Another win, another game in which we can take confidence from the team performance, another match in which Arteta is making his mark on this Arsenal team and we can all be happy about the fact that last night Arsenal progressed to the next round of the Carabao Cup. Even if the likelihood is another game against Liverpool at Anfield.
I found this game a very enjoyable one to watch, I have to say, but not because of the swashbuckling football that we saw against Fulham on the opening day. This was more gritty, determined and stifling for Leicester, which as a former defender myself left me feeling very satisfied when the final whistle went. It felt like a very professional Arsenal performance. Arsenal came to a ground that we’ve struggled at, we played with what felt like control, whilst being compact and disciplined at the back and the result was that at full time I was trying to remember the clear cut chances Leicester City created. Leno made a save early on and Maddison hit the post in the first half, but I can’t recall too many chances in that second half and that makes for very satisfying analysis after the game I have to tell you.
Arteta went with slight rotation in his side, but by and large it felt like a strong team. Leno, Maitland-Niles, Luiz, Holding, Kolasinac, Saka, Elneny and Pepe have all had varying degrees of involvement already and perhaps that’s the reason why we were able to impose ourselves on the game more than Leicester. Leicester made six more passes on the night (436 to our 430) and on paper they had more shots than we did, but we limited those shots to speculative efforts and herein lies the truth when you look at the numbers; sometimes they don’t always paint the most accurate reflection.
But that Arsenal team was a clear indication from Mikel that he wants to maintain momentum with the team at the moment. We have some tough games coming up now and so to go away to Leicester – however much they rotate – and get the win, will mean that when all of the squad are back together and training tomorrow, there should still be the buzz about the place, which is the atmosphere you need when you’re going away to Anfield in a few short days.
But back to the game last night and it felt like a very good performance without setting the world alight. Which I’m happy with. We started well, we were passing the ball around comfortably enough and it felt to me like we were able to break Leicester’s press on us quite well. That meant that players like Saka and Nelson were seeing plenty of the ball and I thought both players did very well last night. Nelson was unlucky with a shot that just dipped over early on, whilst Saka put in some very good balls into the box and should also have had a penalty. VAR would most certainly have ruled in our favour as Amartey bundled over Bukayo, but without it we’re reliant on the shocking referees that currently exist in our league and of course this one ruled that Saka had gone down easily. He had been fouled. Plain and simple.
That meant we went in at halftime level but it felt like despite Maddison hitting the post, we were the better team. I am always nervous in Arsenal matches and not taking the chances we have will always worry me, but we came out in the second half and picked up where we left off, so it was only a matter of time before we went ahead.
The goal might read ‘OG Fuchs’ this morning, but Pepe can be pleased with his contribution in the cold light of day, because it was his strength to get in beyond his man on the edge of the box, to force the save from the ‘keeper, then to hit the return shot against the post for it to ricochet against Fuchs. It may not go down on his stats as a goal or assist but I hope it gives him the confidence he needs.
He also needs his teammates to spot his movement. I don’t know about you, but I saw Pepe make a number of runs last night which would have been perfect to slot him in behind his left back, yet on so many occasions an Arsenal player simply checked back in field and played the square pass. On a night in which I was largely satisfied with the performance, this was something that stood out for me as a frustration, so I don’t know how Pepe felt. That’s where you need your midfield or build up players to be creative in their vision. If those players were spotting the run of Pepe then I guarantee he would have had a bigger impact on the game than he did. As it stands he still had a big influence on the first goal and so overall we can say he did well enough, but we need to find better ways of involving him, because at times it felt like his runs were being wasted at the KC Stadium yesterday evening.
We did get the second later on and I think we have to tip our caps to Eddie for having his endeavour rewarded. Without fans in the stadium you can hear Arteta’s every word and on a number of occasions he could be heard shouting “come on Eddie, we don’t stop, close down” or variations of. And halfway through the second half you could see he started to tire. But he kept on, he played the full ninety and despite the fact his chest probably felt on fire towards the end, he got the goal showing the tenacity he’s becoming known for right at the end.
It was reward for him, but also shows that we have players outside of the usual suspects who can chip in. Like I said at the top of the blog I also like the maturity. About two minutes before Eddie scored he found space on the right hand side of the final third but rather than drive at the defender, he took the ball into the corner to eat up a few more seconds. That’s what you do in cup football. That’s how you win cup football matches. BUt he was also rewarded because shortly after he got his chance to get his goal. That’s two in two for him now and that will do wonders for his confidence.
Overall a good day at the office and Arteta can now work out how we’re going to stop the likes of Salah et al on Monday.
Catch you all tomorrow.