Mikel Arteta finally resolved his psychological issues with Pep Guardiola, putting City’s treble winners to the sword in an afternoon of extraordinarily high-level football – the likes usually reserved for a Champions League semi-final.
Arsenal nicked the game 1-0 – all four of Mikel’s subs combining for the winner. Thomas Partey found the run of Tomiyasu – the man from Japan felt bold enough to run at goal from central midfield – he nodded the ball to Kai Havertz who used his body to shield Ake’s incoming challenge, the big German then prodded the ball to Gabi Martinelli who struck first time and scored off the head of the Ake. A wondrous moment.
Make no mistake, this was an outstanding result and one of the best performances of Mikel Arteta’s career. He slayed the City monster without Bukayo Saka or Gabriel Martinelli. He went with an unorthodox starting 11 that most people were whinging about in their group chats.
This was a side that had four or five players that had been in 3rd gear all season – the idea they’d all come good and deliver a perfect game was outrageous.
Well, after 5 minutes, we nearly let them in with some disgusting defending. Raya was off the beat, Rice was lost next to Jorginho, no one looked like they believed they could execute the game plan.
But there was a game plan and it seemed to revolve around slowing things down – we were methodical. Slow. We made City come for us. This was a more mature Arsenal plan. It didn’t look good at times, our keeper was all over the place, some commented that his performance looked a bit like Petr Cech’s when he was asked to play with the ball at his feet and nearly scored an own goal. He couldn’t find people long or short. There was an altercation with Gabriel at one point after a very hairy moment.
The good news is the problems we were having weren’t because of a lack of bravery, it was a lack of belief. Things just weren’t clicking. The first half felt like two world-class heavy-weight superstars feeling each other out.
Kovacic wasn’t just feeling us out – he was trying to break ankles. He managed to dodge a red card after a nasty tackle, then moments later, he somehow evaded a second yellow for a very second yellow kind of offense. I don’t want to drone on here – by PGMOL mistakes seem to be getting normalized at this point. Like they’re part of the entertainment. Howard Webb should be called the CAO (Chief Apology Officer) because he doesn’t seem to do much beyond beg for forgiveness.
Lucky for us, we didn’t need an apology, just the three points.
The second half saw an uptick in intent and purpose. Arsenal moved things up a gear, we were more aggressive, Declan Rice moved into a more advanced position, and we took the handbrake off.
Arsenal looked like the dominant force. City didn’t really have answers. They resorted to sideways passing. They went into their shell. Big names didn’t step up.
Our players did. David Raya upped the level – he went from looking like a Brentford back-up keeper to the next-level vision of what that position could mean for us. He pinged a low crossfield ball to Gabriel Jesus into feet that was immaculate. His swagger moved everyone up a level.
Arteta rolled the dice, he brought on a set of players that represented the starting 11 we wanted to see. I’ve been through the goal, but I haven’t stated how good all the subs where. Thomas Partey reminded us all that he’s still a king in the world of 6s. Martinelli played like he’s been fit for 6 weeks. Tomi and Kai added control and aggression to a game that needed it.
We saw out the win, our first in the league since Pep moved over from Bayern, it was a beautiful, beautiful moment.
Before I get into some spicy takes – I thought the crowd brought the fire in the second half. They were loud, they met moment, and they showed that last season was no fluke. It was absolutely brilliant to hear!
The big star of the game for me was Mikel Arteta. He showed so much restraint to keep unfit players on the bench. These were things he wasn’t capable of last season and they cost him. It was so amusing to read all the fake ITKs try and best each other pregame with SAKA IS GOING TO START only to be felled by the sword of Arteta’s fake news. Saka didn’t train at all last week, he was never in contention for England, but the club let the story run.
It wasn’t perfection – Trossard had to roll off because of a hamstring problem – then Arteta played Martinelli who was not signed off by the medics. This sort of thing is funny when you win, but ideally, you don’t want to roll the dice on big players 8 games in. Still, a worry for another day. He has 2 weeks off along with Saliba, Trossard, and Saka. One side note worth mentioning – where are all the Reiss fanboys right now? I thought he was back-up for at least one player in our squad? Seems he’s not for Saka or Martinelli. Again I ask… why sign?
Declan Rice was double saucy again. He has adapted to our system at breakneck speed. His power is frightening because he combines it with speed. He was everywhere. I love his slide tackle block to run move he has, he did it twice, it’s definitely a thing. His presence in that midfield gives everyone so much security. He really does make the game seem so simple.
David Raya has had a rickety start to his time at Arsenal – but one thing is clear, Arteta loves him, and he’s our number 1 even with bad 45s in him. His first half was poor by any standard, amongst the worst we’ve seen over the last 5 years. Second half though, oh my, so much to love. He’s basically a third centre-back that has long ball-homing missile capabilities. Arteta was pretty brutal about what he liked after the game.
‘The height that he played. He’s got big ones. When the crowd go like this, other players, they start to kick balls everywhere. I said, make sure you don’t do that. He didn’t do it, and at the end he was rewarded’
He also celebrated his control of the box and his bravery when claiming the ball. It’s curtains for Aaron, he’ll be gone in January, bar a miracle.
Another side note – the ‘I WISH TO SUB KEEPERS’ comment was a comfort blanket for Aaron Ramsdale and tacticos who believe everything Mikel says these days. He’s not playing that game in a position that doesn’t need it.
Let’s talk about our defensive display and sum it up with three statistics:
4 attempted shots
1 shot on target
Erling Haaland xG – 0.00
A relative told me before the game he didn’t believe in statistics – and I get it now, because I CANNOT believe we did that to the treble winners.
It is unspeakable how good those numbers are. Has Pep G ever been reduced to such a meek attacking output in his entire career? I have my doubts.
That requires the whole team to focus. But the key men for me were Gabriel, Rice, Saliba and our fullbacks. They were unreal all game. Saliba and Gabriel are wrecking ball defenders in ballerina outfits. A very progressive image, no doubt, but exactly what we’ve needed for years. They live for cleansheets and they want to entertain while they do it. That said, we’ve been BAD at home. Not yesterday. They set a new benchmark for concentration and control. Arteta needs to bottle that so we can see it more often as the season progresses.
So, to sum up – that was a very high-level game where there were basically three mistakes and one was punished. Arsenal showed they can mix it with the best in the world. They set a new standard. They slayed the boogie monster that’s been hiding under the bed for 12 City league games in a row. Arsenal offered up a world-class performance. We need to see more of those. But the fact we’re doing things like that so early in the season tells you all you need to know about where this project is going.
City is still the gold standard – we have a long way to go – but now we all know that we can achieve at the levels we want to.
Statement win, world-class performance, a message to every team in he world – this new Arsenal is coming for your prizes.
Enjoy the next two weeks – and get DEEP into the mixer with our latest podcast.