If you’re going to describe the perfectly professional football match in the Champions League, you’d be hard pressed to describe it any better than how last night’s 2-0 win against Sevilla played out. Even the score line itself looks like a comfortable one. A 1-0 result makes you think “ooh, it only takes one corner, set piece or counter attack and you’re in trouble”, whereas a three, four or five goal+ advantage just makes you think that your team was ace and the opponents were terrible. But 2-0….oooph…that’s functional dominance for you.
And I’m meaning this as a compliment too, because that’s exactly what you want in a midweek competition game in which a few people – me included – were thinking that this might not be as easy as we thought it would be despite us winning away in Andalucía. But we needn’t have worried; Sevilla didn’t really lay a glove on The Arsenal and we now stand on the brink of qualification. A win at home to Lens at the end of this month and we go through as group winners. A draw gives us automatic qualification. The initial worries post the Lens game about how we couldn’t afford to have any more slip ups are now almost completely dwindled away. They aren’t completely gone – you have to still do the job and pick up a point in the next two matches – but they are certainly more of background noise than they were before.
And this was all done against the backdrop of an ever-increasing injury list, with Eddie Nketiah being added to the pile for this game after he picked up a knock this week, to make it that we now have six first teamers now out injured. Arteta was asked about this afterwards and replied that foe Eddie and Martin it is a race against time for Saturday, but we’ll chat about that in the coming days ahead of the Burnley game methinks.
But back to this game itself and we got the complete dominance that I’m sure Mikel Arteta would have loved. At halftime Sevilla’s only registered actions for the statista’s out there was that they had one offside. They had created 0.00xg, they had 28%, they registered zero efforts and David Raya was a complete spectator. We controlled the ball, possession, the tempo and although it felt like our shooting boots weren’t on until Trossard scored in the 29th minute, we had created plenty of chances and swung the ball over the bar on a number of occasions.
Before the game I’d talked about the importance of our wide players having a good game on WhatsApp messages, plus seen a few people say it on Twitter, but I didn’t realise just how much they’d have their full backs on toast throughout the night. Saka was fouled four times by the same guy in about 20 minutes, such it was how much he couldn’t handle him and after the first couple of times in which Martinelli just breezed by their right back, it opened up the floodgates for him to give Salas nightmares that will probably last him for the rest of his days.
Martinelli was my man of the match for me. He was imperious and every time he ran at their right back it felt like he beat him. I saw a comment that no Champions League defender has ever been run past as much as the Sevilla right back in the history of the competition (I think – well, as long as they’ve been monitoring stats as forensically as they do these days, anyway) and the only surprise to me was that it was only eight times. It felt like he beat him about 25 times on the night. And he picked up an assist with a perfectly weighted ball to Saka in the second half too, for him to notch yet another goal with a fine finish after a cool-as-a-cucumber cut inside to send the defender for a hot dog.
Saka had a great game too; an assist that was excellent after a sumptuous Jorginho through ball set him in wide right to slot the ball across to Trossard for the sweep home, then he got the goal from Martinelli’s through ball too. The only down side of the night was that he limped off with 20 minutes to go but Arteta described it as a ‘knock’. We have to just assume that he’s fine but it’s another game in which we all had a sharp intake of breath when he went down injured and eventually had to come off. He’d been kicked about all game by Sevilla and he just gets up and carries on, but we just have to hope that maybe it is some bruising and that come Saturday at home to Burnley he’ll be ok. Cross everything guys, because this kid is so special and we need him.
As for the rest of the team, it felt like a proper performance from most of them. Saliba and Gabriel showed just how difficult they are to attack again and once again Saliba looked like the best defender on the pitch by miles. White and Tomiyasu flanked either side of them completed the defensive assured nature of our back line and with Rice having yet another great game in at six, it felt like Sevilla were never going to get a sniff. Their first shot came in the 94th minute, which tells you everything you need to know.
In front of them I thought Havertz picked up with another decent performance and he was unlucky to have one shot fizz wide in the second half. He’s still not having anywhere near the impact of the likes of somebody like Xhaka, or when he fills in for Odegaard, but baby steps, n’all that jazz. Right now we just need to start seeing his impact and I thought he was certainly more involved than he was when he first came in to the team when he first arrived.
As I mentioned already the only negative side was that Saka came off and Zinchenko was replaced at halftime by Tomiyasu and as we found out after the match, Tomi felt a little ‘discomfort’ and so they decided not to take any risks so brought Zinny on. Against Burnley at the weekend you’d expect us to be happy to start Zinchenko as it is, but it is one of those that you just want to make sure there isn’t a longer-term issue there, but Arteta didn’t seem to be too worried about it at this stage so I guess we should have a similar feeling too.
And that’s pretty much it in terms of the story of last night. Very much a case of ‘job done’ and now our attention turns to Burnley on Saturday before yet another interminable international break.
Catch you all tomorrow with some more thoughts ahead of that clash. Have a good’un.