Morning folks and happy Friday! Hope yours goes off with a bang and you have plenty of enjoyable things happen during it.
And at least you can celebrate an Arsenal victory in the Europa League last night, which was effectively confirmed away to Rapid Vienna, after some initial discomfort I have to say.
Mikel Arteta was always going to rotate in this game and given what he’d said in his pre match press conference about Thomas Partey, it is easy to see why he started. The Ghanaian started in the centre of our midfield and if we’re going to start talking about the game today I think he is probably the best place to start. There are a few things from yesterday we can have the odd gripe on, but at least his debut was not one of them and I thought he was excellent all night. So very calm on the ball, strong, was able to travel with it and also looked for longer passes forward throughout the night. That is an important trait to pick out because on an evening when we was sat alongside someone like Elneny, who rarely if ever passes the ball forward (don’t worry I will give him praise for his build up to the winning goal), seeing Partey look so assured going forward was pleasing.
It is hopefully a sign that he will add a lot of value to this Arsenal team.
But it was hardly a night in which all of his teammates around him shone and I do wonder how much of that was down to another very strange formation/team selection decision from Arteta. Everyone has interrogated his decision to play Willian as a false nine last weekend as wrong, so I think we should also probably be looking at the decision to play Eddie Nketiah as a wide left forward as equally wrong too. Why do it? I’m not entirely sure. He’s not a winger, he didn’t really deliver anything on the night and on an evening where Reiss Nelson was sat on the bench who could have offered more in that wide forward position, Arteta chose to go with Nketiah wide left, Pepe wide right and Lacazette through the middle. It was another Lacazette performance that failed to deliver any kind of meaningful impact in my opinion; I’m certainly not going to count getting fouled in the build up to David Luiz’s equaliser as a significant role, that’s for sure.
People have been digging out Pepe for the fact he’s not delivered on a £72million price tag, but Lacazette cost us £47million and I would say that we haven’t had that level of repayment for the player he is for us over the three and a bit years he’s been at the club. If you think what an extra £8million-odd got us in the shape of Aubameyang, we should be expecting more from the Frenchman. Especially in a game like this with an opponent that is clearly limited.
And they were limited. Rapid Vienna had a bit of industry about them, they were at home in front of fans, they wanted to put on a show. But ultimately the chances they did get came as a result of us messing around with the ball at the back and the goal they scored will be one Bernd Leno will never want to watch again. It was a total howler from him and he rightly had a look of sheepishness on his face. Unfortunately for him the Martinez situation means he’s in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to comparisons, but that is something he is going to have to deal with and I suspect we’re going to get a season of “Emi saves that” from some sections of the Arsenal fanbase.
But Leno looked shaky for the rest of the game after that mistake and there were at least two more that he fluffed thereafter. Arteta admitted afterwards that sometimes you need to know when to punt it long but that is something that he can’t teach. Perhaps the players have got it in to their heads that they can never go long but Arteta pretty much poured cold water on that afterwards so I hope Leno takes that in. We can’t afford too many mistakes like that and certainly not when playing better opponents.
Bernd will be happy that his teammates saved his blushes though. Firstly the excellent Pepe delivery that Luiz headed in for, then a good – albeit slight fortuitous – defence-splitting pass from Elneny to Bellerin, who promptly set up Auba for the tap in that ensured game week one in the Europa League was one in which we secured all three points. The team head back to the UK with the win secured and we can look ahead to Sunday’s game against Leicester.
Once again though we need to be looking at the lack of chances that are being created. It is starting to become a ‘thing’. Arteta has sured us up defensively but we’re really suffering to create enough chances and that showed again last night. The first half was us in third gear and it was only when Rapid scored that he made the change of Nketiah and Cedric for Aubameyang and Bellerin, that the game swung in our favour. But we should have been on it earlier and the lack of zip in the final third really is worrying. We just don’t seem to be able to find our passing rhythm in that third of the pitch. Everything becomes too heavy, or misplaced and that was a big frustration. Even Saka was slightly off the boil last night and there was one moment that typified our malaise in the final third in the first half: Saka picked the ball up and drove past about three Rapid players into the box, before seemingly taking his eye off the ball for it to run harmlessly into the ‘keepers arms. It was a microcosm of what we seem to be in the final third – and have been for a couple of years now – and as each game passes I’m not seeing that ‘click’ that suggests we’ve got the balance right.
But look, we still won and we saw the introduction of Partey, who will no doubt improve us and our technical security in the middle of the park. Hopefully he’s good for Sunday because I’d like to see what he can do against a good Leicester side with a decent looking midfield about them.
Couple of positives though; Gabriel once again excellent, I also thought Elneny did ok. Pepe was hit and miss and I’m just not sure why we left Ainsley on the bench and played Cedric Soares. At this point i’m wondering what he offers this Arsenal team because I haven’t seen anything to suggest he’s good enough for this Arsenal team. It is a weird one.
So we take the win, the players will get a bit of confidence and that winning feeling again after defeat against Man City, so hopefully that helps us for this weekend coming. It’s going to be another difficult game.
Catch you all tomorrow.