Arsenal hit the ground running with a clinical dismantling of a hapless Fulham. The story of the day was all about the debutants. Willian landed two assists with a shout for a third and Gabriel kept a clean sheet and bulleted a header for his first goal.
The starting line-up looked very conservative, if Unai Emery had picked a starting 11 with so many defenders, we might have shrieked in complaint. However, this is a different era. Arteta’s 5 at the back is a little different. Maitland-Niles and Tierney added a lot to our attacking build-up play allowing us to play some joyful attacking football at times.
The midfield base was Xhaka and Elneny. Not where I thought we’d be at this stage of the season, but the two of them worked really well together. Mo(dric) is more mobile than Xhaka and he’s super tidy. He’s an engine room of a player, moving the ball fast, accurately (95% pcr), and mostly forwards. His height and size also gives us something. Granit Xhaka looked composed and fit, he completed the most progressive balls into the final third, his one into the box was a sight to behold, finding Auba with an over the shoulder pass Pirlo would have purred over.
Our defensive structure was solid again. Admittedly, Fulham really offered very little in way of threat. Our biggest errors were mostly self-made, the biggest scare came when AMN passed to Gabriel and the Brazilian ghosted the ball requiring Bernd Leno to be fast on his feet to stop the encroaching striker. He warmed as the game progressed. His erratic passing started to improve and his tackling sharpened. I think most of us forgot he’d not played for the best part of 6 months.
Rob Holding also looked very steady. Arsenal.com showed the Bolton boy dropping stepovers in training, he took that into Fulham’s half with a lovely bit of technique that opened up an attack. I wasn’t sure he had it in him to play at the level we need, but he’s getting better and better and the manager has told him he’s going nowhere.
Bernd Leno was under some extreme scrutiny. Martinez is off to Villa and there are a lot of hurt feelings in the fanbase. The German was fine. He’s a world-class keeper and he breezed the 90 minutes.
Hector Bellerin made a pretty excellent case for his continued inclusion in the plans of the manager. He looks fit, he’s grown out his fade, and he’s sharpened his attacking prowess. Everything about his game looks better at the moment. It is VERY interesting that after Vinai said Arsenal don’t sign players based on agent reccos that the squad didn’t contain Cedric Soares.
AMN worked hard for the team, his passing was a little off, 75% isn’t going to be his best number this season, but it was in the name of a vital role for our build-up play and he seemed to spend most of his time on the left. Rio Ferdinand had this to say on what he was doing for the team.
‘Maitland-Niles is a wing-back and when you speak about wing-backs you’d expect him to be in the wide areas, coming out consistently throughout the game.
‘He’s done anything but that, he comes in, passes the ball and his first run after that is to run inside and create an overload in midfield.
‘He comes straight into the midfield area and what that does is it causes confusion and causes them to have more numbers in there than they’d usually have.
‘After that, you’ve got the width being created by Aubameyang, your main goalscoring threat, and the left-sided centre-half, Tierney, he’s the man who creates the width.
‘It’s so different to what you expect from a three at the back. You normally see it being quite rigid and you know where people are.
‘When you’re a player out there and you don’t see players in the positions you expect to see them in, that is a confusing element.
‘That’s what Arteta seems to be doing and we see are they a well-drilled team? Yes, they are.’
Some people questioned Mikel keeping AMN. I couldn’t be more pro his inclusion. The guy is an absolute expert at executing tactical plans. I’m so happy for him, he’s an absolutely class act.
Tierney also had a good game, his pass completion was 86%, and some of them were dreamy to watch. He is going to be hugely important to our success this season, I really hope we keep him fit.
In attack, it was another positive game for Auba. We played out of the back in now trademark fashion, Willian switched the ball to him on the left, he cut inside and fizzed his shot into the top corner. We know what we’re getting with Auba, game-changing finishing every week. Rio Ferdinand told BT that he’s a player you always feel is going to do something, that’s a huge compliment.
Willian shut the doubters up (lololol) with an incredible debut. He’s sharp in the mind, he’s electric on the ball, and he gave us the sort of creativity we’ve been lacking. Near 100% pass completion. A hand in all 3 goals. He’s slotted right in. I think he’ll be very important to our success, what a dreamy player. I particularly liked that he kept Pepe benched. The Ivorian came roaring onto the field when he landed his minutes. We need a better level from him this season. The occasional flutter of magic isn’t enough at the highest level. We need him more present. Hopefully, Willian will push his game.
Not every game will be a simple as this one, but you can only play what is in front of you. I read that this game was our best xG against away from home in 5 years. The players were focused and motivated. Everyone wanted to be on the pitch. The squad is finally united around a vision. They all want success, and who would bet against it? We look a different animal these days and everything coming out of the club is positive. What a difference 6 months can make.
Do we still need signings? Absolutely. I think they’ll arrive. I think the biggest need is a dynamic #8. We lack a bit of midfield dazzle. Balls into the box rarely come from central midfield, Xhaka and Elneny between them put the ball in the box once, so that needs to change, particularly against teams that’ll have more organised defensive structures. I think we’d all love a #6, but we could survive without one. Hopefully, we sign two players, the desire is there, the challenge is raising enough funds to make it happen.
The manager made a statement of Mesut and Matteo. They aren’t part of our future. Matteo will have to find a new club. Mesut will likely just sit out the season to make a point no one cares about.
Might also be worth a small mention about the Ceballos and Eddie dustup. It looked like handbags and both of them made up on Insta after the game. Best pals again.
Next up is West Ham. They are in total disarray. Players in open revolt against the club. A shambles on the pitch. We are normally a gift for beleaguered managers, let’s hope we’re not next Saturday. A huge Top 4 game today when Spurs and Everton go head to head at Goodison Park. I can’t wait to see what that looks like.
WE ARE BACK! See you in the comments. x