Arsenal are through to the next round of the UEFA cup with two games to spare. Well done you youngsters and fringers. Many will point our that we did not play attractive football against RSB and I will not argue with you, but you really are missing the point if you feel that this matters a lot. The second team are of course not going to be an all conquering, free-flowing, beautiful Arsenal football playing machine; for this the components are not compatible enough, and they are still ‘finding each other’.
What we are getting from this is experience for the young talents and match fitness for the experienced fringe players, but I have said this now enough times. You also have to look a bit deeper to see the beauty and positives from a game like this.
Eight observations from Arsenal v Red Star Belgrade:
- Macey had a very good game with plenty of ‘presence’. Being a good goalkeeper has a lot to do with mental strength, and Macey showed strong concentration levels, fearlessness and the ability to make himself a big, orange octopus when faced with an attacker who only had him to deal with. He saved us acrobatically from a certain goal, even though he needed a big dollop of luck with it (the ball hit the underside of the bar and did then not fall to a RSB player to slot it in). Macey announcing himself like this is reason alone to value last night’s game;
- Willock shows what a great dynamo and stride he could have in future. Yes there were only glimpses of this during the game and his final ball was still below par, but we were up against a physical, unadventurous team and our attackers lacked mobility and imagination for Willock to be more effective. I like his potential and he was the best young-Gunner on the pitch in my opinion.
- Elneny played as a/our leader from the back. His positioning was very good and I loved the way he moved the ball forward with good energy and thrust. He was all over the pitch and usually able to intervene before danger could ensue. He played a big part in our clean-sheet on the night – and I for one was very happy to achieve one after three ‘1-0 behinds’ in Arsenal’s previous outings.
- Jack’s accelerations were a joy to watch; those little bursts forward to free himself up and allow his colleagues to move into space to receive the ball were of special quality. But it all had to come from him and nobody really was at the same wavelength. Nevertheless, he got very close to score the winner and this game will have done him good. I would not be surprised at all if he were to start against MC on Sunday, but that is for another post.
- Unfortunately, our two main attackers, OG and TW, were static or not at the game for most of the time. For me they were the only real disappointments, as they left the young midfielders with limited options when coming forward. Of course, it also has to be said that RSB had parked a very physically aggressive bus and the referee allowed them to commit foul after foul, but still, I expected more from our experienced attackers.
- Maitland-Niles and Nelson had half-decent games and I think they struggled more than a bit with the ‘manliness’ of their opponents. Still, a really good experience for both of them, and there were glimpses of what is to come on a more regular basis.
- Debuchy played with passion and experience and this was a joy to watch. This man wants to be back in the first team, or indeed play first team football for another team. I thought his positioning and interventions were strong and he also should take pride in having kept a clean sheet.
- And finally, Holding: I liked his forward runs and confidence on the ball. He was also strong in the air and showed physical strength against very physical opponents. Rob is making good progress this season.
Two more UEFA League games to play in this group and we could see Arsene try out a more attacking style of football for these. Replacing either Walcott or Ollie with Iwobi, if indeed available, so Jack has somebody to play with, could make a big difference. I cannot wait to see them play together again.