Ok, so I can write the post that I wouldn’t have dared if we’d have lost that 5-0.
That was a game I suspect neither manager really wanted to win. This season is jam-packed with games. Players need fresh legs, the League Cup is not a priority for anyone in the Premier League, particularly with the covid-fixture pile-up.
Arteta put out a starting 11 that was uninspired. Lots of players that are struggling for form, some that will be sold, and some that we haven’t seen this season. With that in mind, we weren’t that bad. We put in another fairly dogged defensive performance, we asked different questions of Liverpool tactically, and we eventually ground out a win via shootout.
The second half was more positive than the first. We found the front three a little more often, but they all seemed 0.5 seconds off the pace. Still, you can’t say we didn’t have a go and you also can’t deny that even the second team fights to the death… not something that was true of Wenger’s latter year League Cup sides. Dissenter in the comments made the point that we had a doubleheader against City a few years ago and we couldn’t muster a response in the second game. We found one today. Also worth contrasting that this same game last year was a 10 goal thriller. 0-0 is a sign of the times, it’s the vision of a backroom team that prioritizes defence over attack. I don’t hate that.
As Roy Keane said the other day, the most important statistic is the score. The hero keeping that respectable? Bernd Leno.
I AM SORRY FOR DOUBTING YOU.
He made a thrilling save in the first half from Jota that spilt into the danger area, the bar rattled hard with the Minamino follow-up. Palming the ball into danger seems like a new thing from him this season. I (you as well) was a bit worried about him going into half time.
WHO WERE WE TO SPEAK ILL OF THE GERMAN KING?
His second-half performance was fucking fabulous. His low save from a swept VVD shot was magic. He tipped over a looping header where he switched hands mid-air. He was first to everything. He was a HERO.
I’ll say this aloud: EMI WHO?
One for the records: I don’t think we’ll see a lot of Runar this season.
We also need to have a conversation about Nicolas Pepe. It’s really not working out, is it? There seems to be two things going on, firstly, he’s not at the level you’d expect for a winger in season two. He slows the play. His first instinct is to cut the ball back (remember Wiltord used to do that?). Forward locomotion feels like a rarity. He’s also very weak, which means any sort of tussle leaves him on the floor. Second, he doesn’t look like he really cares. He has the same body language issues as Mesut Ozil. That game yesterday was a disaster class the likes of which you don’t expect of someone with that level of finance behind him. Very worrying. Really, quite unbelievable we gave someone £72m for him, glad that person is no longer here.
Joe Willock had some bright moments, but overall, I’m not sure he moved the needle. Mo Elneny still looking like a starter above him.
Cedric looks quite efficient going forward, I think he likely has the best delivery on the right and he certainly still has pace.
Eddie was fairly quiet, but the service wasn’t really there. Saka had a good game, slotting in all over the pitch. I love that his instinct is always forward, he’s the opposite of Pepe. He really is going to be some player. Again, it’s the players that didn’t start that matter: No Reiss against a team he scored 2 against last season.
The penalties were really good. Mo Elneny missed his. But Bernd managed two super saves denying Wilson and Origi. AMN finished like an ice-cold killer, as per usual. Laca, Cedric and Pepe all finished well. Then Willock finished the game off with a shot that narrowly squeezed under the glove of Adrian.
So the most important stat of the night? A victory at Anfield. The second most important? A clean sheet because of a worldie performance from a keeper under pressure. Get this, Leno is the first Arsenal keeper since 2012 to keep a clean sheet at Anfield. That keeper? Vito Mannone.
So what have we learned?
Well, Arteta is very much aware that we’re in desperate need of a creative midfielder. First or second team, it doesn’t matter the configuration, we’re not creative unless we’re leaking goals. Folk peddling the idea that the club doesn’t know where the squad is weak are waaaay off base. Arsenal are gunning very hard at the problem, so hopefully, we’ll hear good news. My worry is that even if we do land Aouar, is that enough? 5 years ago we had too many creative technicians, now we don’t have a single suitable player that can do the job. What happens if the one signing tears their ACL? Bland. That’s what happens.
It’s worth remembering that we’re still massively hamstrung by the terrible way Arsenal managed transfers over the past decade, the rebuild given the situation and ongoing moment is probably going to be slower than we hoped. The challenge we’re having is that all the clubs in Europe; who also have financial issues, know we want to clear deadwood. They are lowballing us. All of them looking for cut-price deals. Again, this is a legacy issue, not an Edu problem (mostly). At least a chunk of that problem is out of contract next June.
Though our creativity wasn’t elite, there was a clear shift in tactics to give us more opportunity to get the ball in Liverpool’s half, Klopp acknowledged as much after the game. We explored the right as much as the left, our lack of shots on goal felt the result of a lack of killer instinct just as much as our limited ambition with final third passing. There needs to be serious solve though, otherwise, this season is going to be laborious and very imprecise when we attack.
We also learned that William Saliba is not going to be the starting hero everyone had hoped for. Again, I am glad we signed him, he’ll hopefully be a star, but looking back to last summer, our overspending on a player that won’t be ready until next season seems quite mad considering what our squad still lacks (£100m outlay on two players still not ready is so bad). Arteta says he’ll have a transitional year with us to get fit, mentally right, and to adapt to the power and pace of the beastliest league in the world. Also worth remembering that there are about zero 19-year-olds killing it at centre back at top clubs in Europe.
I found some of the bitching about the lack of sexy football a little hard to digest. We have a clear identity with the players we have at the moment, it’s version 1.0, but it’s necessary and it will evolve (switching formations in-game seemed like a new move last night). We don’t have the squad to play expansive football, so we don’t. Arteta wants to win more than he wants to entertain, so we are a side that has been remade to be able to defend and attack in a very structured way. Someone in the comments was reminiscing about the Wenger days mid-game. Incredible that anyone would want to go back to years of Glorious Failure with big teams lining up to spank us with ease. 8 years of being absolutely pathetic, so bad teams would give us the ball so they could bully us off it and score. This season will be about pragmatic football if we don’t land the players Arteta needs to play expansive football. Arteta wants to win games, he’s not here for the purists, he’s here for the Champions League places and he’s built a system that he thinks can nick wins and keep clean sheets. This is a 1-0 to the Arsenal kind of year I’m afraid.
Yesterday wasn’t winning any awards for aesthetics, but that was Liverpool, they are better than us on every level top to bottom, and we delivered the performance needed to beat them. The third time in four games to be precise, even better when you consider the brutality of the weekend. We did it with a team that was less than ideal in a competition that is the lowest on the Arsenal priority list. Majority of the coaching staff focus will have been on winning this Sunday. The club desperately wants to go into the international break in the top 4. That is the #1 focus of this season. Getting back into the Champions League so we can afford a summer richer than Leeds United next year.
Regardless of the focus, that was a GREAT night for the process.
Winning breeds winning. Beating great teams is good for momentum. Crushing penalty shootouts is excellent for team bonding. Last night was a good night. If you can’t enjoy beating the best in the game, why bother?
P.S. Huge LOLz that we drew City in the next round. We are cursed with cup draws at the moment. City, Chelsea, Leicester, Liverpool, now City again. Still, you have to beat the best if you want to bring home trophies. Might as well start early.