Eight observations from a season-defining game for both North-London teams:
- We are right to feel disappointed not to take the three points from our second home in London and the Spuddies will feel relieved that they got away with it, but the big picture is that we were stronger and out-classed them, AND that they have now been dragged into a top-four fight rather than a title-fight/ sitting comfortably in third place, as they were just a week ago. It was really important not to lose this one and a win would have been great and just, and had the refereeing been up to European standards we certainly would have won. This is Emery’s best away performance of the season; let there be no doubt about it, this is a big milestone for him at Arsenal.
- Emery got the tactics about right. Starting with Guendouzi instead of Torro seemed a bad decision, and was enough for me to fear the worst. It is almost like Unai wants us to be vulnerable as to entice our opponents forward and have a go at us, which then leaves space for us to attack in; would we have scored our goal if we had started with a more solid midfield set up? Still, I was pleased to see Emery plug the midfield gap after half time, as we were struggling towards the end to get them away from our box. Emery’s changes were all spot on imo; we were more solid throughout the second half, controlled the game and had very good chances to win it. The fresh legs of Ozil and Auba kept our momentum going, which was of course vital in an away-derby.
- This was also a big game for Leno. His second stop late on in the first half, was de Gea-esque. It is one thing to anticipate were the ball will end up and to put your arm there, but then it needs a lot of strength to push it over the bar. It was a magnificent stop at a crucial moment in the game.
- The KosSok partnership is working very well. At last we have two central defenders who combine calm with craft and operate in partnership. They are leaders both physically and verbally and let’s hope we will see them combined for the rest of the season.
- The Spuds missed the aggression and forceful runs of Dele Alli through midfield; we, on the other hand, had such a player on the pitch in Aaron Ramsey, yesterday. It was a good, mature Lampard/Gerrard-esque goal by Ramsey and a reminder of what a player he could have been had he been more consistent for us in recent years. Am I said to see him go? No, but thanks for that one, Aaron.
- Laca worked so hard based around his energetic, sometimes frantic, approach to the game. Auba is by nature calmer, stealthier and more calculated in his efforts. Together they prepare and score a lot of our goals, and we are blessed to have them. Unfortunately, yesterday the apparent character traits of Laca and Auba did not work so well at the crucial moments: Laca fluffed two very decent chances where a little calm would have served him better possibly; and Auba could have done with a bit more aggression/energy both for the penalty (which seemd v soft to me) and the rebound that came his way.
- It is a real ‘varce’ that the PL is still without VAR. I am not saying it is perfect, but the linesman and referee made a few poor decisions that would have been overturned in no time. As Unai said to the men in black: VAR is coming for you.
- The Torreira sending off is a costly one for us. Although there were no bad intentions, his leg and boot were high and could have caused a bad injury and so I believe it was a correct decision. Not having El Torro against the Mancs in a week’s time is a real concern, and it may well be that we will start once more with the Xhaka-Guendo combo. First we are off to Rennes, though, and that will be another fine challenge for our boys in red and white.