Mikel Arteta undertook a risky strategy that paid off against Portsmouth. He opted to start 6 kids 20 or under against a form side. Portsmouth were unbeaten in 19 games at home. They were also on a 10 game winning streak. That’s a lot of confidence in the players and a lot with the fans.
The game wasn’t Picasso in its beauty, but that was always unlikely in a cup game with a ferocious home ground so mean they sang ‘You’re leaving in an ambulance’ to Lucas T when he was smashed over without a booking inside 15 minutes. That moment unnerved us and quite often in big injury games, both teams switch off, but we gained our composure and had the best chances of the half.
I’d say the problems in the first half were very similar to those we face with the senior team, in the final third, we lacked a decent ball and our finishing was poor. We had a few shaky moments at the back from some looping crosses, but we kept their chances to a minimum. In fact, they only hit the target once in the entire game. Gabriel missed a couple of sitters that he’ll regret and I think Eddie also flunked his lines. The opening moment did come though, deep into injury time Nelson fizzed a low cross at Sokratis, the GREEK BEAST buried his shot inside the near post. A thing of beauty. A strikers finish. Alan Shearer in tears at the purity.
The second half was a different story altogehter. We took a far more aggressive approach and absolutely dominated the chances and the possession. Reiss Nelson again made the difference with a great run and final ball that found Eddie, he did brilliantly at the near post finishing like a boss.
We can look at the result as a professional job well done, I’m not sure I always felt like it during the game, but we limited Pompey to zero shots on target across the 90 minutes and a young team rode out some brutal play from the home side and an absolutely standard Mike Riley performance in which you can be sure he was desperate to help Pompey. Booking Matteo for theatrics but not the thug that smashed Torreira summed it up.
There were some solid performances. Pablo Mari, the most handsome man in the team looked very assured. He had the second most touches on the pitch, made some good blocks, and gave a solid account of himself. He opens up the pitch as well, he’s very pro moving the ball forward and he’s actually far quicker than I thought he’d be. Yep, quicker than Per, I said it. Let’s see if he can do that against the Hammers in a few days.
Joe Willock didn’t have his best game. His touch was off, he made some bad decisions and his final ball was not of the standard we’d expect of a 10. I’m not sure that’s his position. I like that he has outrageous amounts of energy, and that he never lets his head drop, but he’s not quite right in the 10 role. I’m not sure if he even likes playing there.
Reiss Nelson landed two assists. He was direct, confident and he had a lot of swagger about his game. I’m so pleased to see him improving, notable that Arteta said he was a special talent, he clearly had a lot of hope for his future.
Sokratis is worth a mention just because he played the most Hollywood ball of the game and it was pretty, also can’t know a centre back scoring a goal like an elite striker.
Saka continued to have some good moments, Ceballos fought like a dog, and I’ll continue to give David Luiz props for being a mentor regardless of the game he’s playing in. It was great to see him spending time with Reiss after the game. I am really impressed with his attitude towards the new regime and his approach to the games since Emery left.
Arteta once again delivered his criticism to the players in plain English. He had this to say on AMN absence from the starting 11.
“Ainsley needs to put his head down, work hard and show me every day in training he wants it more than anybody else and that he wants to play for this club and fight for his place.”
Lack of focus has been a a critique of him in the past. He’ll switch off, do something dopey on the pitch and look unfocused. Counter that critique of him to what he said of Papa.
“He moans a little bit because it’s not his position,” Arteta joked, “but for certain games I think [Sokratis] is very [much a] handful.
“He has always had the right attitude and has qualities to play there in certain moments when we need him.
“Sometimes he needs to interpret what’s happening, when we have the ball it’s a little bit difficult for him to use the space like he should do in relation to what the opponents are doing. But in general he did really well again.”
It’s clear. Do what you’re asked. Focus. You will get games. AMN is going to blow his chance with us and end up like Theo and Iwobi. Sad to see.
Overall, it’s a game we should have won. But we’ve slipped in the past after a bad result. The players fought hard, they kept their composure and they once again showed they are up for the fight.
Now we have to do it in the league. Champions League is the goal, we need to make it happen. Onwards and upwards, we’re playing West Ham next. Always tough to play derby games, but a win is the only acceptable outcome.