Morning folks. It feels weird this morning. It feels very weird. We won, which is good. We won back-to-back games, which is also good. But we also did it in a style and approach that was resolute, dogged and whilst not always pretty on the eye, it did the job.
Arsenal ‘getting the job done’. Huh. Feels weird.
We haven’t seen that for quite some time. Certainly not this season, but when you think about Arsenal teams of the past ‘getting the job done’ you think back to George Graham’s Arsenal. They were built on a foundation of a strong defence and organised structure from the back and yesterday, first ten minutes or so aside, that’s what we got too.
Whisper it quietly, but David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi actually look like they know what they’re doing back there. Of course that could all come crumbling down at home to Everton on Sunday, but we looked organised and in control for large parts of the game yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we were spectacular and I’ll wager that by this time tomorrow I’ll barely be able to remember the vast bulk of the game, but as Mikel said afterwards to the press, you are allowed to enjoy defending too.
We haven’t appreciated that for so long. It has probably been the best part of 15 year’s since we’ve had a back line that we could enjoy watching in terms of the art of defending. So to get a decent performance from our back line yesterday was another tick in Arteta’s box; that’s also back-to-back clean sheets and discipline that we’re showing in our own half is pleasing.
It was a fairly even game overall in terms of the stats, with Olympiakos shading possession 51 to 49, Arsenal having 12 shots to their 10, but the difference between the two sides was that little bit of end product. And when I start thinking back to the game it’s only in those opening couple of minutes that I can remember Olympiakos fashioning a decent chance (I’m not counting the header from a set piece in the second half as that was ruled offside anyway). In contrast Arsenal hit the bar, created three big chances and scored through Lacvazette, who found himself inside the six yard box to tap home. A proper strikers finish and this is all helping to contribute towards his slow rebuilding of confidence that we desperately need to see over the coming weeks.
Lacazette’s name goes on the scoresheet, but let’s give a shout out to Saka too, who got his ninth assist of the season, with a clever ball across goal following some good work on the left by Aubameyang. It’s a side of the pitch in which end product is coming in spades at the moment, which is why some of Mikel’s initial selection decisions were a little weird if you ask me. He named Leno in goal which is less weird – although Martinez will probably be a bit cheesed off that he’s lost his place in this competition now too, it seems – but I certainly didn’t expect to see Sokratis as a right back and with a better team up against us we might have been punished last night. I think that was a gamble by Arteta because certainly for the first half there were a few instances where the Greek centre half found himself overloaded against the left wing of Olympiakos. Quite why Maitland-Niles wasn’t given a chance I don’t know, but I think we have to look at his future at the club as quite bleak right now; Arteta would rather play a centre half with less pace and not in his natural position, than he would the guy who has given us at least 20 games as a right back. I wonder if that Maitland-NIles interview about him not wanting to be a right back has come back to bite him on the arse?
Anyway, that was one weird decision, but so too, I thought, was the decision to play Aubameyang on the right hand side of our three-pronged attack. He was completely nullified for his time on the right and whilst I do think he should be playing centrally, I can at least understand him playing wide left as it gives him licence to drift in field more. Yesterday evening he was forced constantly out wide when he got the ball and as a result was pretty redundant. Yet as soon as he was shifted to the left with Pepe on the right, we saw how he can have an impact, building up for the goal.
Arteta has made a couple of strange decisions with selection and subs since he’s joined, but I’ll certainly not lambast him for it, because he’s a young coach and just like young players when they make the odd error in a game you have to appreciate that Arteta is still learning about his players.
And speaking of young players, what a talent we have in Saka. Get him signed up to a 10 year deal Arsenal; this kid has got it in spades and we need to make sure we’re protecting that asset. He’s 18 years old and he has a few goals and nine assists. We’re witnessing the next generation of forward players coming through and if he continues to perform like this between now and the end of the season, then when we do have to offload Aubameyang in the summer, you have to look at that position on the left and think we may not need to buy after all. Saka and Martinelli are stars in the making and we need to free up space to give them game time I reckon.
Martinelli was less impressive yesterday but these games happen. As was Willock too. I thought he had a pretty poor game to be honest but again, he’s young, so let’s not haul him over any hot coals any time soon.
It’s an important win away from home, it helps to build the confidence, it means we have back-to-back clean sheets and now we look ahead to Everton at home in the hope that we can grab another win and start to think about going on some form of run.
Catch you lovely humans tomorrow.