Winning football matches is fun. I’d almost forgotten that feeling. But having beaten Southampton yesterday, I’ve realised just how much fun it can be, so Arsenal – please do more of it. Thanks.
I have been pretty pessimistic on the outcome of the game all week and at the start of the week when many of us thought we’d lose Guendouzi to suspension and that Xhaka was out, I was struggling to see who plays and also how we were going to get a result at a stadium in which we usually come out of with our tails between our legs. Southampton are a good outfit and Hassenhuttl has them well drilled. They press with a high intensity and yesterday they of course were looking to capitalise on a wounded Arsenal.
But the players did exactly what Mikel would have wanted after last Saturday’s debacle against Brighton and we saw improved performances from many of them. I thought in defence we had solid games from Mustafi and Holding and apart from one moment in which Shane Long got away from Mustafi, the back line did well. Well, in the most part, but I think we have to start looking at poor ol’ Hector, because he was a bit off yesterday, a bit like the Brighton match too. Is he a guy who has lost his pace and perhaps a little bit of confidence? I don’t know. But what I do know is that perhaps Soares is coming in as a little bit more than just a reserve for the games in which Hector doesn’t play because he can be rested. We’ll have to see about Soares but Hector needs to start looking over his shoulder I think. That in itself might not be a bad thing in terms of pushing him to recapture his form from a few years ago.
But back to last night’s game and it was one in which I think Arteta will be very pleased with the response. We looked capable of creating chances and even within the first 10 minutes Auba was put through. He his the bar, which was unfortunate, but for me just getting in to those positions is good.
So is pressing goalkeepers and having been given the nod to start, Eddie got his reward for some good pressing on McCarthy in the Saints goal and when the ‘keeper dallied, he pounced. It was a real strikers goal and reminded me of what we used to see in Ian Wright. Again, that goal will do him the world of good in terms of his confidence and with Lacazette still not banging goals in, the door is widening for our young English striker to grab a first team spot with two hands. I hope we see more of him and more goals over the coming weeks – it would certainly help the confidence for next season.
What I also liked about yesterday was that it was what I like to call the ‘perfect two-niller’. You know, when you get one in the first half to settle the nerves, then as the game is drawing to a close you put the game to bed with a second goal, which the players duly obliged by doing with about six or seven minutes to go. And to add to it, Jack Stephens was sent off as the last man, after he’d taken down Auba as the striker was about to race clear on goal. The resulting free kick was actually the goal and although McCarthy saved, it was Willock following up on the rebound to seal the game. Lovely stuff.
It was a performance that it feels like we should have got on Saturday but at least we got it last night and we can now look at Sunday’s FA Cup game against Sheffield United with a little more positivity. We got decent performances from most of the players and we can be happy with that. I thought Auba was lively all evening, Eddie was spritely up top, in midfield Xhaka was pulling the strings and even Ceballos was a wee better than Saturday’s performance. Although that was a low bar to be fair. But perhaps it’s just that the Spaniard needed the intense heat to be able to feel comfortable enough. We’ll have to see if he can replicate it whenever the sun is out in the coming weeks.
There was a little worry about Tierney limping off, but apparently it’s just cramp, so hopefully he’s ok for the weekend. I suspect Arteta will rotate him out anyway, as well as a few players who played in the sweltering heat last night, but he will have some selection decisions that need to be made on Sunday. It is our only real hope of having some kind of glory this season and not having it ending with a whimper, so the competition needs to be taken seriously, but with an understanding that some players will probably not be 100% and will therefore need to come out, from the ones who played 90 minutes yesterday evening.
Right, that’s yer lot from me today. I’m off to bury my head in the sand with regards to other football news, because one of the most unbearable fanbases in the world are about to get a whole lot worse.