Well, I think it’s fair to say that yesterday afternoon’s home game against Newcastle United ended up being a lot of fun by the time it reached its conclusion, didn’t it?
It all started with a curveball. Firstly from Arteta’s first team selection, then by the fact that Newcastle didn’t look as bad as I thought they might be, although when you think they’d been undefeated in their last eight games perhaps you could see why.
But before we go on to that let’s look at the team selection. In came Ceballos and in came Nketiah, with Saka keeping his place at left back and Mustafi building on his decent performances at centre half. Pepe was preferred to Martinelli in what was an unusual starting XI that I’m sure nobody would have predicted. The Nketiah decision was the most intriguing because it was a clear indication that form will see you in – or out – of this Arsenal team and although I didn’t think Nketiah had the best of games (little u lucky hitting the bar perhaps), it sent a clear message that you have to deliver. There was even a surprise on the bench, with Guendouzi nowhere near the team and Arteta making more than veiled hints at attitude being a reason. More to come out in the wash today I believe so let’s see what happens as this week unfolds.
The game didn’t exactly start well though, did it? We looked sluggish in possession, we moved the ball far to slowly from back to front and as Arteta noted after the game, Newcastle’s low block meant that we found it difficult to create any major chances or break through their compact lines. Three at the back with wing backs tucking in to a five made for a difficult start and in the first 20-30 minutes we saw Newcastle probable have the better of the opening exchanges, especially with Saint-Maximin.
But you have to take advantage when you’re on top in football matches and as we’ve seen to our detriment this season, if you don’t, you get punished. Arsenal were ponderous and poor in the first half but that was certainly not the case in the second.
We were on top virtually from kick off in the second half and with Dani Ceballos pulling the strings from deep, we had control of the ball and started to work Newcastle, certainly more than we had done in the previous half.
I think it also helped that the first goal came within ten minutes of the second half kick off. If you get to the 65th or 70th minute of these types of games it empowers the opposition to grind out a result but that goal, followed by the subsequent quick second goal just a couple of minutes later, really gave us the ability to control the game.
And I think we did. Saint-Maximin was perhaps unlucky to hit the inside of the post, but we were in control for most of the first half so although that was a slightly scary moment and with Arsenal you can never fully be ‘sure’, it felt like we’d see out the game.
And we did with some aplomb. Özil bagging a goal after a decent build up on 89 minutes, then Lacazette ending his goal drop deep into injury time, was great to see. It’s our best performance in terms of end product all season and that’s something to be chipper about today.
But I was also pleased to see each of our ‘big name’ players step up too. Aubameyang got us going with a really good header. It was a proper strikers finish; old skool. The ball in from Pepe also netted him an assist and then he himself got in on the scoring action with a slightly scuffed finish inside the six yard box. Again, another good assist after excellent work from Saka, who is proving himself to be quite the addition to the first team squad. Get that new deal signed up Arsenal!
We also had Özil put in one of his best performances of the season and what many of us had been expecting of a player with his talent. He found space, drove at players, kept the ball ticking over in possession and got himself the cherry on the cake that the performance deserved yesterday. I thought he was great. More of that please Mesut. Much more.
Let’s also have another shout out for Ceballos. His quick-release of the ball was vital in speeding up our play yesterday and he showed glimpses of the player we thought e had when we signed him in August and got the Burnley performance from him. Arteta describes his training as that of an ‘animal’ and he rewarded his coach with a tigerish display.
The big players stepped up yesterday. We’ve needed that for far too long and we need more of it. There will be an important game in midweek away to Olympiakos and we will need as many of those players to step up as possible. We hoped that the Dubai camp would help to reset the team a little and whilst yesterday wasn’t the vintage performance the end result looked like on paper, it was featured with plenty of end product, which is exactly what we needed.
The hope now is that this kick starts a run of form that can see us improve in the league and go deep in the cups. It’s up to this selection of players to make sure they deliver that now.
Time to get some momentum going.
Catch you all tomorrow.