Well now, wasn’t that a slightly different performance to the ones we’d had under Arteta in the previous three games, eh?
Certainly it was what you’d call ‘gritty’ and in terms of the high intensity that we’d seen in the previous two games, it was hardly the same, but perhaps that was opposition dependent. Leeds weren’t overly physical – they were a bit but not that much – but it doesn’t help my narrative and the historical moniker that everyone likes to label them with, so I’ll stick by my headline, thank you very much 😉
Arteta surprised us all with his team selection and whilst most of us were probably expecting a pretty much fully rotated side, what last nights starting line up showed us was that he sees this as a competition in which we have a chance. And thankfully we still have a chance with our names in the hat still with an away trip to Bournemouth on the cards.
It wasn’t exactly easy viewing though. As I said, Arteta named a pretty strong side with only Leno, Torreira and Aubameyang the absentees that you’d expect to be in the side next weekend against Palace away. Starts for Sokratis, Luiz, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Özil, Pepe and Lacazette could have caused a problem given the volume of games some of those players have played recently, but thankfully all appear to have come off unscathed and as a result we have a full five days of rest for Arteta to get his side on the training ground and continuing with his methods and his style of play.
And although his selection raised eyebrows and the first half performance left plenty to be desired of, ultimately, it can be seen as a gamble that paid off as we have back-to-back wins and the squad will be feeling buoyant going into a tough game at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
It was a bit of a slog though. You could tell Leeds were a confident side used to winning games because they popped the ball around well, were organised in moving it across the pitch and certainly on the far side from where I was sitting – the ‘Kolasinac cavern of space’ in defence – they got plenty of space. The same can be said on our right too, although makeshift right back Sokratis just about dealt with it…
But Leeds did well in that first half, hit the bar, caused us a few problems and we struggled to form any kind of coherent pattern of play. It was only in the second half that we looked like we had more control of the game and spaces started to open up, that we managed to assert ourselves and eventually get that scrappy ol’ goal that sent us through.
It was one heck of a scrappy ol’ goal though, wasn’t it? I mean, if you’re talking about classic, archetypal, scabby FA Cup third round bundle of a goal, you can look no further than Reiss Nelson’s mis-hit finish. Heck, I don’t mind, because anything that gets us into the next round and avoids a replay is fine for me, although it would have been nice to put a little bit more daylight between them and us after we’d gone ahead.
In the first half we’d taken a bit of a battering and Leeds had attempted something like 15 shots on goal, but the second half was more us and you could see the difference in quality just shine through in the end.
Indeed, by the end of last nights game the shooting stats had evened out to a more respectable 18 to them and 16 to us, having only had three in the first half. Attempts at goal is hardly the best way of analysing the dominance of the game, but it’s a decent rough barometer of performance when it is in such volume difference as the first and second half, so the rocket was clearly delivered to all of the Arse al players and tellingly it showed in the second half.
We asserted ourselves much better in the second 45 and the fact that Lacazette admitted that Arteta did some shouting at half time is a good thing. But it’s a better thing that the players responded and is another indication as to how much these players are starting to buy in to the manager.
Individually I don’t think anybody had a stand out game if I’m honest though. Pepe showed decent flashes, Lacazette was horrendous in front of goal but his work rate at least gave him some favour from the fans, whilst Guendouzi went from poor to better in the second half and his positional discipline in that second half was well noted. Fair play to Kolasinac too for getting plenty of minutes under his belt, following his early return from injury, as well as a few props for Sokratis for playing as an auxiliary right back.
The return of Holding was nice to see in terms of minutes on the pitch, but he looked mega rusty and his passing range was well off last night. Still, ultimately we kept a clean sheet and that’s the second one in a row, so maybe this “not conceding” lark is rubbing off on the players? That’d be nice.
Yesterday evening felt like it was an important type of game to win though. If we’re going to start seeing this Arsenal team challenging again then we need to see performances like that every once in a while. City and Liverpool don’t go through every game battering teams and playing high intensity football every second. They occasionally play crap but let individual quality, or at least the structure and composition of the team and its playing style to remain in tact, so if we want to see Arsenal heading northbound in the league and going deep in cup competitions, we’re going to have to see some of that football too.
And it’s probably good that we get this reality check now. The first three games saw us play with a high intensity and a style which suggested that maybe we’ll get that type of football like we played against United every week, when the reality is far from it. The belief needs to be slowly restored though and that is done through wins, which is what Arteta is building, which also makes sense as to why he picked such a strong team.
It’s now two wins in a row and we have to start looking at building some momentum. The second half of the season needs it.
Catch you all tomorrow.