Nine wines out of ten, four points clear at the top of the league, meaning that whatever happens in midweek with other results, we’ll still go in to the weekend top of the league by match day 12. We are now over the quarter way point in the season and we have amassed the same number of points as we got after 17 games last season. We have gone to another tough away ground, a loud away ground, a vociferous home crowd who made for as an intense an atmosphere as the football delivered by Leeds’ players yesterday too.
And we found a way to win.
It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t masterful and full of the verve that we’ve had this season, but we stared down a potential banana skin and we leapt over it. And for that reason we should all be starting our day today being very thankful for the resilience this Arsenal team showed yesterday. Mikel referenced it in his post match press conference, but that was a very resilient display from those Arsenal players – particularly in the second half – that has delivered us another step towards our goal of securing a top four slot for next season and a Champions League place. Some might argue that it is a low bar that I’m setting, but at this stage I think we just need to remind ourselves what the original target was because as much as we are doing phenomenally well right now, this form won’t last all season and there will be patches in which we will drop points, so the quicker we can amass as many wins as possible that get us closer to a Champions league place, the better.
It was a weird ol’ start to the game though, wasn’t it? Barely a minute on the clock and the VAR comms system was down, meaning play suspended for about half an hour as they needed to fix it. But aren’t we glad they did by the end, because it went both ways for us yesterday. For the penalty that was given it was only on a VAR re-watch from the referee, then on the red card and penalty it went for us, rightly. On both occasions the referee made the right call and although it seemed right at the death as though three points would be downgraded to one, we hang on and got the win. I messaged one of the lads at work after the game who is a Leeds fan and said that I though they deserved a draw based on their second half performance, but to get it like that at the end would have been a bit criminal, really. Gabriel probably doesn’t need to leave his leg extended in the air like he did, but his contact on Bamford was non-existent and the players response when he goes down is embarrassing. Patrick Bamford was trying to con the referee there and when VAR stepped in to tell the referee to go and have a look at the monitor for a foul before then, it was the right call to give the foul by Bamford and the right call to rescind the red card Gabriel got.
That bit of action right at the death had pretty much summed up our second half; looking like we would concede, but ultimately, hanging on to collect the three points. Leeds were first to every second ball, they upped the pressure on us, they created chance after chance and we just couldn’t find our rhythm. I saw Odegaard miss a number of passes that, in the first half, he was getting on to and distributing and it was Odegaard in that first half who was pulling the strings and who got the assist with the ball in behind the defence on the right hand side for Bukayo Saka to expertly smash it in to the roof of the net. It was, ultimately, the action that decided the outcome of the result yesterday, but at the time it felt like one of potentially more we could go on and get. That’s also something Mikel said at the end of the game and I think he was right; in that first half I think we edged the competition and we probably should have made the difference more by halftime to exert our authority on the game. We didn’t and Leeds came out in the second half a completely different animal. We couldn’t impose our game, we couldn’t retain the ball and Ramsdale had to make a number of key saves throughout. He was super yesterday, along with Gabriel – couple of brain farts aside – and whilst William Saliba probably had one of those games that showed us that he is human after all (there was one lapse in concentration in the first half that could have led to something, as well as a sloppy touch in the second that let Bamford in), the good news is that other players have been stepping up at different times this season.
That was the case with a few players yesterday. Gabriel Jesus was pretty anonymous, for example, really struggling to get in to the game and never really looking like he would be able to get a foothold and impact. Martinelli was good in the first half but in the second he too also cut a loan figure wide on the left, whilst Bukayo Saka spent a lot more time defending in the second half than he did attacking. But that’s the mark of a well-functioning team, because when some parts aren’t quite working at their optimum, other step in to take some strain. And we certainly did have to strain and toil to pick up the three points. This was definitely a game you’d put in the ‘hard fought’ category and when you consider that the team travelled back from Norway on Friday, had no real time to prepare for this game before getting on a train/coach to get themselves to Yorkshire for a Sunday lunchtime kick off, this was perhaps always going to be one in which the team was going to struggle to be at its scintillating best.
You don’t have to always be at your best though. You just need to keep on getting through it and that win on Thursday followed by the win yesterday, has put us in fantastic positions in both competitions we are playing in right now. In the Europa League a win on Thursday puts us through to the next round and very close to winning the group. Whilst a victory on Sunday against Southampton would see us hit 30 points. IT may not happen, this great winning run will come to an end at some stage, but if we can somehow pick up points on the south coast, we’ll be in a fantastic position as October starts to draw to a close.
This team is delivering the goods right now and fingers crossed we can keep this up for a long time, because it’s great to see us pick up these results right now.
Catch you all tomorrow for some more Arsenal musings. Have a good one.