Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve enjoyed reading just about everything between last night’s result and me writing today’s blog. And I’m going to thoroughly enjoy today’s blog from start to finish, that’s for sure, because last night we won a football match and we did it in a way in which gave me even more weird excitement. Because it was different. It wasn’t swashbuckling Wengerball where we dominated possession, efforts, etc, for the whole game. It was something different. It felt…controlled…even in the second half. It felt like so many games that we’ve seen other big clubs drop against us. You know the ones; in these games with the bigger teams it’s usually that one team goes a couple of goals and then the other team is essentially held at arms length until the end of the match with only the occasional half-attempt on goal.
Unless of course it’s us. We don’t tend to do that. We’ve always given our big rivals hope. And the fact that we haven’t won a so-called ‘big game’ this season also added a weight of pressure on the team that made this victory last night all the sweeter I have to say.
We’ve had some positive signs since Tricky Micky arrived. He talked a good game in his presser. He talked about working hard when we don’t have the ball as well as when we do. After all, that is a trademark of Pep Guardiola teams. He spoke of the players needing to ‘buy in’ to his way and then they will believe in him. We can see that they are already. We saw an improvement against Bournemouth and that led to more attempts than we’ve had all season. That was followed by a similar performance to last night, but against Chelski and but for a couple of defensive mistakes from Leno and then Mustafi (who I noticed didn’t even make the squad last night – telling) and the referee doing his job and sending of Jorginho (I think Pawson is now sitting out a game week as a result), we’d have beaten Chelski I think. Then last night Man United came to town and the genuine fear I think a lot of us had was of the rapid pace in that United front line. James is quick. Martial has the beating of any of our defenders in a foot race, plus they have someone like Wan-Bissaka who could overload our back line and double up on whatever patched up winger we could slot in to left back.
Then the surprise was sprung on us with an hour before kick off. Kolasinac back in the team and would start. Afterwards Arteta explained that he wasn’t expected to be back for another week or two, but he said he could come in if needed. Desperate times call for desperate measures and gambles and with no other player available it was a chance Arteta had to take. I did think yesterday it was a bit weird that there was no update from the medical team. Yet we had our explanation last night as the team that lined up had a recognised left back in it.
But not only that, I think it threw somewhat of a curveball at Solskjaer, because I think he thought he’d be able to target our left hand side with James and Wan-Bissaka up against some kid at left back. The introduction of Kolasinac changed everything because whilst he is not a great defender, he’s good going forward and he essentially operated as a winger for most of the game, pushing Wan-Bissaka right back and limiting him completely in the game. You could see that this was a key part of the plan because every time Luiz looked up he was trying to get the ball out wide left. Xhaka too was often found spraying the ball out wide there.
That was just one of many things that went right last night. We started like the Chelski game with a high intensity, closing space down across the pitch, making sure that we were compact without the ball and much like Chelski found it, we gave them little options when they had the ball. Lacazette was closing from the front, Auba too, plus the fact that Mesut Ozil made the most ball recoveries of any player also tells its own story.
These players are ‘buying’ in to it. I don’t think they didn’t put in the effort when Emery was in charge, perhaps it just wasn’t exactly clear what he wanted them to do, but you certainly can’t say that about Arteta’s team based on three performances. We’ve closed space when we don’t have the ball, we press with more intensity. We focus on recovery and on – crazy as this sounds – playing players in their most natural positions. Torreira has turned back into the tigerish defensive midfielder with energy and ground covered. Ozil is the mercurial dictator of the ball who finds pockets of space with which to start the build up in attack. And whilst he had a quieter 60 minutes overall, Pepe is the additional goal threat we wanted. His positioning for his goal was exactly where you want him to be and that’s what we’ve lacked at times this season.
Getting the early goal was important too. You do that and you have to draw the team out. United find it easier playing counter attacking football and when they have to chase a game that is more difficult. Had we conceded first then different questions might have needed to be answered, but then again, perhaps this was always the game plan i.e. absolutely smash every ounce of juice from this Arsenal team to get ahead in the first half, then see if we can control the game with shape and structure.
The players looked absolutely dead on their feet by the end of the game and the fact we ceded so much possession and territory in the second half also showed that they were spent after about 60 minutes. But there were some soldiers out there last night and they did what we’ve all been asking them to do as Arsenal fans: leave it all out there on the field.
We will have games under Arteta where we’re a bit…well…pants. That happens. But if this is the blueprint for how we’ll play, and the team will only get fitter and stronger as he spends more time with them, then this could be a very exciting time to be an Arsenal fan.
Have a good Thursday you sexy bitches.