Mikel Arteta made the biggest statement of his tenure with an electric win over Manchester City. It was 97 minutes of football we’ve rarely been capable of over the last 10 years.
Arsenal’s team of uncoachables purposely gave up 71% possession to a far better team and beat them 2-0 in a huge FA Cup game. The players defended like warriors. They worked for each other. They executed a tactical plan to near perfection.
This is a new Arsenal. The performance was more George Graham than Arsene Wenger. It was masterful to watch for so many reasons.
If Liverpool was a fluke, this was a purposeful masterclass.
The usual run of play against Manchester City is they brutalise teams with an aggressive press. Teams like Burnley panic in defence and fly the ball back out to their defenders and go again. Mikel Arteta knew this was how they operated. Instead of falling into the usual demoralising trap, he instructed his team to go harder at playing out the back than they’ve ever dared. To the untrained eye (mine), it was criminal negligence. Early on, Mustafi was tackled by Sterling 3 yards from the keepers’ line, only the quick thinking (and pessimism) of Ceballos kept out a clean strike at goal.
Still, it started to work. The plan was to play around the press. We gained confidence as the game wore on. It was clear that City were not Liverpool. Our first major chance happened when Luiz won the ball in midfield and threaded Auba through, only to see the chance fluffed.
You kind of worried that was going to be the best chance we’d create. It wasn’t to be. Our first goal was the best goal of the Arteta rein.
Emi > Luiz > Emi > Ceballos > (OMG he’s on the byline) Mustafi > (OMG he’s on his goal line) Emi > (OME he’s on the penatly spot) Xhaka > Luiz > Tierney > (what a pass) Lacazette > Hector > Pepe > AUBAOMGWHATAGOAL
What a goal. It had purpose, skill and craft. It was straight off the training ground chalkboard onto the pitch. It wasn’t even a fluke. We continued to stretch City because we played around their press. The half ended and City hadn’t had a shot on target. We had the better chances. Sure, our haul wasn’t dominant, but that was more down to sloppy play in the final third than a lack of opportunity.
The second half was better for City, but not that much so. They probed more. A little sharper in our third and it felt more dangerous, but overall, most of their sniffs were of the half-chance variety. The best of them fell to Mahrez. He only found one opening against AMN, he cut inside, beat his man, and forced a world-class one-handed save from Emi (which he held).
We took the second goal with a lovely move. Pepe received the ball on the left on the counter, he laid off Tierney who weighted a chipped pass so perfectly into Auba I thought it must be offside. Our man from Gabon broke their defensive line with an exceptionally timed run, he bore down on Ederson, and cheekily slotted between his legs for the win.
We still had 7 minutes of injury time to deal with, but the team was focused and delivered a stout defensive performance to see the game out.
We beat Pep G. Mikel Arteta, a novice coach, turned over the doubters as well as City and Liverpool in a week. He took uncoachable players and made them a team. He showed that football is about more than individual talent. Arsenal ran away with a win off 29% possession. A team that couldn’t pass out the back for 18 months after Arsene Wenger, used passing out the back as a tactic to flummox the opposition and score a goal. City, the most devastating attacking force in the league came away with one shot on target in 97 minutes.
That is exceptional.
I applaud the players. The coaching staff. The club for making a brave decision to invest in a vision, versus the bland idea that we should have hired in someone with a low ceiling that was recognised or invest in names we know are finished in the game.
Whatever happens this season – and it might not be pretty – I think for the first time in a very long time, we know we have the right coach at the helm.
With regards to the players?
Fuck me, Emi Martinez dropped another heroic performance. He’s played more games this season than he has in 9 years. He has EATEN his chance. His huge frame makes him very difficult to beat from any type of shot. He dominates his box. His passing is elite. He has stood up to every challenge. Arsenal finally has two great keepers.
David Luiz was a MAN MONSTER out there today. He lead by example, he never stopped, he concentrated, he delivered a HUGE world-class performance.
AMN, what a fucking smart performance. KDB, in his pocked. Mahrez, in his pocket. Foden, in his pocket. The only question I have about his future is whether the kit man can make a sturdy pocket for this boy. AMN moaned in the media earlier this week, then took his chance when it was offered. Superb game from him.
Lacazette was brilliant. We really needed him to drop deep at times to control the midfield. He did that. He never stopped. A very different performance to the one at Liverpool, but my word, what an underappreciated job he did.
Kieran Tierney. I cannot offer him enough praise. A rich footballer so focused his choice of designer bag is from Tescos. His power is off the charts; so explosive, so dogged. He put in an absolute shift again. What a gem Sven unearthed there, likely his best find.
ALSO, I should, you know, apologise for my opinion of Dani C. He really is a good player. He has the same attitude as Tierney. He loves the game, he never stops, his defensive contributions are huge. I thought he was excellent. Same with Granit Xhaka who has found a new lease of life since December. He made an unreal block when Bellerin made an attacking contribution to City in the first half. I also think it’s clear that he is a bit of a leader, particularly under this regime.
Final shout, Mikel Arteta. I hope we can now move on from ‘can a novice do a job for Arsenal.’ We just beat Liverpool and Manchester City inside a week. That is massive. Arsenal are resolute, the players are bought in, our results are getting better and we are VERY competitive. The debate should now be focused on how far can he take this, not whether he can take us there.
What Arsenal did wouldn’t be bold by business standards. Startups regularly nick talent from Apple, Amazon, and Google in the hope some of the magic rubs off on their operation. However, most football fans are new to that type of thinking. Arteta was a risk, but not as big as was made out. Regardless, so far, the thinking has paid off in the short term. We’re not being relegated, we have an outside chance of Europe, and we could win an FA Cup final. All from the starting position of being absolutely shite with a group of supposedly uncoachable players.
We still have 3 huge games left. It could be horribly disappointing. But don’t doubt we are on the right path. Mikel is the right man for the job. The big hope is that the improved performances might push the club to be braver this summer.
I’ll talk more tomorrow about what I think that should look like.
For now, enjoy my radio show below, and bask in the feeling of being excited about your club again. The future we wanted is here, Arsenal are finally on the up, the only thing getting in the way of a winning future is ourselves.