Football is hella fun when you win football matches. And score goals. Lots of goals. And last night we did just that. A game in which all six goals came from The Arsenal and in which some vital confidence will have been restored for some of those players.
I get it though. I get the caveats. It was a rotated West Brom team. It was a side in which Arsenal went stronger than you might have expected. It was a team in which one side needed this victory A LOT more than the others. But when you’ve been living off of a metaphorical diet of bread and water, when somebody comes along to offer you a fruit juice and ham, you aren’t going to pass that up because you are awaiting the champagne and caviar to come around.
Arteta needed to do something to give a boost to his ailing side and what we were treated to was just that with plenty of goals and performances that were so very needed. He named a stronger line up than he might have been thinking about a month ago for this game, but it kind of felt like he had to. Not just for the confidence, but also for getting more minutes in legs of players who have been out.
So in came Aubameyang and Odegaard, with Saka, Pepe, Holding and Xhaka all keeping their places from Sunday. Ramsdale started his first game for The Arsenal and there were starts for Elneny, Kolasinac, Chambers and Tavares. It was a smattering of players who will be part of the squad rotation, but with players who needed to get more game time. Take Saka, for example, who played the 90 minutes and played very well. He was hobbling at the end which we have to hope can be shaken off, but he looked a bit leggy against Chelski and maybe at his age it isn’t about resting but about getting more minutes in his belt to bring up his match fitness. That was probably the same for Odegaard and Aubameyang. The Norwegian made his debut and Arsenal clearly always thought ‘let’s just test him for an hour and make sure he’s ok’. With Aubameyang it was the same because of him returning from COVID and he got through about 75 minutes, so should be good to go at the weekend you would hope.
So for me that was as much part of the exercise as ensuring that the team got a win. Then, the next task is to beat the team in front of you and that’s exactly what we did, comprehensively. Auba getting his first goal of the season just after the quarter of an hour mark was exactly what he, and we, needed. During pre season there have been question marks as he was missing chances, but he was in the right place to tap in following great work from Saka to wriggle away from the Baggies defenders and force a save from Johnstone. And he followed that up right on halftime when Pepe was in behind following another good ball in between centre back and left back, only to hit the post, but thankfully Auba could bundle home. At the time I said to Giles – companion in the ground for the evening – that if ever there were two players that needed confidence boosts it was probably Auba and Pepe. So when the Ivorian was given his chance following Auba missing his one-on-one (I’m not convinced Auba was passing to Pepe when he tried to swing his boot at the rebound when he had looped it off Johnstone) and had himself a tap in. Pepe and Auba have always been the players that I have thought were the ones that are the biggest confidence players at the club. If they are playing well it is because they are scoring, assisting and that gets them smiling. In the second half before we scored again there was an interchange of passes between the two early on and it broke down, but you could see by the look on Auba’s face he was happy, smiling and that is the player we need. That is the player that will score goals for The Arsenal this season.
But it was Saka who got our fourth and it was after a sumptuous chip from Odegaard to set him free. Then his finish on his right foot was perfect and even whilst even with a four goal lead we know Arsenal can blow it, there was never really any danger of that yesterday. It was more about whether Arsenal were going to play with their dinner or eat it.
We gobbled it all up and the fifth goal from Auba was one of the picks of the bunch. A good interception from Pepe was followed by a decent pass from Maitland-Niles, but it was the finish and way he took it so quickly which made the curling shot so good. A hat trick from Auba and he’s off the mark for the season. More of that from the Gabonese, please!
We even had time for a cameo goal from Lacazette and I’m trying to work out if this is the one that I liked the most. The main reason I say that is because it represented plenty of the stuff we’ve lacked in pre season and our opening two league games. We’ve not seen enough channel running and running in behind defenders so far this season. We had that with Pepe’s run. We’ve not seen enough Arsenal players taking risks with balls in behind. We had that with Holding’s clipped pass (he was excellent by the way). And we haven’t seen enough of the darting, diagonal, penetrative penalty-box runs this season. We had that With Lacazette’s movement and goal. If we do that kind of movement enough times this season then it won’t matter that our opponents are Championship squad and youth players, because we WILL score goals.
But we do need to replicate that. I don’t think it’ll happen on Saturday but if we can at least show signs of it, then that’s a start.
Before I love you and leave you for the day, a word for Ramsdale, Tavares and Saka. Saka was the best player on the pitch and it was so good to see him jinking past players and getting his fitness back. He is going to be a big part of our season. But a player with whom I thought we’d barely see this season – Tavares – also looked fab. He is tricky, he can beat his man, he’s got a pretty decent right foot on him and he excelled last night. I know the calibre of the opposition has to be taken in to account but in any game I’ve seen him this season I’ve been pleasantly surprised and I think Arteta will have been too. Perhaps we might even see him on Sunday, with Tierney dropping in to a back three, maybe? I wouldn’t be too unhappy with it. As for Ramsdale, he can’t have asked for a better debut. It was a 6-0 hammering, but he still made a number of smart saves and that will be good for him, because a massive win in which he had nothing to do won’t have told us anything, this will at least have given him a bit of confidence. That’s a good thing.
Catch you lovely people tomorrow.