Mikel Arteta was reminded of the lessons he learned in December in the comfort of a safety blanket FA Cup 3rd round against a team that’s really not that good.
The team he rolled out had a few of the problem players we thought might be useful this season. The two most notable were Willian and Pepe. We also saw Reiss Nelson given a crack, along with Joe Willock, who many had high hopes for this season.
Well, if you thought the emergence of the kids was going to spark something, you’d have been very wrong. Pepe and Willian were quite simply not at the level expected of £100k p/w+ talents. Whatever the Arteta system is, you cannot argue those two are built for it. The Ivorian looks so out of his depth, you struggle to see how he’d land minutes at Brentford. Willian doesn’t have pace, he doesn’t have a purpose, and he lacks the drive to show he can change.
Joe Willock and Big Mo just didn’t work at the base of midfield. Joe was particularly anonymous. There’s something there, he shows flashes of ingenuity with some of his passing and he has a stride, but too often it’s the lack of concentration you remember. I really, really struggle to understand what AMN has to do to land game time. The guy who marked City out of a semi and pocketed Traore can’t land time ahead of two players that have lower ceilings. It’s really odd.
The big lesson of the Newcastle game is that we’re a couple of injuries away from utter mediocrity. It was incredibly worrying to see Gabi go off in the warm-up crying. The hope is that he’s a drama queen like David Ospina, I fear that’s not the case though, based mostly on the luck Arsenal has had this season.
Saka and ESR are now the go-to players that rescue games. They have energy, they take chances, and for two young players… they are really efficient. Smith Rowe is now up to 4 assists and 2 goals this season. His finish today was fucking outrageous. It was seasoned. Confident. Decisive.
Saka landed the assist for the assist twice. His first was a looped ball that Lacazette nodded into the path of ESR. The second was finding Auba at the back post. Brilliant stuff. The second half of the season, in a position he likes, is opening up his game and he’s thriving. What a talent.
We also can’t ignore two senior players that have stepped up to the plate. Granit Xhaka changed the game when he came on. Alex Lacazette found another assist. Those two are earning their keep.
Same with Kieran Tierney. He’s been an immense signing and he popped up with another beastly performance and capped it with an assist for Auba. Talking of our captain, it’s great to see him on the score sheet. He might be out of sorts, but you can see the green shoots in his game that tell you he wants to be the main man. He’s not mentally retiring any time soon. That’s great news.
I think we can also stop talking about Emi Martinez now. Bernd Leno is just a really good goalkeeper. His triple save in the second half was decisive. He’s passing is improving, he’s punching less, and he makes decisive contributions in games when he’s not busy.
Also worth noting that Pablo Mari doesn’t look like a bum. Edu has pulled one out of the bag there. He’s calm on the ball, his passing is good and he uses his frame well. Someone compared him to Per Mertesacker the other day and I thought that was apt.
So, we’re through to the next round of the FA Cup. The biggest news we can get is that Gabriel has a minor injury. The hope is that we see Thomas Partey very soon to address the midfield drabness. A huge week ahead as we build towards Top 4 deciders at the end of the month.
Listen to my on the whistle podcast I just made with Matt. HAVE A NICE DAY.