The real football season starts on a sunny August day on a Saturday and at 3.00 p.m. or at least it used to. Not at 12.45 on what started as a grey and potentially rainy day in London and I'm not even sure whether to blame Sky Sports or global warming for that.
So many new things today. A new cover design for the programme but the usual contents. A new edition of The Gooner. New players to enjoy. Seven players instead of five on the bench. A massive injury and absentee list before the season even begins. Those truly appalling recycled ex-Charlton home shirts, which I refuse to buy. By way of protest I'm going retro with home shirts this season and have opened my campaign with a shirt that has very definite white sleeves, a white collar, JVC on the front and looked very good on Denis Bergkamp. No doubt the new shirt will grow on me, but never enough to purchase it I suspect.
The sun came out for the game, just as it should, and Arsenal matched its brightness early doors despite a somewhat unusual line up. Djourou at centre back, Denilson partnering Eboue in central midfield, Walcott and Nasri wide with Adebayor and Bendtner up front. Van Persie was on the bench so I'm not sure what that was all about.
Arsenal got off to a flyer and Albion appeared to be all at sea in the first half as we started off in slick, fast passing mode. Trouble was there often seemed to be one of the passes going astray. That is until a move down our left involving Clichy and Bendtner saw Denilson find space following a good run which he followed up with a fine cut back to set up Nasri with a chance. New boy Samir rifled home with his right foot for the first of, what I hope, will be many goals in an Arsenal shirt. 1-0 Arsenal with less than five minutes on the clock and it seemed as if a rout was a possibility.
The rout didn't happen though. Not because we were shot-shy, far from it, more because we didn't have our shooting boots available, for which I obviously blame kit man Vic Akers. Samir Nasri looked the part right from the off you'll be delighted to hear. He has already settled in, plays well off both feet, can go past players on the outside or the inside, hits a creative through ball, looks a threat when he comes off the touch line and is prepared to work back in a sensible fashion. To me he looks reasonably fast, fairly strong and likely to score on a fairly regular basis with either foot. He likes to shoot and his partnership with Clichy will be very effective assuming he continues to play down our left flank as he did today. All in all one of the more impressive home debuts we've seen in recent years, and as you may have gathered I'm well pleased with our new purchase. Very pleased indeed.
We might have had a handball penalty if Webb hadn't been dropping his white stick at the time instead of paying attention. But the rest of the game was essentially about wasted chances, most of which fell to Adebayor, but he wasn't alone. Walcott with a header, Nasri with one deflected for a corner, Gallas with a piledriver from range which shaved the post, Sagna with one deflected for a corner that could just as easily have ended in the net and Eboue wide with a powerful shot were just some of our early chances. Had any gone in I'm sure it would have been a rout, as Albion looked totally outclassed in the first twenty minutes. All credit to them though because they dug deep and made a game of it as we continued to squander chance after chance. Denilson was next with a skewed shot having been set up following another good move. Bendtner should have scored from a corner when he rose high but headed wide. Note that it was Nasri who took the corner, another of his talents.
During this impressive start West Brom had just one decent chance which Almunia pushed around for a corner from Kim. Eshmael Miller played the lone striker role for Albion and impressed as their best player. Djourou made two very vital saving tackles, one in each half and looked like he could grow into the role with a new confidence. The ref, Howard Webb, was fairly inept throughout and the bald-headed lino, who looked like Webb's dad, was even worse. Not one player was booked, quite rightly, and there were very few fouls but we should have had far more than we were given. As for understanding the concept of 'advantage' or taking quick free kicks forget it.
Walcott set up Nasri for a left-footed shot that Carson the keeper saved at the second attempt, but that was one of Theo's few contributions other than one mazy run as I recall. Not his best of games and to be honest I was not alone in wondering why he wasn't subbed sooner than he was after the break.
In the second half West Brom made more of a game of it but we still played the vast majority of the match in their half. There will be stories in the papers on Sunday that will tell you Albion were unlucky not to get a point, but don't believe them because the shot count of 24-5 tells a far more accurate story than the final score-line might suggest. I think Albion will struggle this season but play sufficient football to be in with a chance of avoiding relegation provided they don't fold in the way Derby did last season. With Greening as their best player though it will certainly be a big struggle.
Greening fell over to win a free kick almost from the off. Denilson had a shot blocked and Adebayor tried to curl one in a-la-Denis but it was a total rubbish attempt. West Brom saw Almunia save and Djourou clear off the line and that was a real wake-up call but they offered little else. Nasri put Adebayor clean through for a one-on-one with Carson but he shot wide. The war on waste should start with Ade. Eboue wasn't afraid to shoot when the chance was on, which in some ways was a shame as no-one appears to have told him about the ball having to go inside the white posts for it to be a goal. Both teams scored an offside goal, or didn't because they obviously weren't goals I should more correctly say.
There were a flurry of second half substitutions from both teams late on. MacDonald came on for Cech on 68 minutes. Who? Bednar on for their star man Miller on 74. Who? Beattie for Brunt on 80. Who? While for Arsenal Van Persie came on for Bendtner after 69 minutes and attracted far more of the ball than our Dane. Walcott was subbed by Toure who still sported his new naff haircut, looked overweight, off the pace and at a guess about three weeks away from full match fitness.
Adebayor managed to both shoot when he should have passed and passed when he should have shot, both could and should have been goals.
Van Persie had a header straight at the keeper, another shot that can only be described as wild and a good effort following a classic piece of ball-skill combined with a tight turn. I can only imagine he was nursing a knock from midweek or would have appeared earlier.
All in all not a great performance but all you need are points at this stage of the season, the rest will come later when other players return to the fold or are added to the squad. Meantime two young men are making the most of their chance. Djourou who lost confidence while at Brum seems to be a born again defender, and he is very good in the air. While Denislon has grown in stature every game, today I made him our best player just shading it from Nasri. Denilson runs, tackles, passes shoots and can set up a goal - it is no coincidence that he has captained Brazil at a number of age groups. He is now more than a useful squad player and is currently playing like he deserves a regular first team birth.
We've played one game now and Tottenham are three points behind. Is their league season already over?