Unai Emery went balls to the wall with an outrageous line-up. He played all his best players, his two best strikers, he opted to play with one defensive midfielder (Xhaka oh my), he left Mustafi on the bench, he punished Matteo, and he took the game to OGS.
He made so many good decisions that were incredibly bold considering how bad the team was against Rennes. Playing Ozil was a masterstroke. If he played well, Emery looked the healer, if he’d tanked, he had a big fat ‘I told you so’ up his sleeve. Ramsey was inspired after being rested last week, he kept Paul Pogba under lock and key all night with a highly impactful performance. Starting Xhaka at the base of midfield on his own looked like the move of a mentalist, but boy did he have an excellent game.
Everywhere you looked, there were things to smile about.
The first half was all about catching United off guard. They surely weren’t expecting us to go so hard at them. We blitzed the first 35 minutes with free-flowing attacking football. Ozil had United off balance out right or wherever he decided to drift. We didn’t give De Gea much to worry about, hitting the target once, but the chances we created were good. The opener was interesting to say the least, Xhaka ripped a shot from 25 yards out and somehow managed to send the keeper the wrong way. My view was it was shite keeping, most seem to think it was a knuckleball like strike out the Mesut Ozil stubbed-strike-into-the-ground drawer. Either way, it gave us an edge.
We rode our luck, no doubt. Lukaku hit the bar from 4 yards, one of two times United pounded the woodwork. There were some scares, but Leno stood up to every challenge sent his way. He made an incredible save when he was one vs one with Lukaku, his German engineered wrists up to the challenge.
— Bernd Leno (@Bernd_Leno) March 10, 2019
The second half narrative looked like Arsenal had swapped tactics with OGS. We let United have the ball and watched them do next to nothing in possession. They played double the passes we did in the second half, and only managed two shots on target. Arsenal waited patiently to strike. Our moment came when Lacazette was shoved over by Fred in the box.
— Stuart MacFarlane (@Stuart_PhotoAFC) March 10, 2019
Auba, a man who has come under outrageous criticism this week, boldly stepped up and sent De Gea to the left as he stroked the ball down the middle. Good fucking job son. I despise the critique Auba receives. This tweet from YankeeGunner and the article sums up what he does perfectly.
Auba still humming along at .75xG/90 this season. He’s a chance-getting machine. Second in the PL behind only Aguero and way ahead of Laca at 0.48. Still a very underrated quality & overshadowed by some bad finishing this season. This article is relevanthttps://t.co/JgUDC4eWig
— YankeeGunner (@YankeeGunner) March 9, 2019
He’s an outrageous striker and I love that The Ringer calls out his next level ability to position himself better than almost anyone to score. Being in the right place is the real sixth sense. He has it. People need to lay off him.
After the second goal went in, Arsenal set out to frustrate. OGS had no answer. No one could get a foot on the game, United started to play dirty, Ashley Young putting in a standard ankle breaker on Kos, but we were more than a match for them.
OGS lost his first Premier League game after an inspired run.
Unai Emery showed his big game teeth in the race for top 4.
It was a masterclass from Emery. Everything rolled his way. He picked a brave 11, he focused the team after an awful loss midweek and he delivered the most important 3 points of 2019. On another day, we might have lost, but I’ve spent too many hours complaining about big games we’ve dominated but lost to shit-housery to get nitty gritty about how things might have been. Reality is, you beat who is put in front of you, we did that, so fu*k the details for today.
Bernd Leno was immense. He dropped another low-key (yep, I say that sometimes) MoM performance. He’s really come into his own of late. He was focused, brave and sharp all game. That leg he threw out for the Lukaku chance was unbelievable. He’s found his hands and his feet. We look to have finally solved our keeping issues. We have someone who can win us points. Finally. #ThanksSven
Aaron Ramsey showed why Juventus want him over there. He made EIGHT tackles yesterday. He covered so much ground, he kept Pogba in frustrated mode all day and he was absolutely committed to the cause. A brilliant run out. You do wonder if Emery misjudged the talents of the Welshman a little early. It stings to see him leaving, but at least Suarez looks a little like him and had some nice touches and a cute run.
