Holy moly I’d forgotten just how good winning feels like. having spent the last three months watching Arsenal lurch from one defeat to the next, it felt like this barren run of dreadful performances was going to go on forever, but last night we were treated to a totally different Arsenal performance to the ones we’d been watching recently.
There was energy, there was drive, there was chance creation and there was organisation. But as well as that it was against one of the better teams in the league and as a result my hope is that the confidence of the Arsenal players has just taken a massive boost after that performance.
And it was a performance in which changes were made and they clearly had the desired effect. No Luiz, Willian or Gabriel meant Arteta was forced to mix it up a bit. All three were supposedly Covid related with Willian and Luiz ill and showing symptoms so there is still a question mark as to whether Arteta would have made the changes yesterday had his hand not been forced, but that he did is the most important thing and that those changes had the desired effect is also crucial.
In came Martinelli and in came Smith-Rowe and both were excellent. They were progressive with their passing and movement and each player connected with other players in the team throughout which meant that we looked like we had some proper cohesion for the first time all season. Martinelli’s energy is something to behold and he was a handful for James all night, also forcing a couple of smart saves from Mendy in the Chelski goal too.
On the other flank Bukayo Saka was once again superb going forward and drove at Chelski players all night. He also got a fantastic goal (from open play too!) and regardless of whether he meant it or not, the fact he got in to those positions was vital for us at a time in which putting teams under pressure by taking your man out of action through dribbling past them was really important. He did that on a number of occasions and it really was a great sight to behold.
Then in between those two we saw Smith-Rowe doing the job of connector that we have all been crying out for. He found pockets of space, he did well to link with both Martinelli and Saka on both sides and I even think his positioning helped to give Lacazette more influence too. I don’t think Lacazette had the best of games, but he certainly linked more with his teammates; and for sure he was less isolated than our forward strikers have been of late.
But there were a few of our senior players who stepped up yesterday. Bernd Leno had little to do, but in injury time when it could have really have been unnecessarily uncomfortable for us, he saved a penalty from Jorginho and when that sort of stuff happens, you know it’s going to be your night. I also thought we had a better performance from Granit Xhaka too. He was involved in the build up to the first goal with an excellent pass to Tierney, but his cherry-on-the-top moment came as the halftime whistle approached. His free kick goal was fantastic stuff and perfectly placed. Like I say though, that was the glossy part of his game, because his passing radar was back in that second half and I noticed a lot more forward passes than he’s been doing in recent weeks.
I think in the second half Rob Holding also improved and given I’ve been prone to fire a few pelters his way this season, I should give credit where credit is due.
Like Kieren Tierney and Hector Bellerin, for example, who both put in a shift that was influential and helped us to create more space and overloads out wide. Tierney’s movement caused problems for Chelski’s right hand side all night and his combination of running along with Martinelli meant we got in behind time and time again. In commentary Gary Neville said it wasn’t a penalty but to me it 100% was. It was totally soft and Tierney admitted he wasn’t sure, but as he also said, when you feel contact and the defender is behind you, you go down. We’ve had that against us numerous times so to go our way for a change is a-ok for me.
The hope now is that this means the players can all sit down and have a big reset on where we are. As a few have already been right to point out, there is no point in getting a great result like this unless you can follow it up, so in three days time we go to Brighton and there has to be a continuation of the energy, drive and quick passing and movement that we saw yesterday evening. I still think that our season is most likely destined for mediocrity at best, but we need to start stringing together some results and we need to start trying to get as clear daylight between us and the bottom three.
And Arteta will need to think long and hard about who he brings in now. This throw of the ‘youth’ dice was a gamble that totally paid off. He will surely now need to acknowledge that it is a gamble he should have been making a month or so ago? So the hope has to be that he is looking at the games against Brighton and West Brom as an opportunity to see if these young players can do it on a more regular basis and get him out of the pickle that some of those senior players could not.
We go again in three days time. Let’s see the same intensity, Arsenal.