You know the phrase “the ends justify the means”?
Well, having seen Arsenal look a little laboured yesterday, but ultimately pick up three points away to Brighton yesterday in the Premier League, I feel like that phrase aptly describes our overall performance yesterday evening on the south coast. That’s because Arsenal’s performance was hardly the swashbuckling delight we got from a comprehensive victory over Chelski. It was also hardly the kind of performance that will make you think all of our woes are resolved. But I tell you this much right now; winning football matches – however they happen – is fun. It means you can listen to podcasts when you are out running with a smile and not a grimace, it means Match of The Day becomes a pre-bed ritual you can engage in again, as well as makes writing and talking about The Arsenal the next day becomes a more enjoyable pursuit.
So in this instance those ‘ends’ were worthy of the ‘means’ for us to be talking about the final two games of 2020 being victories.
We have 20 points folks. Just another 20 needed to secure our top flight status!
Of course I am being glib, but the form we had been exhibiting before these last two games had everyone genuinely concerned about which direction this team was going and how far we might plummet. By stringing together two results like we have we have seen a ray of light and with West Brom, Crystal Palace and Newcastle in the league to come, we have three matches in which if we can start to pick up more wins, we’ll be spending less time looking down and hopefully more time looking up.
As for yesterday’s game, we saw an almost identical line up selected to that of the Chelski performance, but with Aubameyang in place of Lacazette, to lead the line. What we had seen from the start against Chelski was an intensity about the team. We pressed high, our full backs ran in beyond the Chelski full backs and that created gaps that we exploited. But there was to be no repeat of that in last night’s game and, in a way, if any of us did think that then we were always going to be disappointed. Brighton set up to retain possession, but they rarely over committed and at times in the first half they were sitting their full backs in a line of five. That meant Bellerin and Tierney couldn’t find the pockets of space to run in behind and in truth the first half was a painful watch. Aubameyang was disconnected from the rest of the attacking quartet and whilst we saw a few flashes of potentially openings (a ball for Martinelli to chase was just a bit overcooked from Saka and the ‘keeper collected, then a pass from Xhaka to Martinelli in the air with the Brazillian trying to head square to an unmarked Aubamayeng, for example), we never troubled Brighton in the first half.
In contrast, Brighton showed just why they are in a whole heap of trouble, because they never massively troubled Leno, despite getting in to good positions on a couple of occasions and could have punished us. One example I’m thinking was an idiotic pass from Mo Elneny, who I will be quite glad to see drop down the pecking order sooner rather than later if I’m honest with you. LIkeable personality, terrible footballer, let’s have Partey returning to the team as soon as possible please.
The second half was a much more palatable affair from Arsenal though. We looked to be better at connecting our attacking quartet and within the first five minutes Smith-Rowe and Saka had combined to see our wonderkid slide a very impressive ball across to Aubameyang. Auba did everything right but it was a fantastic reflex save from the Brighton ‘keeper, but that at least gave us hope: we were creating chances.
Martinelli blasted just over, Auba hit the side netting, then Saka had a good dribble which he should probably have cut back to Aubameyang to tap home instead of going for goal. But if that showed perhaps a little bit of the impetuousness of youth by going for glory, on 66 minutes he showed just what a mature footballer he is at 19, because his strong run on the right hand side sent Brighton’s back line chasing back towards their own goal and as a result, when Saka checked back near the by line, the Brighton defenders were about five to six yards closer to their goal line, whereas Lacazette – on for a matter of seconds – had arrived later and found himself with enough time to take a touch in the box and find a very acute angle to drill the ball home. A goal from open play, a goal which puts us ahead instead of chasing, a goal for us to cling on to.
It was fine finish from a maligned player and that’s three in three for Lacazette now. As we all know he is an incredibly streaky player and his barren runs can literally last half a season if he’s not on it. But when he is then he tends to get his goals in bunches and we just have to hope that he’s in a patch of good form that will see him pick up more and more goals in the coming weeks. We will need it.
We will also need to remain strong and steadfast at the back and whilst Brighton posed us little threat in the end, I thought defensively we looked better too. Pablo Mari has a calming air about him and whilst I still remain to be convinced at all by Holding, he didn’t really do a lot wrong yesterday, so I won’t complain too much about his inclusion. Neither will I about Granit Xhaka either. He was good against Chelski and he followed that up yesterday; we saw the progressive passing Xhaka who was looking to hit longer diagonals and whilst not all of them came off, it was better to see than the backwards stat-padding merchant Elneny square the ball or play it backwards every odd minute or so.
The performance wasn’t vintage, it certainly wasn’t pretty in the first half, but we saw glimpses in the second which give me cause for optimism. Confidence in football is massive and we’ve seen just how much it affected our players when we were on that losing streak. But with back-to-back victories now under their belts I hope those players start to believe they can play with a little more freedom and take a few more risks than they have been doing. If they do that, then they will be rewarded more over the coming weeks and months.
Catch you all tomorrow.