Ok, so, let’s set the tone here.
It was Dundalk.
Every time some praise triggers you in this post, remember the above line.
Ok, here we go.
THAT WAS SO GOOD WILL WE WIN THE LEAGUE?
Looking at a game like that, you have to unpack what’s going on in training. For me, the performance was impressive because it looked like there was a very aggressive attempt to get the team firing. We attacked with intent and purpose. Things didn’t always work, but we didn’t shy away from experimenting. I haven’t felt we’ve been purposeful like that in a while.
The addition of Willock and Reiss really added something different to the attack. Both players were very direct, they ran at people, tried to stay on their feet, and they both took chances.
Joe Willock had 40 odd appearances last season, I didn’t realize that, which tells you something about his form to date. Yesterday was a glimpse of what could be possible if he raises his level in the moments that matter. He’s fast, he loves to run, he can play on the turn, and he shoots. He might not be perfect, but his ability to act as the glue between midfield and attack gave us an extra dimension last night. I thought he read the moment for his goal really well, he took a chance on the run, controlled the blocked shot, then finished like a demon. He has a lot of energy and he was also big into the tactical fouls we were dropping on Dundalk every time they tried to break… no doubt that was practice for the United game.
Reiss Nelson was also pretty decent. He looked like a player that knows this is his last chance. He didn’t look scared, he wanted to stay upright, and he wanted to make things happen every time he had the ball. His decision making was far more promising than it has been. It was a good step forward for him.
Nicolas Pepe was a bit of a mess, but you can see he’s trying to develop his game. The goal he scored was outrageous, especially as it was with the foot we didn’t think he had. An absolute rocket. Overall, he played like a player struggling. He was selfish, and last night was all about him finding some form he can take into the big games. I am happy he was shooting, I am happy he kept on pummeling away at crosses, I am happy it worked out in the end. There’s a long way to go, but I will take a player that doesn’t hide from their form. You know a player like that? Adebayor. He never gave up. Eventually, after a while, it clicked.
The team still doesn’t know how to play with Eddie. He’s not balls over the top player, he’s too small for high crosses into the box, and I’m not sure he’s quite cracked tight spaces. He’s a guy that lives off scraps, but to make it at Arsenal, he needs to find a way to find more of the ball. Still, he scored, so that was nice.
Granit Xhaka as a centre back when we have 52 real centre backs on staff was amusing, and exactly the sort of thing Pep G would try. I would be very, very worried if we did that at the weekend. Imagine Granit facing off against the pace of United? We are in trouble though if Mustafi doesn’t recover from his knock. I don’t want to see Kola anywhere near our starting 11.
Folarin Balogun made his debut. I am very excited about his potential. He has all the ingredients to be something exciting. He has elite balance, he’s fast, strong, technically really good… and he carries himself with the air of a man that thinks he’s going to the top. I really hope he’s chomping at the first team by the end of the season, it was great to see him play.
Runar also had a solid start. He didn’t have much to do, but he dealt comfortably with the ball at his feet and he looks like he’s a catcher. He is very expressive though. A concern. I like keepers that are dead behind the eyes. It shows that football is all they are thinking about. Runar’s twitching is a worry. The question is, will the keeping coach address this? Can we have a calmer face next time? We’ll see.
Ok, that’s all I have for today. The big one is this weekend. What did YOU learn about the game?