What more could a man ask for than three points the day before his birthday? Yep, I celebrate getting a year older. Yesterday I was one age and today I am another. That’s how it works. And I like to think in honour of my ever increasing age, Arsenal…eventually…did the business last night in the Europa League against Molde FK.
It wasn’t exactly as easy as the scoreline suggested in the end, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is the victory and in all competitions we’ve now done three since our last defeat, with two of them coming in the Europa League. It means the mood in the camp for training today and tomorrow will be good and we go into the game against Villa at the weekend with a wee bit of confidence.
You can tell that Arteta didn’t want to take too many chances with his team yesterday though. Yes, there was rotation, but by and large we looked like a pretty strong team with Leno in goal, Ainsley on the right, Kola on the left and a pairing of Luiz and Mustafi in the middle. In front of them (and besides at time) we saw Ceballos and Xhaka, with Willock floating across different parts of the pitch and in the front three we had Willian on the left, Eddie through the middle and Pepe on the right.
And so perhaps as we’d expect we started off with control of the ball. You could tell Molde were not going to just sit deep though and after the first few minutes we saw a side used to winning more games than not by the way they passed the ball around and moved it to each other with quite some confidence. And although it was against the run of play when they scored because they hadn’t had much possession, the strike was clean enough. I do think Leno should have saved it though. There was a few grumbles online and also in the commentary box about the kick long to Eddie, but personally I thought that there was not a lot else on so didn’t really blame Leno too much. But what I did think was poor was the way the ball went under his hands. On a night in which he had little to do that was something he should have been able to palm away.
For the rest of the first half we certainly laboured. Eddie got a goal wrongly ruled out for offside and it felt like it might be ‘one of those nights’. But the value of scoring just before halftime can not be underestimated. The break from the corner was lightning quick, there were good passes from Willian, Xhaka and Pepe, then a fine ball in to that ol’ ‘corridor of uncertainty’ from Nketiah and the ball bundled home for an own goal. Scrappy, not great on the finish, but the goal itself was well worked.
And in the second half we had more purpose about us. Certainly we had been a little lethargic at times in the first, but the intensity was upped a little in the second and you could tell with the increased volume of chances we were creating. And we only had to wait until the hour mark before OG no. 2 and this time it was Willock – another impressive performance I thought – who was the chief creator in the move. A good floated ball into the box not dealt with by the defender and the Hale End grad put a ball again into a difficult to defend area to bundle the ball in off a defender.
Thereafter we looked confident and dominant and by 70 minutes the game was done. A fine move down the left and excellent cut back from Saka to Pepe who finished with such ease of technique you’d think he was just ordering a pizza. That’s the Pepe we need to see more of. He is a real enigma. You can question the value but when he produces finishes as good as that third one last night, you can’t question some of his technical ability.
He didn’t have the best of games either. He was giving the ball away, he had times where you’d expect him to trick his way past his man and he mis-controlled, or he just seemed to stop and check back. I will say this though; we need to have players who can find him in space more. Last night there was two or three times after he’d switched flanks with Willian, that Kolasinac could have played him in but instead the Bosnian just checked back and played the square and simple ball inside. Those are the instances when you want your players to take more risks with their passing and I felt there were a few moments like that last night.
Like I say though, Pepe is that enigma, but he’s a player who has the end product we need. He also had an assist for Willock’s fourth right at the death and despite being frustrating at times the numbers tell us this morning he’s got two goals in three games in this competition, plus another assist to his name.
Would I play him against Villa? You bet I would. I don’t want to make comparisons with Alexis, but certainly in terms of giving out both joy and frustration in a game, you can’t deny the similarities. What we need from Pepe though, is those joyous moments to happen more often and with more frequency in games. When he ups that, the fans will be far more forgiving knowing that he has that kind of finish and end product/assist in him.
Right, that’s me done for the day. Catch you all tomorrow with some more Arsenal-related thoughts.
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