The pre-season game against Hannover was to be Arsenal’s toughest friendly game to date and it didn’t disappoint.
A good crowd greeted both sides as a strong looking Arsenal line up – minus the departed Kolo Toure – looked to prove it’s worth against a tough opponent. The Arsenal team lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with Mannone in goal, Eboue, Gallas, Vermaelen and Traore in defence, Denilson, Song and Fabregas in the middle and Van Persie, Arshavin and Bendtner playing upfront.
The travelling Arsenal fans were in good voice as the away team in their third strip of white with red pin stripes got the game underway.
With the question marks over the squad depth and the sale that day of key defender Kolo Toure the Arsenal side would have wanted to prove a point. Noticeable immediately was the line in which the Arsenal defence was holding, very tight and organised, it moved with miliatary precision commanded by Gallas and Vermaelen who looked cohessive from the outset.
It sprung several well timed offside traps early in the piece, reminiscent of the legendary back 4 some years earlier.
Whilst Hannover struggled to break a tight Arsenal back line the Arsenal attack had more freedom, they moved the ball around with speed, quick, one touch passes and smooth movement between midfield and attack. Fabregas, protected by an influential, strong tackling Song, was able to operate in the free role, starting numerous attacks and looking extremely fresh, rejuvenated by his extended break.
Despite Arsenal’s early confidence in possession it was Hannover who created the first chance, Traore was caught out of position at left and the Hannover striker who had gotten in behind him was able to pull the ball back only for the centre forward to blast over from 8 yards out. That was to be the last meaningful attacking action by Hannover for the rest of the half.
From then on it was all Arsenal, Bendtner looked good floating out wide playing with chalk on his boots down the right touchline. Fabregas was pulling the strings in the midfield whilst Van Persie caused problems centrally. It was these 3 who conjoured up the opening goal in the 9th minute. Great play by Bendtner on the touch line saw him turn past 2 defenders before playing a delicate chip over the top to Van Persie, the Dutchman cleverly cut back inside before playing a sublime through ball somehow splitting two defenders perfectly to the run of Fabregas who calmly rounded the keeper and tucked home, 1-0 to the Arsenal.
A few minutes later Arsenal once again tore the defence apart with precision, quick passing resulting in a through ball finding Arshavin one on one with the goalkeeper. He was clear of the defence with the keeper to beat and with Van Persie screaming for the squared ball for an open goal tap in, the talented Russian chose to take the shot and smashed the ball with power straight into the fortunate goalkeeper, it should have been 2.
From there on Arsenal looked in complete control, the passing and movement made it look as though they’d not had a summer vacation. The midfield linked well with the 3 attackers with Traore and Eboue both also causing plenty of problems for the Hannover defenders with their overlapping runs from the back.
Hannover had to resort to crosses and long balls as they were unable to dribble or pass through the Arsenal midfield who were bossing the game. William Gallas and the extremely impressive new signing Vermaelen dealt with all these attacks with consumate ease, Vermaelen in particular showed a brilliant footballing brain with the ability to read passes and crosses. Several times in the first half he was seen to anticipate a pass and move in to cut it out before it had been played, this cut out the majority of the Hannover attacks and sprung Arsenal into constant counter attacks. One stand out defensive moment from the Belgian which could have pleased Arsenal fans was his reading of a cross from the left hand side, he moved off his defensive line before the ball was played, having recognised the aimed receiver of the cross, he was able to intercept the ball mid flight with a great leap and chest control then immediately playing a first time pass to Fabregas to set on the counter. Arsenal may have already found a more than worthy replacement for Toure.
In the 34th minute the impressive Traore picked up a knock and was swapped for Silvestre as a precaution. This didn’t break the momentum, Arsenal continued to threaten for the remainder of the first half, with Song proving a rock in midfield breaking up all Hannover counter attacks and allowing Fabregas, Arshavin and the forwards to press upfield in search for a second. It nearly came on the edge of half time, a great run from Fabregas was seen by an impressive Eboue who played a neat slide rule ball to the young Spaniard who saw his cross headed out for a corner. From the corner Arsenal almost doubled their lead with a strong header from Bendtner being cleared off the line, the ball came back out to Van Persie who fired the ball hard and low across the face of goal almost dipping into the bottom corner, it was parried by the keeper only for Bendtner to miss the rebound.
That was the end of a very impressive Arsenal first half.
The second half however was to be a complete contrast to the first.
Arsenal rang the changes as expected, Djourou came on for Gallas, Sagna came on for Bendtner with Eboue moving into the midfield, Ramsey on for Fabregas and Szczesny for Mannone in goal.
The changes completely altered the game as a different Arsenal came out for the second half. The 2nd forty five saw an incoherrent Arsenal side and the performance reminiscent of some disappointing matches the previous season. Ramsey was annonymous throughout and struggled to have any control in the midfield, Eboue, impressive in the first half looked out of place in the midfield providing little to no attacking impetus. The defence too began to struggle, the tight, well organised line of the first half was a contrast in the second, Sagna and Silvestre seemed at a loss as to whether to press forward or drop deep, Djourou struggled horribly and was found regularly out of position, Vermaelen tried hard to marshall the defence and was seen several times looking to organise the line however each second half Hannover attack seemed to find one of the other three defenders out of position.
Sagna was booked after he and Djourou both got caught out of position allowing the attacker to sneak in behind, Sagna resorted to pulling down his man and was cautioned. A few minutes later the Arsenal defence was again caught napping, this time Silvestre lost his man as the attacker swept in behind only for Ramsey to make a last ditch header to block the cross.
Hannover, with more freedom in the midfield continued to peppar the shaky defence with long balls and crosses of which Djourou in particular struggled to deal with. The Arsenal midfield did little to aid a struggling Arsenal defence, Denilson, Eboue and Ramsey all regularly guilty of giving away simple passes. Arsenal lacked any threat up front, with Eboue neglecting to move forward in the way Bendtner had done in the first half, Arshavin couldn’t get involved and Van Persie seemed more interested in his vendetta of revenge against the tough tackling defenders.
After a late challenge by Van Persie saw several bodies piling into a shoving contest, with the defender booked for pushing Van Persie in the face the Dutchman was taken off for Eduardo.
The Brazilian born Croation midfielder struggled to have any impact, playing on his own up front he was isolated and marked out of the game with little to no attacking support from the midfielders.
Hannover came close to equalising several times in the last twenty minutes, however they lacked the quality upfront to make the most of the Arsenal defensive lapses. A worryingly free header inside the penalty box brought a good save from Szczesny and a few minutes later Sagna drifted out of position which left the Hannover attack in behind the defence and his shot forced another decent save from the Arsenal stopper.
The impressive Vermaelen came off in the 79th minute after picking up a knock whilst carrying out a strong headed interception. Although that meant two Arsenal defenders had been taken off for injuries they both looked little more than just precautionary as both men walked off by themselves.
The last 10 minutes drifted without event, the whistle went handing Arsenal a decent victory in a tough contest, Arsenal fans should take great comfort out of the first half display however will remained concerned by the lack of quality of depth in the squad.
They now wait in anticipation of the Emirates Tornament in the coming week and with keen interest on the transfer dealings as they hope Arsene Wenger looks to address the weak underbelly of the squad.