Well, here we are. Another safe space special from Mikel Arteta and the boys. A fine win at home in front of 2000 Arsenal fans, playing stunning tika taka in the only European competition the people care about
Now, same as before, I KNOW IT IS THE EUROPA LEAGUE… but there hasn’t been a lot of joy around these parts over the last month. So let me give you some in this post.
THAT WAS EASILY THE BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON.
No question. That was the first time we’ve seen a game of football and gone, yeah, that is the sort of football I’d like to see us play every week at The Grove. After all the shit that went down last week, it was a pleasure to watch the players go out and rip a weak team a new one.
The team played with far more aggression than we’ve seen of late. The passing was faster, the midfield had more energy, and the players took risks. We had had 22 attempts at their goal and hit the target 11 times. Our passing accuracy was 86%. We dominated posession at 71%.
Arteta’s 4-2-3-1 system looked interesting. The only way it works is if it has energy and speed. He found that yesterday and it should be a lesson.
AMN was absolutely brilliant. He said after the game he ‘had a bit of legs in midfield, got about, made some tackles, I won the ball back and got up and down the pitch. Give us bit more… dynamics. It was good.’ Couldn’t agree more. He was everywhere, but it was more than a show of muscle power. He was smart with his positioning, he read the game well, and he moved the ball with purpose. I love the ambition of some of his one-touch passing. There was a moment when he danced through the middle of their defence and tried a chip shot. He duffed his lines, but that wasn’t the point. It was the first non-mechanical attacking action I’ve seen in weeks! He offered the game so much. If he can level that sort of confidence with the right amount of concentration, how can he not be starting in our midfield?
Mo Elneny had his first game back after the ‘rona. It wasn’t perfect, he had some covid brain moments, but it’s hard not to notice that his workrate changed the dynamic of the midfield. He never stops, he’s positive in his play, he keeps the ball moving fast with one-touch passing and he is industrious about winning it back.
We were also better in attack. Lacazette had his best game in a while. He let off a ripper of a shot to open the night. He needed that. However, it was his link-up play that was the standout. He moved faster, he made better decisions, and he was a handful to deal with. Eddie was also excellent, I’ve felt that he’s maybe banked on being a tap-in merchant over the last few months, hiding in the shadows hoping for a crumb. Not last night, he took the game by the scruff and imposed himself. I loved that he dropped deep, he ran the line, and he worked hard for his goal after missing with his first attempt. He also gave the assist.
Nicolas Pepe looked really good. Weirdly turbocharged, like someone told him to be more Neymar. I’ve not seen him have a game like that where his take-ons were coming off. He was all over the place, wide, inside, crossing, shooting… he looked the part. He was very interested, which was great to see.
We also have to hand it to Reiss, he’s refusing to let this club disrespect his ability. He used his pace to cause problems, his passing was much better, and he made a nuisance of himself all night. I loved that he hit a corner past the front post, finding Mari for an assist. He’s making a very good case to land minutes over Willian, who looked drossy again.
I was also really pleased for Pablo Mari. It’s a small point, but he’s one of the players everyone loves at the club. He has a big personality and I think everyone is hoping he can be more of a regular. I loved his perfectly executed header from a setpiece to score his goal. I like the way he runs with the ball. I love how big he is. Hopefully, his recovery continues at a pace and he adapts to the Premier League.
The good news didn’t stop with those names. Dani Ceballos had a free kick 30 yards out AND HE HIT THE TARGET. Wow wow wow. What a moment for Arsenal. I don’t think we’ve seen a keeper move for a freekick in 3 years.
There were some other nice moments, we also had our first glance of Cal Chambers after a long time out of the side. People forget he was looking really good before his injury and he was starting for Arteta in the Premier League. We also saw Balogun and ESR come on for cameos. I really like the look of ESR. He’s hungry, he moves powerfully and he scored his first goal for us after a lovely move. I also really like the look of Balogun, he moves like a 9. He’s powerful, he can act as a target man, and I think we’d do well to keep him and make him our Kun Aguero. Too far? No. Not today.
A lot of people after the game were snarking at the result. Well fuck them. If you can’t see that the football we played today was worthy of praise, you need to pull your head out of your backside. The big question, as ever is how it translates into first-team football. We won’t see a formation like that at the weekend, but the confidence of the win will filter through, and a few of the players staked claims for inclusion. It’s about time we had a little glimpse into the future, I liked it.
There were three key takeaways for me.
Firstly, it doesn’t look like the squad has given up. I loved hearing Ainsley say they were told to have fun, we need more of that in the side. I think Arteta still had plenty of buy-in with the players, which is important because that means when we escape the trough we’re in, we’ll be much stronger.
Secondly, we finally saw a glimpse of what Arteta has planned. The football was… good. We still have a lot of work to do, we could still lose on Sunday, but I like the shape of the starting 11 today, and with a good January window, we could start to move the aesthetics forward. Key attributes were speed, one-touch passing, combined with risk-taking actions.
Thirdly, we have to start prioritizing the attributes that will make the future system. Arteta has insisted on experience making it happen for him this season. It hasn’t worked. If we’re going to be bang average, I’d rather do it with young players that can improve and give us good days of football, versus opting for Xhaka and Willian stinking out the starting line up because we believe in their great qualities. Reiss offers more to the system than Willian right now, so play him. AMN cannot possibly be worse than Xhaka, so play him. LACAZETTE FORGIVE ME YOU NUMBER 10 HERO.
Right, that’s me done, have a fine day… I’ll be banging out a podcast later with a guest I am very excited to speak to.