. That's not the Arsenal way.
The Gunners are usually the Premier League's most reliable passing team (sometimes to their detriment), but the amount of misplaced passes on Saturday was another indication of how their sharpness, which they need to be operating at its best, is something they're going to have to work hard on to achieve.
Although they dominated possession in both halves, they found Palace extremely well-drilled and well-organised. It might now be a legacy of Tony Pulis' time at the club (as was the time-wasting from early on), but they made life extremely difficult for the Gunners' midfield and attack.
They also made it uncomfortable by taking the lead through a corner that Brede Hangeland headed into the far corner in the 35th minute. Perhaps it was something else to attribute to the home side's lack of match sharpness, but the goal was also notable for the fact that Arsenal didn't have any men on the posts on the set piece. That's something new -- maybe down to lack of organization, but it will be interesting to see whether it recurs in the games to come.
Laurent Koscielny's headed equaliser right before half-time was just the tonic, and if the last few months have taught us anything about Arsenal, it's that they're more than capable of reacting when they do go behind.
Yet for most of the second half it was hard to see where the goal would come from. There was little or no fluidity to their football, the passing remained hit and miss, and although the introduction of Olivier Giroud gave them a stronger focal point in attack, those around him were off the pace.
Santi Cazorla struggled; Alexis Sanchez, despite providing the sumptuous cross for the equaliser, looked like he had the wrong boots on at times; while substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain slotted straight into the game by passing the ball out for a Palace throw.
In the end, last season's hero, Ramsey, secured the points with a late poke after Koscielny and Giroud kept the ball alive well from a corner. You can't say it is fortunate when a team keeps going and gets the vital goal, but given the paucity of the performance, Wenger will know his team skirted dropping some uncomfortable points at home.
However, given the disruption to the preseason preparations because of the World Cup, and handing debuts to three players still getting used to their new surroundings and teammates, it was always going to be a challenge.
The positive for Arsenal is that they took the three points, got a good 90 minutes under their belts, and can now build on this rather than fire-fight a draw -- or a defeat, like they had to on the opening day of last season.