CREDIT: Arsenal Instagram
Arsenal kicked off their Europa League campaign in less than sexy fashion. If that game were a human being up in the cluuuuub, it’d be the ugly guy that pulls at the end of the night, picking up someone crying in the corner because they’ve messed their pants.
It’s difficult to knock a win, but as wins go, this was another you’d put on the unimpressive list. Now, you have to caveat that the Europa League is not the competition young kids dream of growing up. It’s a form of punishment. It’s detention for elite clubs. We shouldn’t be there, the players know it, and that clearly impacts motivation on some level. Factor in that a chunk of that starting 11 was fringe, here on a favour, or we attempted to sell them this summer as well.
Rapid Wien were out the traps faster than us and their young side nipped, shoved, and kicked with vigour. The interesting thing is that the physical approach didn’t impact our spirit, it just kept the game from really flowing. We nearly conceded early when Bernd Leno had to claw at a Gabriel block that was heading over him. We had one good chance as well, David Luiz steered a beauty of a header across their keeper, but he managed to palm wide. They were the better team in the first half. We were slow on the ball, we didn’t create chances in the final third, and we looked a little bored.
The second half was different, we started badly, then conceded. We were playing out the back like we have done for 9 months, Luiz passed to Leno, the German took a touch, lost the ball, then flapped at the shot and it went under him. It was a poor mistake. He doubled down on it by making two more horrendous errors with the ball at his feet. Very concerning.
We eventually kicked into gear. We played with a bit more urgency, we moved the ball into pockets that caused problems, and we looked a little more interested. Our luck broke when another of their tactical fouls gave us a freekick. Nicolas Pepe whipped it into David Luiz who was on point to nod into the net.
Our second goal came when we brought on Hector Bellerin for Cedric and Auba for the anonymous Eddie. Mo Elneny drove through midfield, slipped in Hector B who controlled the ball and weighted a perfect pass into Auba who finished with casual ease.
There were no real problems after that. As a sign of respect, we ran the ball into the corner to see out the game.
An away win in our first Europa League game of the season, against the best team in our group, is not to be sniffed at… but we’re football fans, so let’s sniff at this like we’re looking at a semi-naked Newcastle fan in December after one too many.
We dropped 650 odd passes, had 68% of the ball, but only managed 4 shots on target. That might have had the Özil weirdoes in our fanbase rubbing their knees, but for everyone else, it had us wondering where the solve is coming from? I understand that the system is rigid because we want to be solid. We are solid. If that game doesn’t have a bad keeping error, we’re doing what we should be. But here’s the thing… we are always going to have to deal with mistakes, and we cannot rely on an outrageous conversion rate in every game. The pattern is clear, we do not create. This cannot go on all season.
Now, I thought our midfield looked pretty decent. Mo Elneny gets a lot of stick but he covers a lot of ground and he’s a good passer. He lacks ambition in a 4-4-2, but he didn’t do too badly… his assist for the assist was vital.
Thomas Partey was the star though. I think he’ll surprise people this season. He looks like a Rolls Royce outside a chip shop in EL. His positioning is excellent, he shields the defence really well, and he seems to have that special knack of knowing where danger will come from. More encouraging is that he was pretty sharp going forward, he progressed the ball nicely and he’s certainly no sideways merchant (sorry, Mo). Owen Hargreaves called it ‘one of the best debuts I have ever seen.’
After the game, Arteta seemed to make a point that he can control the midfield on his own.
‘I think he held the midfield by himself in the second half when we were a little bit more open,’
‘He started to take more chances attacking certain spaces with some players.’
‘I think he was fantastic and there is much more to come from him.’
That hopefully means there’s a 4-3-3 coming our way at some point. That begins to open up some options for a more progressive approach to our attacking play. Overall though, a really, really good debut. Controlled, classy, decisive.
- Touches: 102
- Completed passes: 83
- Pass completion: 90.2%
- Duels won: 10/13
- Possession gained: 8
- Tackles: 5
- Interceptions: 1
- Clearances: 1
Well, a lot to unpack here. Firstly, someone needs to get Kolasinac and Cedric off of my screen. It is astounding that Cedric had to be yanked to save the game. Both can’t even perform against minnows in the Europa, shocking that they are still here.
… but, on a positive note. David Luiz might be a joke when it comes to freekicks, but he was a demon in the box last night. Two of our four shots on target came from his head. It’s great to get a turn out of him in a bland game. BUT, the real star, was Gabriel. What a fucking player this kid is, 22 years old, slipping into a new team, bossing games like a champion. He’s right at the top of the passing charts in the Premier League, and he took that form into last night. He’s clever with his immense strength, he reads danger really well, he’s dominant in the air, and he’s plenty fast. He just looks so incredibly comfortable on the ball. What a steal he was at 30m euros.
Nicolas Pepe did not look good again. Not even close. He managed to land an assist but it masked a largely ineffective game again. His confidence is rock bottom at the moment and I’m not sure his game suits the vision of what Arteta is trying to do… but come on man… be a little more direct. Try and stand up. Stop looking for the foul. Take some risks.
My main takeaway is we keep giving bum players chances and we’re not using these competitions to learn things. Where are the Willocks and ESRs? Why not give Balo a place on the bench? Are we going to give these players a go this season? I don’t know how many more times we need to see Kola and Cedric stink out the place. Do we really need to see Pepe in that game? Hopefully, that was just first-game jitters and we progress at some point to using players with high ceilings.
Top social media-ing from our man back at the ranch. I loved the Arteta comment.
‘It’s great, what I want from the players who aren’t in the squad, I don’t expect anything different.’
Sunday is the game that matters. Let’s move!