Morning folks, and what a lovely morning it is n’all to wake up to, I have to say. An Arsenal win was just the tonic we all needed ahead of the start to the year that most of us have from tomorrow (or at least that’s what it feels like i.e. starting the year on a Monday) and our football team duly obliged.
And boy, did they oblige, that’s for sure.
What we were treated to was as commanding a display I’ve seen in many a year and whilst some might point to West Brom as a team who are massively low on confidence and should have been one that a side with the players that Arsenal have should dispatch, we have rarely delivered performances like yesterday. So it was as welcoming as the smell of a roast dinner when you arrive home from school/work/a day out.
The pre-game build up and narrative had already been set by a few factors. Sam Allardyce sort of stoked the fires by saying that the defeat to Man City will have further dented our confidence and that we were in a relegation fight. When his words were spoken it was hard not to agree with him; we looked like we were in ‘negative spiral’ territory and with a game against Chelski on the horizon, the immediate future looked bleak. But that win, followed up by the Brighton victory and then the hammering of West Brom last night have given us much cause for optimism and we now sit on 20 points and in 11th. It is much more palatable than where many of us thought we’d be before these games.
And I think, even though West Brom had been poor in some of their recent home games, most of us were expectinhg a very tough evening last night. Like I say the narrative had been set; “Big Sam to cause an upset against Arsenal”, “Arsenal playing in the Midlands when it’s cold and snowing”, “West Brom will ‘get at ’em” was all of the tired cliches that I think most of us inevitably expected to happen. Just like how Vardy and Kane always score against us, we thought we’d get a “they don’t like it up ’em” game against a low block side.
West Brom did indeed look to instigate a deep block and cause us problems. They were happy for us to have the ball and wanted to see if we found it a struggle like we have had for most of this season and since Project Restart last season. But from the first few minutes it felt different to me. Arsenal were moving the ball quicker. It was like there was an acknowledgement that West Brom would sit deep and so to pull them out of position we need to probe with a little more intensity – and earlier – than we normally do (i.e. with about ten minutes to go before the end of the match…). Some of that I think was helped by the inclusion of Emile Smith-Rowe who, I have to say, has looked brilliant since he’s come in. He moves the ball quickly, he’s happy to be that connector who makes the touch and then moves into space, which creates space for other players as well. His combination play was also excellent and he linked up well with Saka, Lacazette, as well as Bellerin, I thought.
But that is not where our opener came from. Step forward ‘Mr Nae Bother’ Kieran Tierney, in classic Vik Akers all-weather shorts and short-sleeve t-shirt, to curl an absolute beauty into the net midway through the first half. Tierney was imperious last night; he scored, he got an assist, he ran his guts out and he beat his man time and time again and it caused chaos for West Brom. They couldn’t handle our rugged left back and he was most certainly a contender for man-of-the-match.
But here’s the great thing folks – we had loads of contenders. Tierney was brilliant, Lacazette too bagged two goals and looks in fine form, as does Xhaka who was probing and dictating from deeper last night. I’ve mentioned Smith-Rowe and his role as the connector between defence and attack too. But another contender, once again, has to be Bukayo Saka who was brilliant on that right flank and is looking every bit the potentially elite talent we think we’ve got. The second goal he scored and the interplay and one-touch football between him, Smith-Rowe and Lacazette was brilliant and although ultimately it was just a tap in, I have to say I celebrate goals that are worked like that much more than screamers from 30 yards. That’s because it shows that the collective have ‘clicked’ and it felt like this Arsenal team – with confidence in them now – have certainly ‘clicked’.
We were dominant all night. 62% possession is a relatively redundant stat in isolation, but we dictated the whole game with our possession and West Brom barely had a sniff. The numbers say they had three shots on our goal but I only remember a smart Leno save at 4-0 towards the end. In contrast we had 21 attempts, 12 of which were on target and I even saw a stat saying our xG was over four goals. That is commanding stuff and shows just how dominant we were. In this league you have to dispatch teams like this to move yourself up the table, but to do it in the way we did it shows a side that is enjoying their football again and we can all be delighted with that.
I don’t really want to dwell on any negatives after a game like that, but the closest thing I’ve got to one is that Aubameyang didn’t score, which is a shame. He had a couple of sniffs and you can tell that he’s somewhat frustrated at the moment, but I’m not too worried, because his movement is getting him in to those positions and he is the kind of guy who will take some of his chances sooner or later. He – and we – just need to be patient.
But we’re in a good place right now. We’ve played some good football, the team has a swagger about them, we have players coming together and looking like they are united as one.
Just before I clock off for the day though, a shout out to Holding and Pablo Mari, who quietly went about their jobs with minimal fuss last night. I thought both did a sound job and if we can have more of that in the coming months then Arteta – and us – will be very pleased indeed.
Catch y’all tomorrow.