Arsenal notched their first win of the season versus Norwich City. The game wasn’t easy. The result felt like a bit of a slog. But the 3 points on the board were more than deserved and will hopefully act as a pivot point for the season.
The starting line-up was pretty wild. Arteta put most of his new players out on the pitch. We saw Tomiyasu, Odegaard, White, Lokonga… and Ramsdale. Those were big decisions. The Premier League is tough, to make so many changes in one go was always a huge risk, especially notable considering Tuchel had to yank Saul at halftime against Villa. Arteta even dropped Ainsley into midfield. When the chips are down for Mikel, he always turns to the kids, and they usually do the job.
The first half was a fairly mixed bag. We dominated the first 20, fell off a little, then came back before halftime. The second half was where it was at, we refound our intensity, kicked up into the 4th gear we haven’t had all season, and finally made the game count when Nicolas Pepe fizzed a shot at the inside post, bundled himself at the second chance, allowing a rebound to fall comfortably for Auba to prod home from a single yard.
It was the sort of goal the game needed. Just a mad one even the footballing gods couldn’t deny us. At the stage Arsenal were, you couldn’t complain. We just needed something, anything, to get this season going.
So what did we learn?
When Arsenal have all their best players out, even those that have never played together, we are a far more interesting and capable side. It’s weird having to argue with people for 2 weeks that mass injuries and covid outbreaks impact performance, but there you are. We created 30 attempts at the Norwich goal. That is a beasting. The problem wasn’t dominating the opposition, the problem was finding the target.
This new team will deliver what the summer needed of it. Every component piece we’ve added helps us move the ball forward faster and with more variety. The players make us more unpredictable and the quality of final ball is better so it gives players like Auba the confidence to make runs because he knows the chances are that someone will find him.
Aaron Ramsdale was the big move for me. Bernd Leno isn’t committed to the Arsenal cause, but I didn’t expect him to be dropped so soon. The move worked. Sure, it was Norwich and they didn’t do much in possession, but the issues we had in goal weren’t about shots. It was more about communication, decisions making, and raw ground skill. Aaron passed the game with flying colours. His passing range is varied, he’s comfortable on the ball, turning a Norwich player with ease at one point and pinging a pass out wide, and he seems to radiate energy. Patrick Vieira always had great engagement with the fans, Ramsdale seems like he’s going to be that type of persona because he’s basically like having a fan in goal.
Ben White is a good player. You can’t deny it. The weirdos writing him off after one game will look very silly this season. He created three chances of his own yesterday. His ability to move the ball out of defence like a midfielder makes his problematic. As a defender, you can’t sit back because he can pass, you can’t let him run because he can overload, and he’s risky to press because he’ll go past you. He’s a very rare type of problem for a centre back. I thought he was excellent. It’s also clear that the partnership he has with Gabriel already is a game of opposites. The main bonus? Both are very athletic defenders.
Tomiyasu was the real surprise package of the day. He had a debut to dream of. The fans loved him, they felt his presence, and they could all see that he has all the raw ingredients to be a good player. Firstly, he has it all physically. He showed off his pace early catching up 5 yards on a dangerous run with ease. He’s aerially very strong because he’s basically a centre back. His technique on the floor is great and his hunger to join the attack means we’re more balanced going forward. I really like him, his work ethic looks great, and Arteta went to great lengths to communicate that he’s a smiler behind the scenes that is always happy.
Midfield was a mixed bag. Ainsley started next to Sambi and struggled at times, but did grow a bit in the second half. He created a few chances, but his 76% pass completion rate in the final third needs to be higher. It was good to see him given a chance regardless. Sambi Lokonga is such a talent, he came off on 60 because of fitness concerns, but he really does have it all. Great awareness, he’s tactically mature, and he is basically everything Ceballos is not. Quick at passing, tight control, forward momentum.
In attack, we had a good day for movement and attempts at goal. Nicolas Pepe was frustrating, but also nearly really amazing. He created 5 chances, made plenty of direct runs, and was decisive for their goal. He needs to be coming out of games like that with 3 goals and 2 assists. He looks fit, he looks very interested, and I think having a proper right back to create chemistry with is going to make him more involved in ways he wants to be. I just wish he could sharpen his footwork, sometimes he looks easy to defend against because it’s the same bag of tricks over and over. I’m hoping there’s more to come from him.
Odegaard is a very, very good signing. He’s a leader, he works relentlessly, and he often leads the press. I think he’s going to love it at Arsenal this season and I can’t wait to see the sort of relationship he forms with Auba. I can’t believe people were calling him a boring player, I love watching him, his eye for a final ball is something else and we’ve barely scratched the surface with his ability.
The real star though was Thomas Partey. He’s a new player to my mind. He’s our best player and when he came on, he made a huge difference. Keep him fit this season and we’re going places. He’s the difference-maker. We’ve missed him, he will be such a driving force for us this year. Honestly, I cannot believe how good he is.
Finally, so much for the fans getting on Arteta’s back. They are there to support. He’s built a very likeable young team, everyone at the club has communicated that this project might take a bit, and they are all there to back the players. They were excellent all game and it turns out… Twitter/blog comments vibes isn’t an in-stadium thing.
Arteta has a lot of work to do regardless. You could sense he’s been to some dark places of the past few weeks. He’s likely taken onboard some home truths as well, because the way he’s conducting himself is a lot more positive than before. Every game needs a result. Burnley and Wimbledon are huge games, but Spurs is our cup final. We need to gel fast, the football needs to keep adding 10% of excitement, and the fans need to see where the project is going. Everyone was very quick to complain about the talent we brought in this summer, but no one is pinning for Maddison. Not many of the Emerson experts are clawing for him this morning after his disaster-class yesterday. There also seems to be quite a bit of love for our new keeper. Those kids were good signings, I’m convinced of that.
There’s a long way to go this season, there will be bumps in the road, but for now… it’s one game at a time. Let’s see where this season can take us now everything is in place and looking fit.
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