As the team was announced an hour before kick off, you could be forgiven for thinking that we are really starting to get unlucky with injuries. Missing White, Tierney, Partey at this critical stage in the season, when you have such a thin squad anyway, is harsh. Yet as we’ve seen in recent weeks, players are stepping up and yesterday the same can be said about what was yet another tough game against an opponent fighting for its Premier League life.
Those rotated players coming in also include the likes of Eddie Nketiah, who has come in at a time in which we were devoid of an attacking spark and with Alexandre Lacazette stinking up the joint every week. And by golly, have we needed him, once again proving his value with both goals against Leeds. It’s amazing because if you’d have said that for the six games of the season Nketiah would have at least four goals, I’d have told you that you were a far too hopeful individual. But here we are with three games still to play and Eddie is stepping up.
What I also loved about his goals yesterday was not just the tenacity and position he found himself in, closing down the Leeds keeper for the first and finding the perfect position in the penalty box for the second, but also the fact we scored them so early. I was super nervous that we were going to sh*t the bed in a game that we really should be winning, but by getting those two goals early it felt like the players stepped out on to that pitch and telling the fans and everyone watching, that “cool it guys, we got this”.
And they did. It was slightly scary in the end and scarier than it should have been, but the job was done, the three points secured. And it was all done in that first 25 minutes really. We got the two goal cushion, but then we had the man advantage that thankfully killed the game as a potentially even contest. Like Ayling’s challenge after Martinelli’s flick past him was one of those that looked bad in real time, but it was only when you saw the replays that you could see it was a clear sending off. The initial yellow was upgraded to a red and from that point on it was about how Arsenal manage the match.
And we managed it relatively well, overall. Yes, as I mentioned it was a little bit scarier in the end than it should have been, but when you look at the match in the cold light of the next day, it was a battering of Leeds and we were unlucky not to get more. Ødegaard’s free kick was well saved from Meslier and then cleared off the line, he also had a shot that just went whiskers wide of the post, as well as a Martinelli shot that was millimetres over. We created a load of chances and on another day perhaps we’d have bagged ourselves more. But this is the crunch time of the season and that means that this sort of situation – where games are closer than they really should be – is always going to happen.
The goal we conceded was well worked with the flick on, but Llorente really shouldn’t be unmarked at the back post and I suspect Arteta will be slightly frustrated with his side on that one. It made the game feel more tense – some of that perhaps the commentary when you watch on TV – but the job was done and we move on to that massive game on Thursday against the Scum.
And it really is a massive game. Huge in the context of the season. Potentially ‘winner takes all’ for both sides. We may be four points clear, but I’m looking at that Newcastle game and it feels like that could be a potential slip up for us. If that happens and we’ve lost to the Scum in the match before, the whole season swings back in their favour for the final day. But if we get anything – even a point at the Toilet Bowl – then it means we can afford a dip in at least one of our final two games.
So now Arteta has to get the psychology of Thursday’s game in to his teams’ heads. Because it would be quite easy to go to the Scum and to drop a level slightly knowing there is a buffer. But this buffer only exists on very shaky ground and can very easily be whipped away. We’ve done exactly what we needed to do yesterday. We’ve played well, we’ve won again (our fourth in a row) and as a result we go in to the game on Thursday hopefully with confidence and belief that we can maybe even pick up a point. But we have to have those players super focused and prepared because it will be a raucous atmosphere in their gaff and those fans will be 100% ready to try to make life difficult for those Arsenal players. More on that as the days count down.
Back to the game itself and there’s some players worth singling out from yesterday aside from the goal scorer Nketiah. I thought Martinelli was brilliant yesterday and was unlucky not to get the goal his performance deserved. Even before Leeds went down to 10 men he was a thorn in the right backs side and afterwards he found space time and time again. It will e a tough decision of Arteta on who should start on the left on Thursday night.
Also, let’s have some praise for Tomiyasu, who has come in and looked brilliant after a couple of months out. Yesterday he played at left back and made it look like he’s played there all his life. I suspect that Tavares will not get a look in on Thursday, which makes sense given the opponent. Cedric was his usual slightly frustrating self, but he’s an experienced head and we looked better – albeit relatively untroubled – against Leeds defensively. Again, more for Arteta to ponder on over the coming days.
For now and for us fans, it’s about enjoying another win and being thankful that we have put ourselves in the position we are in. Fingers crossed we can get over the line. Still lots to do.
Catch you all tomorrow.