Sometimes football is just hella fun, isn’t it? I am here on this Monday morning thinking about how much I enjoy football. You?
It’s funny what a difference a day makes. This time yesterday I was tapping away at my laptop, nervously awaiting the impending North London Derby and the potential that we could come-a-cropper against that lot, but today here I sit at home happily tap-tap-tapping at the computer with a smile on my face and a swing in my step. I said yesterday that I hate NLDs and yes, in terms of the pre match worry and nerves of course the feeling is not pleasant at all. But when it happens and The Arsenal win – and win in a way that we can all be very excited about – then these days can be some of the best that exist.
The team that Arteta picked included just Xhaka as the only change and whilst pre match pub pint discussions were on whether there would be a brain fart moment from the Swiss or not, when it all kicked off we saw that it was the right call. Xhaka played extremely well, aided and abetted by the other ten Arsenal players, all of whom played their part in delivering one of the best games since Arteta took charge. We were on Tottenham from the first whistle, pressing in packs, hunting the ball down, then in possession we moved the ball quickly and probed their shaky defence throughout. I’m not even sure if we hit the ten minute mark before Aubameyang had a good shot saved from Lloris and it was a sign of things to come that we tested the ‘keeper so early.
One of the criticisms of this Arsenal team has been that we have started to create chances but we haven’t taken them. That theory was pushed to one side yesterday as Smith Rowe opened the scoring on 12 minutes and although scoring early does not mean that you’re going to go on and have a fun day and three points, it felt significant to me in the ground. It was a statement that we were going to be clinical today and perhaps it also helped to drop some of the Tottenham heads, because the Arsenal players were magnificent in how they went about the game plan.
The plan was of course to press high, force turnovers and win the midfield battle. Partey and Xhaka dominated it but Tottenham really were terrible and essentially gave up midfield completely. It enabled us to control play and when Aubameyang swept the ball in on 27 minutes, Block Five erupted.
We didn’t even have to wait that much longer for the third either. Just seven minutes elapsed between Aubameyang’s goal and Saka’s finish – hilariously assisted by Harry Kane trying to make amends for losing the ball in midfield – and whilst there will be lots of questions as to why Tottenham were so shocking, that third goal epitomised our approach on the day. We gave them absolutely no time in their half and there were a number of players who were key to that. Auba, Saka and Smith Rowe all harried, but it was Martin Odegaard who really impressed me yesterday. He was a machine, pressing on either flanks, or Lloris when the ball was at his feet, and he summed up the energy and drive from the team that was needed to get the win.
We were good. That first half was good. And even in the second half I thought we managed the game expertly. The key in that second half was not to allow any Tottenham fightback and although Kane flicked a ball wide, possibly could have had a penalty (although I think we should also have had a penalty in the second half for a trip on Gabriel in the box), plus Moura hit the bar, the fact they didn’t score their goal earlier feels like it had some significance. If they’d have scored one early in the second half it would have given them some more belief, but the fact they didn’t gave us more hope we can hold on to the lead.
The only downside from yesterday – which I’m putting in now before I go back to the positive stuff – was that Xhaka limped off. He had a good game and having him fit and available for selection is better than not – despite what some people might think – so I just hope it’s nothing too serious.
But back to some more positives, and how about we take a bit of time to recognise that Arsenal back line, eh? Ramsdale conceded his first goal of his Arsenal career, but he also helped to contribute to keeping the score down, acrobatically saving from a Moura shot late in the game, as well as parrying a Kane shot in the second half. He also marshalled his back line so well and you can see what a difference he makes compared to the quiet demeanour of Bernd Leno. I have never had a problem with Leno and always thought he was the least of our worries, but Ramsdale is showing that despite what many of us thought in the summer, he really is a significant upgrade. Certainly based on performances so far.
Then I come to our back four, who effectively operate as a back three when Tierney is marauding, and it is like suddenly we’ve clicked with Tomiyasu in the side. When we had possession high up the pitch he tucked in, Gabriel moved a little left and White stayed central. It meant that when Spurs lumped the ball long, we were man-for-man on Moura, Kane and Son. There was no running in behind, there was no high press that wide forwards exposed on our defensive flanks. Tomiyasu is brilliant. He is easily becoming my most favourite Japanese person ever. He is strong in the air, in the tackle, he wins the ball well when faced with one-on-one duels, he is positionally astute and has slotted in to this back line like he’s played for Arsenal for years. Next to him Ben White did what he did against Burnley and was quick in to the tackle against Kane. I love how he defends i.e. he goes around the side of a player to nick the ball off of him before they have even touched it. He was tight on Kane yesterday and marshalled him completely, so much so that when you’ve got Harry Kane 30 yards out from your box blazing it over by a country mile like he did in the first half, you know that you’re doing your job properly.
I’ve hit 1,100 words and usually I finish up on around 1,000, but there is just so much to say after a day like yesterday! Like how Smith Rowe was superb. He got a goal and assist and was another key cog in our attacking threat, driving with the ball at his feet. He’d been quiet against Burnley but exploded to life yesterday. It was exactly the type of game he needed and I couldn’t be happier for him. Or There’s Thomas Partey, who once again showed just how strong we are when he can dominate a midfield. Gabriel had another assured display and he’s quickly looking like a leader in this team. Tierney did his usual bombing down the left and whilst I think he probably needs to work on his crossing a bit more, let’s not pick too many holes in performances after a day like that.
There’s something brewing in this crop of likeable players. Of course we need to keep them fit and of course we need to ensure that we build on this momentum, but what we’re starting to see now is a plan, an approach, that is paying off and yesterday got a result. We the midweek now to prepare for visiting Brighton on Saturday evening and I hope that the team can take this confidence down to the south coast to show that they are ready for a fight and ready to see how much this side can evolve.
Catch you all tomorrow.