Winning football matches is hella fun. I like it. I like it indeed.
And although at the time I felt moments of frustration, this was very much one of those days in which I look back at the game and realise that actually Arsenal played quite well. In fact you’d say the 1-0 scoreline probably flattered Norwich a little bit. We had 30 attempts at goal (although only seven on target I believe), which is a rough barometer of how dominant we were, which is weird because watching it in the stadium without any access to the stats I wouldn’t have believed you. I honestly can’t remember all of those shots but I guess there were plenty of blocks in there from Norwich players. I remember one in the second half where it looked like Pepe had a tap in a the ball came cross from left to right.
In terms of the team line up, Mark, Steve and I supped our pints in the Duchess beforehand with a few raised eyebrows I have to say, because I didn’t expect to see as many of the new signings as we did. Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Sambi and Odegaard all got their starts and we came out of the traps quite well. We were aggressive, we dominated the ball and we looked to get through Norwich’s lines quickly. Ben White had a hand in that and every time he got the ball he looked for Pepe, or Odegaard, which meant going back to front felt a lot more decisive rather than the ‘methodical’ build up that epitomised last season’s football.
That also makes for the crowd to get a little more excited too. Think about the times last season where there were groans – albeit on social media – when we’d just pop the ball side-to-side for five minutes, probing and looking for that killer pass. Yesterday felt like an Arsenal team with more urgency to be direct.
If you’re minded to talk about the negative side you could say that we should have made more of the chances we did get and there were opportunities for Auba when Krul was out of his half, or Pepe from a free kick, or Tomiyasu volleying over, but I’m not really in the mood to be too negative when this overall felt like a game we controlled. Saka was quiet and I didn’t have the best game but hey, the kid is 20, so we’re going to get games like this.
What we need when one player is quiet is for others to step up and even Smith Rowe from the ben ch did that. I thought his introduction in the second half unlocked us and he immediately carried a running threat which caused Norwich problems. I’d love to know how many of our 30 shots came when he was on the pitch. The goal came four minutes after he was brought on for the cramping Tomiyasu and he also had a shot which was well saved by Krul. He brings a running power and an ability on the ball that unsettles opponents and my hope is that Arteta finds a way to deploy him in the coming weeks. I’m not sure whether it’s better to have him centrally or wide left but I suspect we might see him wide left more with Saka shifting to the right and Pepe losing out. Based on yesterday’s performance of the Ivorian that will be difficult though, because I thought he played well.
Norwich were poor going forward and didn’t really offer much bar a couple of half chances, but how much of that was down to them and how much of it was our back line holding up well? I was worried about their ability to get in behind our full backs but we didn’t really see that all game and I thought White and Gabriel looked like a decent partnership forming. It kind of has to be really. When you look at how Holding and Mari have performed in pre season and the last few games, it shows you just how much we need White and Gabriel to be the main men and I think this was a nice start to ease them in.
In midfield we saw Partey from the bench and that’s understandable given his injury problems. He gave a solid 30 minutes and some of his progressive passing showed just what we have been missing. Maitland-Niles got a shout in central midfield but whilst he closed spaces and recycled the ball okayish, it was hardly a performance that will have us demanding that he start away to Burnley. I hope he’s got his head screwed on and focused because whilst he can be deployed as a central midfielder, he’s going to get more games as a right back if he shows willing to the manager. The fact he was even given game time at all hopefully shows that Arteta is willing to use him and not just torch his Arsenal career because he said things on social media that might get him in hot water with the club.
I’m coming towards the final part of today’s ramblings and I haven’t even talked about the goal and goalscorer! It may have been a tap in from Auba, Daniel Farke may have complained (wrongly) about a Saka handball, then about whether Aubameyang is (wrongly) offside, but whilst we waited for VAR to do the inevitable and rule it out, I was thinking about how much Auba needed that goal. He will be relived it stood and it was good work from Pepe. Farke clled it a ‘lucky’ goal but I’d argue the opposite. It wasn’t a handball by Saka and because the ball was played backwards off Pepe it wasn’t offside, but the fact it cannoned off the posts twice in between hitting Krul and Pepe shows that actually it was Pepe who was ‘unlucky’ not to score with the first phase of play. But whatever, the goal stood, we win the game and have our first three points.
Does this breed some kind of momentum? That’s hard to say. We have a basis for which to start. We have a manager in Arteta who has the players he wants for the system he wants. He now has a week with them before Burnley and he needs to get them all up to speed and running. This game came off of the back of players returning from internationals so felt a little truncated, but with a whole week on the training ground I hope that Arteta can mastermind a plan for the Lancastrians, because it will pose a very different threat to the one we had yesterday.
Catch you all tomorrow.