And a very good morning to you, my fellow Gooners! Hope you’re having a grand ol’ day and after a victory like we got yesterday, I am sure that you are, and will do for the rest of this week.
It’s a lovely feeling to start the week having seen your team get a big away day win. On somebody else’s patch it always feels a little sweeter and the fact that we had gone 378,000 games without a win to a ‘Big Six’ side dating back to 200BC, this one feels that extra tastier to savour as I write today’s musings.
I’ll be honest thought; I didn’t fancy our chances coming in to the game and when the team sheets were announced I equally worried about how we’d fair against a United side who had beaten PSG away, then put nine goals against Newcastle and RB Leipzig combined. When you add to that the fact we hadn’t won at Old Trafford since 2006, as well as our nemesis Mike Dean running the refereeing proceedings, it felt like we would get very little change out of yesterday’s ‘Super Sunday’ game. But here we are having picked up a morale boosting three points and where I was a little critical of Arteta’s line up as kick off approached, I have to hold my hands up, tip the cap and say “thank ye” to our boss, because he got it spot on yesterday.
We went three at the back and Arteta opted for Holding, Gabriel and Tierney to keep out Rashford and Greenwood and my fear was the pace of those two would run somebody like Holding ragged if they are in a foot race. Which is where Arteta’s game plan was spot on, because the way we set up yesterday was designed to completely avoid that. We pressed higher up the pitch and made the errors forced in United’s half. that meant the combinations in our defensive third were just not there as we controlled the possession and won the ball back well. That was also in part to the midfield two that Arteta picked. In Partey and Elneny you have two guys who you know will harry and chase, will close down space quickly and put opposing midfielders and attackers under pressure to force turnovers, which allowed us to control the ball more than United and never really get their two striker goal threats in to the game. Greenood had one chance midway through the first half but that really felt like it to me.
It meant we were able to impose ourselves more but what I will say about yesterday is that I still don’t think the forward line worked. We got the win, I’m so happy with the way we were able to stifle United, but I really hope Arteta looks at the forward line and realises that those three as a combination doesn’t work. Aubameyang out wide coming in I can handle if he’s getting in to those spaces, but Lacazette had another pretty average performance. I saw people online talking about he was improved but I didn’t see that. I kept track of his touches, movement and impact and what I saw was a guy who lost the ball, didn’t always get into great positions and there was one break on around 65 minutes where Willian on the right had the ball and as he was driving forward I saw Auba sprinting to get in towards the box. Behind him jogging just beyond the halfway line was Lacazette. Not bust a gut to get in to the box, not showing the same hunger as Auba to try to score, just jogging along. Often a win can cloud my opnion on some players but last night I just saw another example as to why we need to move away from Lacazette. And probably Willian too, who lost the ball a lot and I didn’t think was that impressive. If Pepe gets pelters for that then why not those two?
Anyway, no need to dwell on any kind of negativity on a day like today because ultimately we won and that will give the team a massive boost of confidence. I was worried that the Leicester City defeat sucked some of the air out of the positivity we were all feeling; I certainly felt like I had been metaphorically punched in the gut and was winded a bit. But as much as that defeat stung, this one now feels like it has expunged a lot of the bad taste that home defeat had left us with.
Let’s talk about individual performances now though. From back to front most of the players were great, but a few stood out to me. Firstly Gabriel, who is looking to be an absolute colossus in the heart of our defence. He picked up an early yellow yesterday but he was brilliant for the whole game, winning battles all over the pitch and looking like he’s played for Arsenal for a decade. He’s strong, physical, looks tailor made for the Premier League and put in a proper shift yesterday. I think we’re all rather happy that we found him after a succession of questionable centre half transfers, but this one looks legit.
Moving forward up the team and let’s talk Elneny and Partey. The Egyptian first who had his best game in an Arsenal shirt. He was forward looking in his passing, his distribution was excellent, he covered ground all night and that gobbled up the space that some of the creative United midfielders would have loved to have. His redemption is striking and after yesterday’s game you wonder if Arteta might do a flip for this coming week and give Partey and Elneny the Premier League starting place, with Xhaka and Ceballos on in midweek against Molde. That would represent quite some turnaround.
But perhaps Elneny was also helped by the imperious Thomas Partey. Yesterday’s performance showed why we broke the bank to get him to the club. He was strong, aggressive, physically dominant and just doesn’t give the ball away very much at all. There was one moment in the second half where he did to Pogba, but within 30 seconds he had won it back. It was the kind of complete midfield dispplay that if we see for the rest of this season, will go a long way towards us meeting our objectives.
This was a good win, a morale-boosting win, a tactical win. We still have to do more in the final third I think and had Pogba not been a bit silly in the box to leave his leg there for Bellerin to get clipped for the penalty and win us the game, we might be talking about another frustrating away day. But they all count so we can park any lingering concerns on the front three for now. At this stage it is “up the Arsenal!” and “thank you Ole for the three points”!
Catch you guys tomorrow.