Another win to add to the growing list people, which is never a bad thing, even if it was in the League Cup and with a heavily rotated team. I’m sure you’re bored of having to put all the usual caveats in place – “it was only the League Cup”, “Leeds fielded a slightly weaker team”, “it wasn’t our first team”, etc, etc – but for me I can take the game in isolation and in isolation it was a relatively pain-free evening from where I was sat in the Emirates.
Mikel Arteta rang the changes from the side that won so comprehensively against Villa on Friday night and in came Leno, Cedric, Holding, Kolasinac (remember him?), Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Martinelli, Nketiah and Pepe. Perhaps because of that volume of changes one could expect the performance to be a bit stuttery but Arsenal started ok in the opening exchanges. We dominated the opening part and moved the ball around well enough, but Leeds slowly grew in to the game and there was a smart save from Leno to keep the score line at 0-0. I thought Leno was pretty decent all night to be fair. He made some good saves, punched the ball well a few times and the only really criticism I have is that he probably should have insisted on wearing a proper goalie kit, rather than the away kit with his number on the back. That does feel a bit weird when he’s coming out in the yellow kit, despite how awesome it looks.
Leeds also made a few changes, but this wasn’t as far from the first team of theirs as you might have thought given their injuries and I suspect that is why this game felt a little bit closer on the evening. They played Meslier, Dallas, Phillips, James, Rodrigo, Harrison, Llorente and Struijk – all of whom get regular game time and many of whom played against Wolves in their 1-1 draw at the weekend. So perhaps there should be more credit given to a collective of Arsenal players who have been on the periphery in the Premier League so far this season.
The first half wasn’t really too much to write home about though. Leeds probably had as much territory and possession as we did, created a few chances like we did, but we just looked a little off the pace. I thought Martinelli had a slightly off night and that was a shame, because we’re all hoping he’ll bang, but more than anything else I just remember thinking at halftime that I was glad that neither Smith Rowe or White picked up a knock.
So of course it felt a little inevitable that one of them would go down and in that second half Ben White dropped to the floor and I feared the worst. It’s always a fine sign when you play a first team player and they get through a game like this unscathed, because you can say they have more minutes and momentum under their belt, like we did with Partey in the previous round. But if it backfires and one of those players gets injured, you look like one heck of a silly billy, which is what I thought had happened to Arteta last night. Apparently it was just an illness that had been going around the team though, as Arteta confirmed afterwards, so you have to hope that White is ok for the weekend. Give him some Lemsip and tell him to stay at home until Friday.
White came off on 55 minutes for Chambers and wouldn’t you just know it, but the Englishman only gone an done himself a Nik Bendtner by bundling the ball in with his first touch from a corner. It was the scrappiest of scrappies, but whilst VAR isn’t available in the competition at this point, the goal line technology watches they have must be, because it was clearly over the line on the replays and the buzzers must have gone off and we were one up.
It’ll be a good confidence booster for Calum and might well be welcome for us, because if White doesn’t recover for Saturday lunchtime, then it’ll most likely be Calum to start after Rob Holding also went off with an injury in the last quarter of the game. I thought Holding had been half decent as well, with a couple of times in which he picked the ball from deep and began making a run in to the opposition half, Ben White style. That sort of move makes you wonder if White’s approach to centre half is rubbing off on Holding and if it is then good. We need our players to be able to adapt and evolve in games because there is too much data and information on every Premier League player. Leeds will clearly have known all about White’s ability to bring the ball out from the back, so perhaps they looked at Holding and thought “we don’t mind if he has the ball”. So when he’s making strides forward like he did on a couple of occasions in the first half, it forces the opponent to change their approach and that can be no bad thing.
The second goal – which killed the game off really – came from Eddie Nketiah and here’s some props to him for making it look like he’d Ronnie Rosenthal’d it with a scuff touch after he’d cleverly lifted the ball over Meslier after the defenders mistake, then controlled the ball stone dead for his second touch, only to make the final one look like it could trickle wide. I bet he had a wave of relief after it went over the line. It was an instinctive bit of football in terms of anticipating and being alive to the mistake of the defender, but you have to be pleased for him, mainly because it is another goal to his tally and a confidence booster for him. I must confess to being a little disappointed that we aren’t seeing more of Balogun though. Nketiah is leaving on a free next summer and so games like these only add to his own portfolio, rather than giving Arsenal the opportunity to get more money for the player. Balogun however has signed a new deal and needs minutes to see if he can make it at The Arsenal. We must surely be looking at a loan move in January though, because what is happening with him now is of no use to anyone.
That’s a challenge that needs to be dealt with by Arteta though and that’s why he’s paid the big bucks to be Arsenal manager. I just hope he has a decent plan for a very highly thought of youngster.
I think I’ll leave it at that for now. It’s a victory, progression to the quarter final and another opportunity for those rotated players to get some minutes in round five of the competition. Onwards and upwards to the next round. I’m hoping for a nice little away day somewhere.
Catch you all tomorrow.