After stumbling in its season opener to West Ham United last week, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, and particularly goalkeeper Petr Cech, will have to pick up the pieces quickly if it is to live up to pundits' expectations to win the Premier League this season. While you couldn’t quite call them howlers, the former Chelsea net-minder made mistakes at the Emirates last Sunday and was directly culpable for allowing both of West Ham’s goals.
But it was more than just a case of first-day jitters from Cech that undermined the Gunners. While the North Londoners dominated possession, as you’d expect, they lacked a true cutting edge against an organized Hammers side that defended well and made the most of its chances.
To Arsenal’s credit, West Ham keeper Adrian made a number of good saves in that match. But Arsenal’s inability to find a breakthrough against a side that finished 12th in the Premier League last season is worrying.
Sunday’s fixture, away at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace, is unlikely to be much easier. Palace has excelled under Alan Pardew and their compact South London ground makes the Eagles a daunting prospect for any visiting team; especially one that’s just had its confidence shaken by a demoralizing loss.
The Gunners will have to continue to make do without Jack Wilshire, whose latest injury is set to sideline him for a couple more weeks. Tomas Rosicky is set for a much longer injury layoff following knee surgery. On the plus side, Wenger will be able to count on a fully fit Alexis Sanchez this time. After coming off the bench to great effect against West Ham, the Chilean is expected to start this weekend against Palace.
Arsenal put together an impressive run at the end of last season. Having strengthened in the one area the team was weakest, goalkeeping, many expected them to pick up where they left off and mount a genuine title challenge.
If last Sunday’s loss was merely a blip, like the opening day loss to Aston Villa two seasons ago, Wenger’s men should be capable of getting their campaign back on track quickly. But if a pattern of poor results emerges, Arsenal could surrender any chance of chasing the title before Christmas, as happened last season.
Come Sunday’s game against Crystal Palace, we’ll have a much clearer idea of what sort of season it’s likely to be for the Gunners.