Yesterday I wrote a piece outlining that I suspected last night’s game would have a bit of a testimonial match about it and in the cold light of day and ha big stood in a biting cold Emirates with half a dozen old school chums, I find myself unsurprised that it’s effectively what we got last night.
In fact the only real surprise of the evening was that Unai played so many first teamers.
Sokratis, Mesut Özil and Alex Lacazette made up a somewhat more experienced starting XI for this meaningless end of group game and in front of a half full stadium we saw Martinez, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Sokratis, Maitland-Niles, make up the back four, whilst Elneny, Willock, Saka, Lacazette and Nketiah made up the midfield and attacking intent on the night.
I could understand the Sokratis inclusion because he won’t play at the weekend, but personally I’d have just not risked him because it only would have taken a knock and we could be further down on central defenders come Wednesday night’s game against the Tiny Totts next week.
But the Özil and Lacazette introductions confused me. I can only hope that Özil’s was to give him a nice and easy game to be ready for the weekend in, but for Laca he’s been playing regularly, will surely play on Sunday, yet here he was starting against a pretty poor opposition on a cold night at home.
But anyway, it was his cool finish that was the difference on the night, a night in which the football was hardly the most scintillating. I’m not too stressed about that though. After all we didn’t want anybody else to go down injured and having watched Arsenal live for a number of years now you could tell all of the players were playing within themselves. The way we moved the ball was a little slower, the passing forward was not as deliberately incisive as it’s been under Emery this season, whilst the high press that he’s ensured his team adopt felt a little half-hearted at times.
It was an Arsenal team that once they knew we’d not lose this game by going one up, we’re very cautious and comfortable in possession.
There were a few interesting moments and the overall play of Saka excited plenty of people in the stadium last night. He’s good with the ball at his feet and one of those guys who when you play against you think you can nick the ball off of him but suddenly he gets an extra touch in from somewhere.
It was impressive in patches but at the same time you could see that he’s still a young and raw player with potential. He still has to grow in to his body and at times was judged off the ball a little easier. He’ll be gutted as well that he didn’t bury his chance late on that the ‘keeper saved off his own face. It was one of those that makes your nose sting but I thought the kid had bagged himself a debut goal when it slid across to him from the other side of the box.
Qarabag were a limited team and it showed; they came for damage limitation and too their credit they did it, limiting the young guns to only a few chances, but that doesn’t matter too much. What matters is that we have more exciting young players coming through and I hope we see a bit more of them over the next few months, once or twice at least, I hope.
We march on with this unbeaten run and it’s now 22 games that we haven’t suffered defeat. It’ll happen soon enough but hopefully not this weekend and let’s keep our fingers crossed that we get a well-rested Arsenal team that does the business at St Mary’s.
Catch you guys tomorrow.