It’s funny how watching a game in real time really colours your opinion of what has actually happened on the pitch. It’s also funny how the narrative of the result also makes you consider a performance a little differently.
When the full time whistle went yesterday what was going through my mind was relief at what I thought was a pretty poor Arsenal performance. I thought we were up against a team of clobbermeisters who lump balls in to the box and try to get away with a much rough-housing as is humanly possible, snide little fouls that are just shy of yellow cards and then funny looks at players who you’ve just clearly brought down as if they are making a meal of it.
That was my immediate reaction as my brain was still trying to process what I had seen. But as I tap away at my keyboard this morning, my thought process has changed somewhat. I don’t know if that is because of some of the stuff I’ve read online, the stats to the game, or even a little bit of the Match of the Day commentary last night, but I keep finding myself saying “Oh yeah” about little things when I try to remember pockets of the match yesterday. My brain naturally goes towards those little moments in which decision making was poor by Arsenal players, rather than sinking of the overwhelming number of times in which Arsenal defenders headed clear, cleared the ball out of danger, or Ramsdale plucked the ball out of the sky. So in my head I’m remembering:
- White’s poor back pass that led to the VAR overturned penalty
- A poor Saka final ball when we broke quickly in the second half
- A tame ESR shot on his left foot
But the reality is that this was an Arsenal performance that had a fair few things to like about it. It was dogged. It was gritty. It was a tough physical challenge that our players stood up to and were counted on. And they came out the other side with a win. Burnley at Turf Moor is a very different proposition to Burnley away and they are a tough team to play on their own ground. But we played them, beat them, kept a clean sheet and go in to next weekend’s North London Derby with back-to-back Premier League victories to call our own. And it was done with this new look team that is learning about itself all the time.
For example, the way Ramsdale dealt with balls in to his box by catching instead of punching will be massive for his defenders. Punching has its place of course, but it also leaves the possibility for the ball to come back at you quickly. When a ‘keeper plucks the ball out of the air it buys his team time, you can reset yourself and your positions, plus take any heat out of an opposition attack. Ramsdale was commanding in his box yesterday and although he hardly had to make save after save, what he did do was thoroughly impressive I thought. But it’s not just that, it’s the personality too, because you can see what confidence he instils in the team. Leno just doesn’t do that and for my money there’s no way Ramsdale should be coming out next weekend.
As for the rest of the back line, that was where the points were gained yesterday, because Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel and Tierney were excellent I thought and although I said after the game I thought White had a shocker, if I think about the majority of the play, he did ok. He needs to iron out a few of those mistakes he made, but thankfully we weren’t punished and so we can move on.
My man-of-the-match, however, wasn’t a defender, but that guy Odegaard. He got the goal and of course a match winning moment is a big part of a MOTM because you are essentially the difference maker, but he did more than just win it for us with a sumptuous free kick finish, I thought. He pressed hard against Burnley players, he kept the ball ticking over and was always an option for a pass from a defender and an attacker. He found pockets of space all of the time and you can see why Arteta loves him and his mobility. He’s been an Arsenal player before and so isn’t ‘new new’ at the club, but I still feel like he’s finding his feet and this is an excellent start. Hopefully he can continue with this type of performance next weekend against the Scum.
As for the rest of the forward line, well, that’s where it certainly didn’t work yesterday. I don’t know what it was (some have suggested long grass as an excuse – that’s not really enough of an excuse for me I’m afraid) with some of the attacking players, but it really didn’t kick. Overhit pass after over-hit pass, incorrect decision making again and again, performances from players that just didn’t cut the mustard at all. I thought Saka and ESR were pretty poor and Pepe continued to frustrate. Aubameyang cut a forlorn figure at times and was rarely effective at all in the game. It didn’t work and perhaps that is one area for concern against them next Sunday. We won’t get as many chances as we did against Norwich. We won’t find the same amount of space in as many times to fudge up the final ball as we did against Burnley, so if we make similar mistakes in attack that we have in the last couple of games, I do worry. If you take the positive from the game yesterday you say that two clean sheets will give our back line more confidence, but we need to iron out those attacking kinks we have if we want to come out of the NLD with a victory.
Arteta has another week before then though and despite the fact there is a League Cup game this week, he will have time to start to assess what he wants to do for the visit of the Scum in a week’s time, as well as how he can iron out some of those attacking kinks.
Catch you all tomorrow.