As expected, Arsenal didn’t have fun when Huddersfield came to town on Saturday for a rare 3 o’clock kickoff. David Wagner’s side were the metaphorical come down are a heavy session of hippie crack, factored in with the natural fatigue that occurs after an intense run of games (physical/mental) and you start to see that those three points were amongst the most important or our mini-marathon run.
The goal took a while to arrive and things really did look desperate towards the end of the game. The moment of magic was sparked from a speculative ball into the box from Matty G, Auba did an excellent job of tracing the flight, bringing the ball down, turning and finding Torreira. Our mini-man mountain pulled off a perfect scissor kick from 6 yards to make the breakthrough. Absolute elation in the stands.
The challenge before the goal was that Huddersfield flex at us in dogged fashion, clearly sensing we’d be tired. Their pressing strategy was obviously Klopp-esque. They didn’t give us a moment to breathe, they shut down passing avenues and they were very, very compact at the back.
That’s not to say we didn’t have chances. Auba and Lacazette spurned extremely good openings within minutes of each other in the first half. Jonas Lössl somehow managed to palm away a Torreira screamer that was destined for the top corner. The rookie referee also conspired with the linesman to disallow a Lacazette tap in because they wrongly assumed he was interring with play, despite play moving into the second phase.
It was also tough going on the players bodies. Firstly, we lost Mustafi to a hamstring injury, which is a real worry. We’re now relying on a 30-year-old Sokratis, 33-year-old Koscielny and the injury-prone 32-year-old Monreal. Unless of course Mavrapanos really is an option for us when he returns shortly. The players were also booted from pillar to post. Again, worth noting that our boys were fizzing back with the challenges. Arsenal really aren’t rattled by bully boy tactics these days, but it still makes for an uncomfortable afternoon.
Emery also leant into his favourite strategy, and made 2 changes at halftime. He brought on Mikhi and Iwobi for the booked Lichtsteiner and Lacazette. I guess the thinking was that we lacked width. The game changed pretty sharply after that. Huddersfield were rattled and struggled to control the game.
That said, it’s clear we’re going to need an upgrade in the wide departments of our side. Iwobi was frustrating to watch, his first touch was heavy and he made some very poor decisions. Marginally less so for Mikhi, but the Armenian just doesn’t seem capable of making the big game impact you’d expect from someone so expensive, with that much experience.
We made more attempts at their goal in the second half, clocking in 9 (up from 5). However, we didn’t really fuss their keeper, only registering 2 shots on target all game. Kind of pitiful when you think about it.
On the face of it, it’s hard not to feel extremely relieved. We kept our unbeaten run going, we’re now at 21. That’s magic. It really is. We showed a huge amount of grit to bring that result home. I don’t mean to keep comparing to seasons past, but that’s the sort of game that often hasn’t gone our way because we’ve either succumbed to the aggression or felt sorry for ourselves and capitulated.
There were positives, Matty G had another very good game along with Torreira. The young Frenchman was our main threat from an attacking perspective, he created 5 chances, had the assist to the assist for the goal and clocked an impressive 16 passes in the final third.
Xhaka also had a very strong game. Sure, he made some wayward passed, but his positioning at the base of midfield really helped snuff out counterattacks and heavy touches from Huddersfield players. He made 10 ball recoveries, 5 tackles and topped the charts for most completed passes (65), most clearances (6) and most headed clearances (4). You can’t knock that sort of impact on a really terrible game.
The big shout out goes to Torreira. He’s had such a huge impact on our team. He’s extremely focused on delivering his defensive duties, but it’s hard not to notice how good he is moving the ball forward. He’s always thinking about the most positive pass, he’s increasingly finding himself in good attacking positions and he created 2 chances of his own yesterday. He’s also our most fouled player. Which represents maybe his size, but if I were to think more sinister in nature, maybe it reflects how important other teams see him to our play. Break the little man, break Arsenal?
The great news for the team is we now have a week off. The home game against Qarabag should be an U23 team (non-senior). The players should be resting up hard all week so they explode out the traps and give Hassenhutl a rude awakening as he looks to reshape the dreadful mess Mark Hughes left the club in.
Not that our run gets much better after that. We have to play Spurs 3 days later in the League Cup, Burnley at home 4 days later, Brighton 4 days later, Liverpool 3 days later, then Fulham 4 days later, followed by Fulham 3 days after that. What a shit show of fixtures!
There was also good news elsewhere, Manchester City succumbed to the smarts of Sarri. That’s made things a little tighter at the top, which is exciting for everyone. 8 points now split 5th and 1st. I mean, we’re not going to win the league, but it’s great to still be realistically in the mix in the month of December.
Right, onwards and upwards!