The Europa League last 32 kicked off to a fairly muted start.
Arteta rolled with the same line-up he used against Leeds United at the weekend. On reflection, that might have been a mistake. I felt like the game was leggy at times and we certainly lacked the zip we saw in our last 3 league games.
That said, the approach to the game could have been tactical. Arteta doesn’t have a one-size fits all and he’ll adapt to the moments. My assumption is that the lack of intensity might have been a choice. We totally controlled the game from start to finish. Arsenal didn’t need to fly at them and I suspect coming out of the first leg unscathed might have been on the minds of the coaching staff.
There was a lot of whining after the game, which I found odd. Not only did we control the game, we also had a lot of very big chances we fluffed. Odegaard had his most impressive game so far. He was very influential and he opened up Auba’s game with quick thinking and quality final balls. On a normal day, we don’t miss those chances… it happens. I’m not sure blaming Arteta for Auba missing those chances is sharp analysis.
I also found it horrifying to read people taking jabs at ESR after the game. The currency on the internet is to be the first for everyone so you can say, ‘I called ESR a fraud’, and it’s fucking embarrassing. Even though it was a quiet game, his running and off the ball movement was essential to all the good bits that happened yesterday. He can’t have a 9/10 every game, but just having him that 11 is so, so important. Perhaps some of the noise was shaped by the handball, which felt pretty harsh to me, but there we are.
We responded quickly, which was what was needed. A quick pass from Odegaard that found Cedric in space on the left, his accurate cross found Saka who finished with a fairly simple tap in.
Subs were questionable again, not because they were the wrong bodies, but because they came so late in the day. But, if you thread the decisions through the idea of total control, you can see why he maybe erred… because Gabi and Pepe aren’t exactly controllers in big moments.
I’d have started with them, particularly Gabi who deserves some minutes. There was still time to see a bit of Willian and Mo, but this time, they were only given 3 minutes. Safe bet. Subs are an art, it’ll take time to master them, but at least they didn’t cost us anything this time.
1-1 in an away leg on a European night isn’t a terrible start. I don’t think Benfica are very good and if we replicate that performance in the next game, we’ll cleanly win the game. We will need to be at our best though.
My thought are on Sunday. That was basically our first team out there. What is Arteta going to do against Manchester City? Surely he can’t go with that starting 11 again? Who comes in? Control is absolutely essential against the most dominant team in the league… but hey, if there’s any team he’s going to have a clue against, it’s City, so let’s see what happens.
Right, short one today, if you haven’t already, take a listen to the podcast I did with Touchy Gooners below.