It’s snowing in London this morning. Snowing. In mid April. How weird is that?
About as weird and unusual as an Arsenal clean sheet these days, so when the final whistle went and it was confirmed that we had beaten the hapless Sheffield United by three goals to nil, I didn’t really know what to make of it. Are we still allowed to have comfortable victories, away from home, in which we keep a clean sheet?
Apparently so. And to add to it, we did it with a good performance and plenty of rotation, although there will be some worries after some of the knocks we picked up last night. Heh, that just reminded me of another thing: we won on a Sunday night at 7pm! That NEVER happens!
The pre-game build up was dominated by the news that ESR was injured and my hope is that it is just precautionary ahead of Thursday’s pivotal Europa League second leg. With Odegaard also a doubt we really lacked a connector and so who would fill that role was the real question that most of us pondered. But added to that, Aubameyang was supposedly out with ‘flu’. If true then Aubameyang is one of the few people in this country that has it, because I’ve seen news that the flu season has been all but wiped out because of the impact of COVID. That rings some alarm bells i’m afraid and my only hope is that we don’t have ourselves an Ozil-shaped problem looming on the horizon.
Let’s park that particular debate for another day though, because the story of today is the win against Sheffield United at a ground that we struggled with last season. But this season not so much and Arteta shuffled his deck somewhat with a great deal of success I have to say. In came in Mari for Gabriel, Ceballos partnered Partey and – oddly – Granit Xhaka played at left back. That raised a few eyebrows but in hindsight it made sense. We were always going to have more ball than Sheffield United and if we could keep their defence pinned back, it stops the overlapping centre halves and wing backs from overloaded in our full backs.
That is what transpired and we pretty much dominated the game throughout. You know how we barely laid a glove on Liverpool last weekend? That was us on Sheffield United last night, with the same scoreline too, as we fashioned plenty of chances. Arteta also tried Saka in at 10 and I think the experiment worked, to a degree, although he came off with a thigh injury so my hope is just that it doesn’t get worse and we lose him. The game itself is going to be tough enough as it is without having to worry who is going to link midfield and attack because of our three man young attacking threats are out.
For yesterday though it was perfect preparation for the game on Thursday in terms of much needed morale-boost for some of those players. Partey, for example, looked to have found his strength back after being bullied a few times against Slavia. Ceballos was busy and kept the ball ticking over and for a player who we have lamented a lot lately, I thought his performance was much needed alongside the Ghanaian. In front of them we saw a return to the fold of Martinelli and whilst you can see that he is still raw at times, the threat he posed as opposed to Willian was like night and day. Chalk and cheese. Sandwiches and….erm….non-edible lunchtime food…or something…
Martinelli gives you goal threat. He is a willing runner, he is happy to try and beat a man and have a shot, or get to the byline and put one in. Watching him last night will not have helped anyone be convinced that the continued deployment of Willian in this team is a good thing. Arteta said afterwards that when you win people are happy and when you lose there are always going to be people saying ‘why didn’t you play him?’. I’m sorry Mikel but if Martinelli had have played on Thursday there wouldn’t have been an Arsenal fan in the world who would have wondered whether playing Willian was a better idea. Because we all know it isn’t.
And above it all, Martinelli did in one match what Willian has failed to do in 30 this season: score.
It was a tap in after a decent shot by Pepe – another who I thought looked very lively last night – but the fact of the matter is that Martinelli puts himself in those positions. I jokingly started a hashtag last night of #WilianWatch and commented on every touch the player made. They were all in the middle of the park, he never ventured near Sheffield United’s goal and for the time he was on the pitch – 21 minutes plus injury time – he offered absolutely nothing going forward, defensively, or as a connector. For me the obvious decision Arteta now has is when to deploy Martinelli, not whether Willian should get any minutes. We all know the answer to that question.
I want to also reserve a bit of praise for Lacazette, who bagged two goals, the first of which was beautiful in the build up and featured a sumptuous flick by Ceballos to put the Frenchman in. He’s not my cup of tea, I think we should 100% be selling in the summer, but those two goals of his last night will have done him the world of good after a couple of shocking performances in both Europe and the Premier League. If Aubameyang is still ‘sick’ come Thursday then we are going to need him to take the chances he is given, because we need to score goals in Prague and we don’t want to see a repeat of that woeful miss against Slavia last Thursday.
But it’s a win for us that puts the team in better spirits than we would have been at the end of the game last week. The players will be training and prepping for the match in the Czech capital coming off the back of a comprehensive victory. Results in the league are 100% about morale more than points and whilst some might point to the fact that Sheffield United are poor and going down, I’m just looking at how our players will feel going in to the Slavia game and it makes me have a bit of hope that we’ll see a better performance than in the first leg.
Have a good one folks. Catch you all tomorrow.