Well now, I tell you what, if you could pick out a perfect Saturday to have as an Arsenal fan, you couldn’t have done much better than what we were treated to yesterday in the heat of the August sun at the Emirates yesterday. The weather was sublime, the crowd were upbeat and excitable with anticipation and the players were facing their home fans for the first time this season. There was a lot expected and hoped for from yesterday and by golly didn’t those boys in red and white deliver, eh?
Arteta named the same team he named on the opening day win against Palace and the reward for a good performance on that opening Friday was another equally impressive and dominant display against a Leicester side that simply couldn’t contain us. From the first minute to the last we were pretty much in control and even when bits got a little wobbly in parts of the game, the reaction from the players was absolutely superb.
In truth the 4-2 scoreline flattered Leicester City I thought. They had two shots on target all day; in the opening couple of minutes when Fofana went through but Ramsdale made a good save, then when Maddison got their second goal to give Leicester some hope, although Ramsdale will probable feel that he should have done better because the ball was drilled straight at him. But that was pretty much it from Leicester. They never really got the opportunity to get us proper chewing our fingernails and that’s because of the response from the team which I thought was absolutely fantastic yesterday. On both occasions in which Leicester scored, we responded within minutes, as if the team had been playing it’s game and suddenly been so irritated that they had scored that we just went right up the other end and restored the two goal cushion. It was like we were a cat with a half dead mouse in front of us, trying to get away and just when the mouse thinks it has managed to escape the clutches of the cat, the cat just swats it back in to it’s palm. It was ruthless football and whilst Arteta probably won’t be the happiest to have seen us concede the two goals he did, he will be delighted with the reaction of the team.
We look a different beast to last season and a lot of that is down to the man up top, who put in a man of the match display and finished his first chance like a guy who has all the confidence in the world. We’d already created a fair few chances before Jesus clipped his sumptuous finish in to the far corner beyond Ward, with Xhaka hitting the post, but scoring within the first 25 minutes was the perfect tonic for what was to be a wonderful afternoon from an attacking perspective and for the Brazilian. His second goal – nodded in at the back post – is something of a trademark of his I hear; he scored one at the back post in pre season and I think he does like to crop up at the back stick like that. I wonder how many of those types of goals we might see this season? He was everywhere and his movement and close control with the ball at his feet was simply sublime. Our hopes were that he would ‘bang’ and for £45million it wasn’t a small chunk of change we spent, but it is feeling like one heck of a bargain right now and if this is just the start of things to come from him, I think we’re going to be very happy Gooners if the last two games are anything to go by.
We looked in control, but we weren’t completely out of the woods, because who else would step forward to try to do us over but the old nemesis Jamie Vardy. Leicester and he hadn’t had a sniff all day but right on halftime he was put in and dived his way across Ramsdale looking for a pen. The good news was that VAR was actually used properly for a change; Vardy had completely fabricated and over-egged any contact from Ramsdale and rightly it was chalked off. But I have to question why that wasn’t called back for a booking on Vardy. He simulated contact, he cheated, so just like Xhaka was booked last week, so too Vardy should have been booked. But of course that never happened.
So we go in to halftime with the lead still very much in tact and as I took my seat in the stadium I wondered if we’d be able to sustain our dominance for the full 90. It felt like we were going to for the first five minutes of the second half but on 53 that hopeful ball looping towards Saliba and a mix up between him and Ramsdale halved the lead. It was a shame because Saliba had played well again I thought, but what is different about the club right now is those players don’t drop their heads. And because of that, we don’t either and there was genuine support and cheering for Saliba that was heart warming to see. The team duly responded with Gabreil Jesus profiting on that Ward mistake and Granit Xhaka tapping home just two minutes after that OG. I have to say Xhaka is looking good right now; he is playing further up the pitch in more advanced positions, which is great because he’s impacting play in the final third and because Zinchenko is dropping in to midfield, it means we have cover. That won’t always work against every opponent but yesterday the gameplan was perfect for Leicester and we duly dispatched them. Even after they scored the second Martinelli responded and I think this season will be one in which we see Martinelli get himself comfortably in to double figures. It was a smart left foot finish and if he gets himself 15, Saka can also do the same and Jesus getting close to 20, then we’ll be looking at a team that is going to be right up there competing.
Yesterday we saw an Arsenal side with hunger, but also with depth, as Tierney and Tomiyasu came on, as well as Smith Rowe. We still have Fabio Vieira to come back in and Nketiah also got some minutes and made himself busy too. There is a core of around 15/16 players who are all quality and it’s so good to see those players all coming together and the fruits of Arteta’s tactical labour working. It is only early days, the season is long, but the positive signs are emerging and in the glorious sunshine in North London yesterday, we got treated to another fine display by a hungry and young Arsenal team with it all ahead of them.
Catch you all tomorrow.