Sokratis looked like he was heading into trouble again after a 37th minute yellow card, but he held it together and put in a monster performance. I love him. I am part of his cult. Pass me the Koolaid, I don’t care about the consequences (P.S. I’d LOVE to know what he lent over and said to Pogba when he was whining on the floor).
Also, another worthy call out is for AMN. He had a great game on the right. He stretched United when he needed to, and he defended far better than I’ve seen him do in the past. He made 4 tackles and 5 interceptions. A much sharper game from him, even more impressive when you remember he’s a centre mid. Out on the left, Kola was a pure man beast again, he even rolled over and did a vomit just because that’s a REAL MAN for you. He made 11 ball recoveries, he worked up and down that wing all day, and he whipped in some really dangerous balls.
Lacazette was a machine. His twinkle toes confused United all day. He should have done better in front of goal to make it 3, but his threat was pervasive all day. I really love him. Such a brilliant character to have at the club.
Granit Xhaka had an inspired evening sitting at the base. He sprayed balls around all afternoon like a human pitch sprinkler, he stayed focused and interjected fearlessly in defence when needed. Koscielny played on with a gashed leg to stop Mustafi entering the field of play, bravo, bravo. Mesut Ozil created a whopping 4 chances in a big game. Monreal was excellent as always. So much goodness everywhere.
The notion that these players are not good enough to make the top 4 has been well and truly obliterated. The only real question Emery has to answer is one of focus. He seems more than capable of motivating his players for the big games, but can he rally the players against Watford, Leicester and Wolves when we play them away from home? If he can’t, days like today mean very little.
Year-on-year performance changes in the Premier League pic.twitter.com/mCZdaMWXGM
— Nick Harris (@sportingintel) March 10, 2019
I’ve seen a lot of fans citing the above as a de facto sign that Emery is doing a great job. Out of the 16 teams viably listed, 11 are either mapping to what they did last year or doing better. That’s 69% of the league tracking to last season or making progress, even Sarri who we all think should be sacked, is 7.5% better off. Numbers need context and you need more than one data point to make a case. For me, the height of our ambitions this year can’t be whether Emery did better than Wenger in a nose-dive season where the players downed tools in February and did even worse when he quit in April.
I think the step forward we’ll be celebrating is the big game mentality. We’re competitive in an area we failed for the whole of the banter years. There’s now a belief system in place. Emery creates excitement on the days the fans really care about. He even tried to say as much in the pregame interview when he said, ‘attack… the fans… big balance… performance… yes and thank you.’ This big game platform will give him breathing space to build on the defence and the other aspects that have been lacking this season.
Additionally, if he makes third and puts Spurs in the Europa League, I will put my disdain for face tattoos to one side and have Emery Ultra artfully etched under my eye… for I will be one. Again, a true progress point is the final league position. 3rd would be immense, a true reason to celebrate. Let’s not lower ourselves to Spursy fist bumps for a high points 5th.
Right now, the momentum is with Arsenal. Spurs choked this weekend to Southampton and they go away to Liverpool and City. OGS is hopefully about to deal with a big xG correction. Chelsea scrambled a poor point against Wolves late on at home. 3rd is within reach. We just need to see more of today’s focus, vs the mess that was Rennes. We need today’s mindset in every single game until the end of the season.
Advantage Unai, let’s see if he can push it through. x
P.S. I think I speak for anyone that reads the blog when I say the scenes in the Midlands derby were beyond despicable. Watching a grown man run onto the pitch and hit a kid for no other reason outside football rivalry was beyond disgusting. Not just that, how embarrassing must it be to have a run up on someone who isn’t looking and still not land your punch. He’s lucky the Villa players didn’t give him a deserved beating. A cowardly move that thankfully saw Jack get up unharmed and bang in the winner. What a top lad. Fuck the thugs.
After seeing that, it was especially disappointing to see an Arsenal fan run onto the pitch. It’s not appropriate. Especially with knife crime as it is in the city at the minute. Unless you’re going pitch invade naked, do everyone a favour and stay in your seat. Eat your foie gras on Poilâne-style sourdough bread like everyone else and leave the party drugs to the kids you absolute melts.
That’s me done, see you in hell (the comments). xxx