Football can be a weird old sport to be obsessed in. I mean, when you find yourself feeling encouraged despite a sucker-punched injury time goal against United away at Old Trafford, compared to a 1-1 draw at home just three days earlier that left you stewing, it just feels odd.
Yet that’s my feeling this morning. I am encouraged. I am encouraged because yesterday’s heavily rotated Arsenal team stepped up. This game was potentially billed as the ‘8-2 debacle Part II’ and when the United team and fans saw the Arsenal line up they must have wondered if they could inflict another mauling. And I’ll be honest with you; when that goal went in from Pogba on 15 minutes I feared that we were in for a long and uncomfortable afternoon.
But thankfully this was an Arsenal team with more backbone than the lot that capitulated in 2011. That team had the likes of Armand ‘gum chewer’ Traore and were a joke. This current crop of youngsters appear to have a bit more about them.
Arsène’s decision to give Mavropanos a start raised a few eyebrows but for me I was just excited to see what some of the Arsenal players would do. The ‘Greek lad’ partnered Chambers in defence and I have to say I was please with both of their performances. Both of them equities themselves really well and Mavropanos particularly didn’t look out of place in the Arsenal team. I know there’s an element of it not exactly feeling like the heated atmosphere of ‘Battle of Old Trafford’s past, but this was still a good United team and he looked strong in the tackle, good in the air and positionally seemed decent.
It felt to mine untrained eyes that he looks like quite a rugged centre half as well and based on that performance alone I hope Arsène gives him more minutes in the league whatever the result on Thursday. We need to see if this kid could be a long-term solution and by giving him two or three more matches before the end of the season, we’ll at least get the early indicators.
On the left and right Arsène deployed Kolasinac and Bellerin although quite when Hector is going to get some rest I don’t know. I just hope that this doesn’t catch up with him on Thursday but when you look at this game in isolation, once again he had a good performance.
We seemed to get plenty of space down either flank and both Bellerin and Reiss Nelson on the left wing certainly had plenty of it in that first half. I thought Nelson had another solid if not spectacular game and certainly if you’re looking at what Ivan said about giving some of the younger players in Arsenal’s team a chance, you’d have to say that Nelson should be towards the top of that list.
So too, I think we’d all agree, should Maitland-Niles and yesterday’s man-of-the-match performance showed that this kid has got it. He’s good with the ball at his feet, he’s so composed regardless of the opposition, he’s strong, plus he has the kind of recovery pace that this Arsenal team needs.
The new man coming in at Arsenal simply must give this kid a shot in the heart of our midfield. He looks the real deal and he’s been threatening this kind of performance all season. Well now he’s delivered and much like Mavropanos, I think he deserves a shot.
There were also positives to come from the return of Mkhitaryan to the Arsenal starting line up and Old Trafford and I thought the Armenian was brilliant yesterday. That was the Dortmund version that we’ve seen prior to his arrival at The Arsenal. He drifted across the pitch, picked the ball up in both deep and advanced positions and caused United trouble all afternoon. Wenger clearly brought him off as a precaution for Thursday but by then he’d done more than enough to show us that he’s fit and ready to make an impact in Madrid. His goal was a clever finish and whilst we’ve become accustomed to seeing his other former Dortmund teammate bag the headlines since arriving, yesterday was Mhki’s day rather than Auba, who was very quiet.
It seems funny to be spending so much time talking up the young players and a returning Mkhitaryan after we’ve suffered a defeat. But I guess it goes to show you just how important context is in the game that we all love. Yesterday’s match was as inconsequential as it was to United last season at The Emirates. Yesterday was about seeing if there were some green shoots for the future. Yesterday was about looking forward. I think we got enough to suggest to us that if nothing else, we have some good players coming through who can have an impact on the first team next season.
And that’s going to be really important for whoever the new manager is because Arsenal aren’t going to be bringing in five or six new faces in the summer on the playing staff side. Personally I can see us going for two or maximum three and when you think that we’ll most likely be losing five or six first readers (Mertesacker, Ospina, Wilshere, plus one of the other centre backs and possibly Ramsey if he doesn’t sign a new deal?), it does make you realise that there will need to be some promotion happening in the squad in order for us to cover the numbers.
So seeing some of these young players step up is heartening. By no means does this suggest that they’ll all have this amazing and glittering career at Arsenal for a decade or so, I appreciate that (especially given what’s happened to Iwobi after he burst in to the scene), but at a time when we’ve all been pretty down about the squad and it’s requisite quality it’s nice to think that we could have some coming through who have a shot of making an impact on the team next season.
We could talk about the faux ‘appreciation’ from United fans at the beginning of the game but given they’ve spent 20 years calling him a paedophile you’ll forgive me for dismissing their ‘class’ outright. The same with the United tactic of bringing on Fellaini to long ball us in the dying embers, but really, I couldn’t give a sh*t. Today is about talking up the potential of some of the players coming through and I’m more than happy to do that.
Catch y’all tomorrow.