Mikel Arteta didn’t just need three points against Aston Villa, he needed a proper performance. Boy did we get one! I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the 90 minutes on display was probably the best of the season so far. Arsenal beat Aston Villa 3-1 and performed to a very high standard for about 80% of the game.
Every mediocre result at the moment brings a mediocre analysis from certain parts of the fan base. The Palace and Brighton games weren’t about bad tactics, the rain, or the end game of a destructive manager that plays dull football on purpose. They were a result of inexperience and a lack of confidence. Team sport is about psychology. If you are getting pressed hard and you are confident, you can break that press a few times early on, then put the opposition on the backfoot. If you let the press happen to you, you fall back on the easy option… long balls. We let Brighton have their way with us because the midfield wouldn’t show and the defence wasn’t confident. We panicked when we went a goal up against Palace, hoped we could defend, and we invited bad times. Villa was different.
It was about confidence.
Alex Lacazette was the catalyst for that.
Not only did he set the tone for aggression and work rate early on; he also proved a really useful pivot for the midfield. The players trust him. You can see that. Trust is absolutely huge in football. If you know putting a ball into Lacazette will result in possession, you’ll make the run. Every ball that went into Lacazette seemed to result in a positive move. Our defence was brave on the ball. Ben White too a huge early gamble when he beat the Villa press and went on a marauding 60 yard run. Everybody in the team clicked, Sambi was more ambitious, Thomas Partey was far better when he had a partner in midfield, Saka and ESR controlled the ball and moved with purpose.
Confidence was the difference between two draws and a win.
Did you notice that the players had been told to take less touches on the ball? There was so much one touch passing. The ball moved up the pitch at outrageous speed compared to where we are normally.
We rolled with a 4-4-2. Proper old school. The first half was a battering. It was total destruction. We finished the half with 14 attempts at goal, 5 big chances, 4 shots on target and a two-goal lead. Thomas Partey scored the first after looking very threatening from corners. The second one he connected with went across Emi. Our second came from a VAR decision that went our way. Auba had his penalty saved but scored when the parried save fell close to him.
The third goal was a beauty of a counterattack. Smith Rowe intercepted a rogue pass, Sambi laid off the Partey who found Auba in the middle, he flicked the ball into the run of Smith Rowe who struck home off Mings. Who cares how they come, it was certainly deserved.
Obviously, we conceded. Just to make things spicy. Thomas Partey put in a bit of a wet challenge on the edge of our box and they scored with a sharp strike.
You want to know what inexperience looks like when it lacks confidence? That was the last 20% of the game. We didn’t have the maturity to close out the game. I wondered if the instruction to BE BOLDER WHEN YOU ARE WINNING was taken too literally. Panic set into the system and we started making silly errors. The ball went from sticking to feet to no one being able to control it. Again, no need to worry, that is a learning experience and we’ll get better at it… but damn, it’s painful viewing.
… back to Lacazette. Dropping in to stop Douglas Luiz in the build-up? Outrageous stuff. He was so, so good.
Sambi Lokonga announced himself to the Premier League. I cannot reiterate how good I think this player is going to be. He’s so intelligent off the ball, he’s brave on it, he reads the game really well, and he’s BOLD. To deliver a performance like that after a mistake is special.
Aaron Ramsdale is just a brilliant young keeper. My big worry was he’d be a bit like Richard Wright. Great in a shite side doing 50 things a game. Bad in a side where he has 4 things to do in a game. I WAS SO WRONG! GIVE ME THE GoT SHAME BELL AND MARCH ME NAKED DOWN HOLLOWAY ROAD. He’s extremely alert to danger, he’s very fast off his line, and he’s a total athlete. Those daisy-cutter passes we thought were shanks in his first games are giving me life. Leno has ZERO way back.
Thomas Partey still has some work to do, but my oh my isn’t he better with a partner? I thought he bossed midfield. He was at fault a bit for their goal, but overall, he’s the first midfield since Paddy to give me Paddy vibes.
Emile Smith Rowe? 3 goals in 5? 2 assists and a goal for England U21? He played on Monday with a foot injury no one knew about. HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE THIS GUY? He’s just everything we love in a player. A London boy, high energy, creative… and now productive. What a great story he is. England caps are coming soon!
Our defensive unit was solid last season, now it’s exciting. The fact that our world doesn’t collapse when we lose KT for a game is progress. Tavares was excellent all game. He’s an elite athlete, his directness is a gift, and his defending was far better than I thought it’d be.
I also want to give a shout out to Auba. When you give him early balls, he’s better. It’s very simple.
So how did we finish the game?
22 attempts at goal.
9 shots on target.
6 big chances.
That feels like we can move away from THIS SYSTEM DOESN’T CREATE CHANCES. I think that’s the 4th game we’ve registered over 15 attempts on goal this season. We’re now averaging 14.6 shots per game, which puts us 5th in the league. Not a bad stat when you consider we’ve played Chelsea and City (BADLY) already.
We’re unbeaten in our last 7 competitive games. After the start we had, that is pause for a little praise. It’s not perfect out there, but if you asked the question: When Arteta has the players he wanted, is it better? We ‘might’ be getting to the point where we can say yes.
One of the criticisms people keep levelling at the project is: ARTETA HAS BEEN IN THE JOB TWO YEARS. It’s a tasty soundbite, hard to argue factually, but it’s not really the right way to look at things. The squad has undergone a brutal transformation. We’ve shipped out a huge amount of experience, we’ve finally replaced it with players all under the age of 24 (after a few misses under Raul), we now have the youngest team in the Premier League. The project we all wanted started this season. A year late, no doubt, but this Arsenal is the one that has an actual chance of being decent.
There’s not even an agenda here. That starting 11 had 5 of his new signings and two Hale-enders (thank you @SheWore). Who is crying about Buendia with his 76% pass completion rate? He was so anonymous, Odegaard made more passes than him in 22 minutes. Anyone crying about Martinez this morning? No way. Out of the 6 players this summer, which has been a miss? Not one. Fans love all of them.
This new model means new expectations. The football is going to be up and down. There will be pain. We’re going to have more games like Palace this season, that’s just a fact. The job Arteta has to do is make sure the fans are plated up more games like the Villa one.
The objective of this season is Europe. Arsenal needs to be in the top 4 mixer come January. If they are, there’s a chance they might bang the back half of next season.
Where are we now? One point off top 4. Brighton play Manchester City this weekend. Liverpool play United. West Ham play Spurs. Brentford play Leicester. There’s a high chance the top 4 pack don’t move a lot this weekend because those games could be draws. We are in good shape if that happens.
People need to chill out with the doom prophecies after every mediocre result and look at our reality. We moved away from ‘experience’, we’re going for a young player approach, that requires patience and a bit of faith. You know who said we should show a bit of faith? Nigel Winterburn, on the podcast. So you should pay attention to him because he’s won more trophies than you.
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