I’ve gotta say – the good thing about Thursday night games is that it makes the Friday morning commute and subsequent Arsenal blog much more palatable. Especially when the lads have gone away and notched another win and another three points to take us closer to Europa League qualification.
And it’s eight wins on the bounce. Sure, five are in the league and three were against what you’d term ‘inferior opposition’ but right now that’s the last thing on my mind, because slowly but surely we’re building momentum and that’s what we all wanted.
When Unai Emery was announced as manager we also wanted change. We wanted a man who would come in and not only motivate the players to do something different and play a different way, but we wanted a guy who wasn’t afraid to try different tactical approaches, which is another reason why yesterday’s game was refreshing too.
A back three was named, a rotated squad started, with returns for Kolasinac too who I thought played well given it was his first game of the season and so naturally there’d be a bit of rustiness.
But it was he who muscles his way past the Qarabag defender to pull the ball back for a block shot within the first few minutes; the subsequent corner being the one in which the excellent Monreal headed down to Sokratis’ path for the Greek guy to bundle home for one-nil to The Arsenal.
If we sensed a rout after a few minutes it was because Arsenal had started brightly, were creating chances and offensive players were finding pockets of space and movement that Qarabag couldn’t quite cover. Then when Emile Smith-Rowe hit the side netting on 20 minutes I started to think this could be a hammering.
It wasn’t to transpire in that first half though. Perhaps like the Ostersunds FK away game last season, Qarabag were a little star struck to start off the game and after the opening bit of dominance they grew in to the game and began creating chances.
Bernd Leno was on hand though in a game in which he probably thought he would have little to do after the first five minutes. But he was certainly tested yesterday and in a way I’m glad. The worry with him deputising in Europe and the League Cup games is that he spends a lot of his time as a spectator but with this Arsenal team continuing to give big chances away I guess that isn’t really something we need to be too concerned with.
Leno played excellently in both halves and got a clean sheet that he was a large part of us achieving in Baku. He made a couple of smart saves in the first half but his acrobatic tip wide in the second half showed that he’s up for the Hollywood stuff too.
It was another game in which we weren’t convincing defensively at times but the team wasn’t punished and so I guess we can be pleased. We can also be pleased that going forward there are goals in this team. Lots of goals. We had another three scorers last night and all with their first goals for the club in Sokratis, Smith-Rowe and Guendouzi.
Smith-Rowe is ready for the first team and that is an exciting prospect. Emery understandably wanted to both simultaneously bug him up and measure his praise by keeping him ‘humble’ as he said, but if this guy can be given structure and the opportunity to develop, he’ll be a regular fixture in this Arsenal team for the next 15 years.
His goal was a well timed run which was laid on by a resurgent Iwobi in the second half and as soon as we got it you knew the game was over. After that second goal had hit the net Qarabag fell apart a bit and the space Arsenal kept finding became bigger and bigger. Guendouzi’s finish was a good one but we could have had four or five in truth. Welbeck blazed over from a glorious opportunity and Özil did that weird thing he did at Everton by shunning an easy attempt at goal by squaring the ball. He only came on for a short cameo and I won’t dwell too much on him but he didn’t look 100% right yesterday and was a little off key, albeit with a few nice flicks and backheels to show off when we were coasting in the game.
It’s weird though because he’s got three goals this season, yet still doesn’t look 100% right, although like I said I won’t dwell too much on it now.
Ultimately we went to Baku and rotated the team, got a three-nil win away from home, saw some players who sit just behind the first XI play well, and the run continues which will hopefully give the team confidence for Sunday.
That will be a sterner year for us but in terms of objectives for last night’s game you have to say it was pretty much nailed. Emery will be a happy bunny this morning but his team don’t have too long to dwell on it. Momentum can be destroyed with a lacklustre performance on Sunday so I hope the players have a day off to recover, then it’s back in to the office tomorrow with game faces on, ready to see if we can make it nine in a row.