Now THAT’S more like it, eh? That’s more like an Arsenal performance that we can all get behind, appreciate and generally feel more positive as this dreadful season draws to a close, as Arsenal ran away 4-0 winners against a team who before the game had basically been proven by UEFA to be wrong in standing by their racist captain.
I’ve seen a few people on my social media timelines going down the ‘only Slavia Prague’ route last night and this morning, but not for me, no siree! That’s because if it was such a poor opponent, why were so many of us so very nervous about the potential of an exit? Why were we being told about their unbeaten home record? Why were there so many people with their balls out and swinging predicting an absolute battering?
Mainly because of Arsenal’s ability to absolutely look a gift horse in the mouth and then shoot itself in the foot. So when the pressure was on last night, when we all knew that this team had picked up results against Leicester and Rangers, we knew that the evening had the potential to go horribly wrong unless all of our players were on their game. And they were. All of them. And from the very first kick of the ball last night too.
Arteta decided to stick to a similar line up to the one that were victorious at the weekend against Sheffield United and he was rewarded for his consistency of selection with a performance under pressure of a team that simply said “nope, not happening”. Leno in goal, Chambers at right back, Holding and Mari and then Xhaka on the left. I was worried about the ability of the Swiss captain to cope with any kind of rapid counter attack from Slavia, but as Danny had said on the podcast I was on just before the game, it was a back four who would not venture forward much, would retain it’s shape, would allow the attacking and creative players to do their thing.
And that is exactly what happened. We were rock solid at the back, we were fluid and mobile in attack with Partey and Ceballos delivering very strong midfield performances, whilst the front four were devastating in their efficiency.
And we thought we were ahead after 15 minutes. Saka drove in, hit the post and Smith-Rowe touched in the rebound, only to be ruled out by about six millimetres offside. It was a fine finish that deserved a goal and was a sign that Smith-Rowe and Saka might be on their best form during the evening. So it would come to pass, for just two minutes later ESR double nutmegs two Slavia defenders and give it to Pepe, who cool as a cucumber puts us in. “RULE THAT ONE OUT VAR YOU BASTARDS!” I roared in my living room. Neither cat nor the Management were impressed but I didn’t care, because we had got the away goal I worried would come and whilst we had to wait a long time in the first leg to put one away, last night we made the difference early.
And in many ways I think that helped to set the tone for the rest of the evening, because Slavia didn’t look like they knew what to do with our attacking line. They continued high line and we got in behind time and time again. Pepe was brilliant out wide, Saka was finding time and space and it was no wonder that he was involved in the second and third goals, respectively, having been tripped in the box for the second and then cutting in and hitting a fine finish for the third.
A quick aside for the excellent Lacazette too. When he’s one-on-one I hardly feel confident he’s going to put it away, but on penalties that is a different matter. The one thing Lacazette gets an A* on is his penalties and he dispatched it with aplomb yesterday. His second goal and our fourth of the night was also a very tidy finish and composed in the box. We have Lacazette in a rich vein of form at the moment and that can only be a good thing as we reach the business end of the season. With Aubameyang out for the foreseeable due to malaria (thankfully confirmed by Arteta that he’s out and back home fine now), the main goalscoring threat lies on Laca’s shoulders and he has delivered in three of our last six matches (West Ham, Sheffield United and last night). He’s far from the elite striker we all hoped he’d be, but if he can continue this form in this competition then I’m ok with that.
There were so many good performances though. In midfield we got a good – non-brain fart – Ceballos and I thought he had a good game, whereas Partey was back to the player we hoped he was, dominating the middle of the park and at times looking like when a big kid comes on to the playground and just keeps the ball the whole time because he’s twice the size and skills of all of the other kids younger than him. He was a monster in the middle and that helped us control the game.
The opposition may have been poor and we may have exposed that, but there was still pressure on the team to deliver and they didn’t wilt, so we need to appreciate that. We should also recognise that seven goals in two games and two clean sheets is not to be sniffed at. Holding and Mari were super and deserve the praise for that. I was not worried at all after seeing how assured they looked in the first 15 minutes. And that’s saying something.
We still have something to play for this season. That was my worry before the game and that fear was doused with cold water thankfully. But not only that, if we can beat Fulham at home at the weekend, then it is going to seem like we have built ourselves some momentum at the right time.
Next up in the competition? Well, you just knew it would be Unai Emery’s Villareal, didn’t you? We just have to hope we get the same Arsenal side that played last night.
Onwards and upwards folks! Enjoy your Friday.