My oh my did I drink some booze last night, so much apologizing to do today.
But, the show goes one, and if getting blind drunk in the name of an away win for Arsenal in the Premier League is what happened, then so be it.
Arsenal beat Wolves away from home (YES). I think it’d be fair to say that the game represented one of the best performances under Mikel Arteta thus far. Not because Wolves are some sort of iconic team that are impossible to beat, more that they are exactly the sort that causes us problems time and time again. Well disciplined, structured, and extremely powerful. They are a team that plays to your weaknesses and they are very good at it.
The show Mikel Arteta put on was perfectly boring for the most part and I absolutely loved it. We largely controlled possession in the first half, we didn’t do anything risky, almost to a fault. Dani Ceballos spent most of the half recycling the ball through his defense. Mustafi, who made a horrendous error inside the first 12 seconds of the game had zero ambition in his passing. We didn’t want to make mistakes and we didn’t want to give away possession. Wolves seemed to play along, I think their game plan was focused on letting us have the ball and capitalizing on mistakes with a vicious counter.
It didn’t really happen all half, if anything, we had the better chances. Auba nearly turned a ball in from a corner, then Eddie ripped a brilliant low shot Patricio pushed onto his post. We took the lead from a slightly deflected Tierney cross, Bukayo Saka hung on the edge of the box and turned his lopping shot over the keeper. It was a beautiful piece of skill from the newly contracted teenager.
We came out for the second like we normally do. Very nervous. Wolves realized they had to play us and they turned up the heat. We didn’t collapse, but we certainly struggled to keep possession. We made a lot of unforced errors, fluffing 6-yard passes, making sloppy tackles, just generally making poor decisions.
This time, the manager made some bold decisions that paid off. He took off Kieran Tierney, who was having a tough time against Traore, and bought on AMN. I think the move threw a lot of people, but it looked like the reasoning was the blistering acceleration he has against a player who was starting to control the game a little. It proved to be a great decision, AMN threw himself into the challenge and stood up to the test, it really softened the threat of Traore.
He also took off Saka and Soares for Bellerin and Willock. The additional fitness at right-back served its purpose and Willock’s engine kept the ball moving with a little more purpose in the from three. The final roll of the dice saw Torreira make his long-awaited return, with Lacazette making an arrival. The Urgauaguan looked very fit and ready to offer the team something. Lacazette also showed up. Within 3 minutes, he picked up a Willock cross, took a tough into space and finished across goal. It was a super way to finish the game.
So Arsenal took another 3 points away from home and scored two goals against a team that hasn’t conceded at home since January. Arsenal now sit 7th in the Premier League, 3 points from 6th, and 6 from 5th.
So what are the important takeaways?
Well, we have a good structure at Arsenal. We are no longer reliant on our individuals, we are a team, and there’s a solid base to work from with an actual vision for how we should play the game. It is not perfect by a long way, but as it stands, it’s allowing the coach to extract bruising defensive performances from a squad of players people said were uncoachable. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to be winning every game for the rest of the season, but it does mean if things go our way (sendings off/injuries), we have a chance against anyone on our day. We’ve beaten Wolves and United, we gave Chelsea a great game which we were very unlucky in, hopefully, we can show our teeth against Leicester and Spurs.
Arteta’s job in the back half of the season was the make us defensively strong and difficult to beat. I think he’s achieved that. The goal difference under Arteta for his 16 games is +12 versus Emery’s -4 (17 games). We’ve gone from conceding 1.64 goals a game to 0.81 with the basically the same group of players. There’s still a lot of work to do, we need to be able to control a game for the full 90minutes, we need to be more productive in the final 3rd and I think we’re still a little shaky defending set-pieces. But what isn’t in doubt is the manager had an idea and he’s implementing it very well. Every one of those players on the pitch yesterday bought into the vision, you can see how they pay attention to his instructions. They are seeing the fruits of their labour, which is so incredibly important. Player buy-in, especially with the kids, is essential to the rebirth of Arsenal football club.
The individual performances have been great as well. Emi Martinez has been nothing short of excellent. He’s a catcher, which makes him very handy from set-pieces. He controls his box, he’s quick off his line and his giant frame makes him tough to score against. He was brilliant yesterday.
I thought David Luiz put in a massive shift yesterday, his calmness on the ball and leadership helped us through some very sticky moments. Even Mustafi had a very good game outside the brain fart in the first minutes.
Saka, Ainsley, Eddie, Soares, Auba… they all showed up when it mattered. We actually put in a battling performance. Something I wasn’t sure we were capable of under this iteration of players.
There are still some problems. Our midfield just isn’t where it needs to be. We struggle to dominate physically, we still lack a good connection to attack, and the passing often crumbles under pressure. But considering what we achieved yesterday, it’s hard to be too brutal. There are also individuals that are always going to be problematic. I don’t want to pick on people, but Kola really was poor yesterday. He looked scared, there was a moment with KT complained he was left with two players to deal with. I also thought there were a few occasions when it looked like he wasn’t putting his all into sprinting back. Still, what can you do? The squad is the squad.
The real shame of the restart is that we didn’t get to see what the plan against City could have looked like, it was a similarly boring game until the bad things happened. Also, if we’d been had a better start, maybe we hold onto the leader at Brighton. Those three points, 6 if you look at the whole season, are the difference between 7th and a Champions League place.
Anyway, a huge win for Arsenal. The decision to hire Arteta was a good one, I’ve banged that drum for 6 months. We don’t matter though, the players do, they are the one’s making statements about their belief in their new head coach. That’s what is most important. They are going to war for him. They are now a team. They are all getting smarter and better as players.
Mikel outshithoused a pro that many wanted at Arsenal. Under Emery, we played Wolves at home and they had 24 attempts at our goal, and we squeaked out a 1-1 draw. Arteta fixed Arsenal’s defensive structure in 16 games, something the experience of Emery couldn’t manage in 18 months. He is starting to cast doubt on the idea that this squad could not have made top 4 if he’d been in at the start of the season.
Still plenty of work to do, there are still shock losses on the horizon, but what you saw yesterday is the start of things to come. Put a new set of players in there and there’s no reason we can’t start aiming higher next season. Also, does anyone still wish we’d hired Jose Mourinho?
Right, see you in the comments. x