I like the world a lot more when Arsenal do the winning. It is way more fun. And even though yesterday’s game – like the Southampton game – had plenty of parts that weren’t a lot of fun to watch at times, I have to say the satisfaction by the end was very enjoyable.
It’s funny how an injury time winner really colours your judgement, isn’t it? there I was, sitting on the sofa, feeling pretty grumpy that we’d shot ourselves in the foot yet again, then before I’d even had enough time to fire of a few rage Tweets, Dani Ceballos had slid the ball past Henderson to make it 2-1 and set up a semi final against Man City in a few weeks. Football is, as the cliché goes, a funny old game and specifically so when a player who had been terrible in his previous two matches (and I thought wasn’t great yesterday) suddenly turns into a match winner and all is forgiven.
Well, not quite, but it was a very welcome goal and a very tidy finish from a guy who we’ve been wondering whether he has enough about him to offer us anything for the remainder of the season.
He certainly has if he can have an impact like that a little more. One of the complaints we all have about this Arsenal team is the lack of goal threat from midfield, so to see him pop up with an important one will at least warm the cockles that we’ve at least got another guy who has another goal to give him a confidence boost.
As for the game itself, well, the first half was exactly what we’d want to see from an Arteta Arsenal side. The boss made some changes and brought back Luiz, brought in Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Willock and Lacazette to complete a bit of rotation. It made sense to me as we can’t play players like Auba in every game and with a match against Norwich on Wednesday evening looming Arteta needed to freshen things up. I also thought we started relatively well. These glorified friendlies do tend to start with 20 minutes of both sides knocking the ball around like a pre-season game, but we had most control of the football and although it was Sheffield United who had the ball in the net first, thankfully VAR right intervened. Such is the feeling of being shafted by VAR though, I half thought it would be ruled legal despite the fact it was a clear offside. But we’ve seen Mike Dean ignore two penalties for us against Sheffield United so I wasn’t expecting any favours.
I also therefore wasn’t expecting us to get the penalty that we scored from. Lacazette got the touch, it was a penalty, that’s about it. A rash challenge and the irony that Wilder said his players don’t do that isn’t lost on me. They fell over at the slightest touch yesterday too. It’s just modern day football. But like I said, after Sokratis had his shirt pulled in the league game at Brammall Lane and after Pepe was brought down in the box at The Emirates, I didn’t expect to get the penalty. But I guess the upside was that it wasn’t the incompetence of Mike Dean reffing this game and as a result we got the pen, scored the pen, and an excellent one from Pepe it was too.
I thought Pepe had a really good game actually. He was more involved than any of the games we’ve seen since the restart, he had one good shot well saved, he seemed to link with his teammates more and we got to see him win fouls in our own half a couple of times by his ability to dribble himself out of trouble. As was pointed out online after he scored, he’s now got eight goals and eight assists in all competitions now. That’s not a bad return for a first season and if we can notch him up to 20 I’d say it’s a good start. He’s going to be such a talent. He has everything in his game and his balance and ability to move his body, drop his shoulders, shift his weight quickly, is something to behold. That’s two goals in three games now and hopefully it starts to see the confidence build.
Which is what we have to hope for the whole team actually. Sometimes it’s just about rebuilding confidence and after City away and Brighton at home all the record books will state are that we’ve now won back-to-back matches. We play Norwich on Wednesday evening and that’s an opportunity to make it three in a row before a quartet of really tough matches away to Wolves, home to Leicester, away to the scum and at home to Liverpool. It’ll be a tough enough run in as it is, so if we manage to get a win on Wednesday at least we’ll have what feels like a bit of momentum going into those games.
We’ll also have a side used to changing it’s style in game and I feel like we saw about three different formations yesterday. It was fascinating to see the rotation of the playing positions. On paper it looked like a 3-4-3 but in reality it changed so much. Xhaka dropped in between the centre halves to receive the ball from Martinez or the two centre halves, Kolasinac fanned out wide and Tierney played almost as a winger at times, which meant Saka was tucking in and playing more centrally. Although we didn’t exactly play brilliantly, I feel like I could see what Arteta was doing yesterday and it felt like the blueprint of what we might get in future: a team whose players are not fixed into set positions, but instead are more malleable and able to occupy different spaces at different times with or without the football. The second half saw us drop off, it saw Sheffield United up the intensity and defensively we were poor, but Arteta is working with some pretty average personell and whilst I didn’t enjoy watching that second half, I do enjoy looking at what the potential of this team could be with the right players.
And so we have to be hopeful of that and we have to be hopeful that the players are starting to ‘get it’ too. There’s not long to dwell on this though – Norwich on Wednesday will mean more rotation and more opportunities to build on what we think Arteta is trying to bring to the club.
Back tomorrow with more thoughts on stuff.