Watching football, talking about football, writing about football – it’s all hella fun when your team plays well and wins, eh?
That’s what we had yesterday evening and I tell you what; I slept sound as a baby last night. Compared to the Everton performance where I tossed and turned all evening, last night was a very nice drifting off in to slumber land as I replayed the best bits of our 2-0 victory over West Ham.
It’s a family derby in this game, so my brother and I were in constant contact over the duration of the game during WhatsApp and whilst he was fuming by the end, I was the happier sibling and I think I have every right to be, because Arsenal were by far the best team on the night and we put on a performance against a very well-organised and decent West Ham team that will inject a heck of a lot of confidence in to this young team.
Arteta named an unchanged side for the third match in a row and if the Southampton game was the manager telling his players “you’ve got another chance after the disgrace on Merseyside”, then last night was the “go out there and prove that it wasn’t a one off on Saturday”. And they certainly did that. We started brightly. We pressed further up the pitch, we squeezed West ham in to their half and made Ramsdale pretty much a spectator in large parts. We clearly knew that in the absence of Cresswell, Masuaku would be a weak link and so we got the ball as often as possible to Saka, either along the line from Tomiyasu, or via the likes of cross-field balls from Xhaka.
And from a build up play perspective I thought we were great. We controlled our defensive third and our middle third, but once again it looked like the attacking third would be our downfall. We just couldn’t seem to break through West Ham’s deeper block and chances went for Lacazette and Martinelli, as well as Saka and Odegaard. I messaged my brother on 30 minutes and said “now you see why Arsenal fans are frustrated at times – we are great in the build up but have issues in the final third”. The shape and structure of the team was, I thought, spot on. It’s just we don’t always have an answer for teams set up like West Ham last night, which was to sit a little deeper and in shape, then look to spring the traps. That’s what I feared.
But it never really came and as the second half started Moyes changed it so that he pushed Antonio wide, then had Bowen and Lanzini pressed much higher up the pitch to try to force turnovers. I tweeted that you could see a formation change had happened by West Ham and that we needed to respond and by golly, didn’t we do that, eh? Just three minutes had passed in the second half before a good ball to Lacazette saw the dropping Frenchman turn and place the perfect weighted pass for Martinelli to run on to. Lacazette doesn’t get a lot of goals but when he has fast wing players running in front of him he can at least contribute like that and Martinelli duly obliged with a fantastic bit of play. His first touch was exquisite to get the ball in front of him and the second touch was delicious and Henry-esque to open his body up and slide it beyond Fabianski. The comparisons with our greatest every striker are good; at the same age Thierry had a season in which he scored four goals from the wing in 30 appearances. Martinelli has two goals and two assists in 10 matches so far this season. If he continues to play like he has in the few weeks then he’ll quickly notch more goals and more assists. And I make the Henry comparison to put in to perspective the Martinelli situation, because last season we were all wondering if Arteta just didn’t fancy him or wouldn’t give him game time. But our top goalscorer of all time wasn’t the player we all know and love at the same age. He will have had to go through the same growing pains that Martinelli had and we need to appreciate that. As each game goes by though, I am loving this kid more and more and he’s certainly made himself undroppable for the weekend against Leeds.
But there are a few players who have that at the moment. Ramsdale, Tomiyasu – super again last night, Gabriel, Saka, Martinelli – all players who have to keep playing because they are in fine form. Ben White is doing well too, as is Lacazette and whilst straight after the game I thought he had an okayish game (missed the penalty, went down a little too easy at times which is always a little embarrassing), in the cold light of day I am appreciating just how well he played. Odegaard too was pulling the strings and although he tired a bit in the second half, he still looked good on the ball and is improving every game.
And this team is learning too. That’s also good. Learning all parts of winning, including the sh*thousery. Lacazette is a master of screaming in pain as we know, but little things like when Martinelli went down with cramp off the pitch, but Arteta hauled him up and told him to get back on there. That was brilliant. We saw when Partey was off the pitch injured against Tottenham last season where the Scum were within their rights to play on as we were a man down and they scored from it. So Arteta told Gabby to get up off his arse, get on the pitch, then go down with cramp so we could put the ball out. That’s clever management and within the rules. It enabled us to get a sub ready and get Nketiah on straight away. That’s the kind of stuff we have to learn and it’s pleasing to see we are doing so.
There was so much to like about last night, although I think the red card for Coufal felt a little harsh. It’s funny because there have been at least three occasions in other matches where red cards have been absolutely nailed on for players against us and yet idiot refs have given nothing. But last night’s was soft, as was the penalty and I’m glad the Lacazette miss didn’t come back to haunt us because after the penalty we saw West Ham galvanised for a bit. But step forward Emile Smith Rowe with his sixth goal of the season to kill the game off and secure the points. He’s bagging goals left, right and centre now and this is good to see. Martinelli chipping in, Saka chipping in, Odegaard chipping in, ESR bagging goals. This is what we wanted and needed from these young players and they are stepping up.
Now, onwards and up to Leeds they go and the next step has to be to sort out our patchy and sometimes terrible away form. We need to see more of the same away to Leeds on Saturday evening.
Catch you all tomorrow.