It has been very good since our win over Chelsea: some good football at times, five wins and a draw in all competitions, 2.2 goals scored per game and just one conceded. Something to build on and now we will face a number of challenging games and I bet the boys are looking forward to it, such is the hunger and confidence at the moment. How will we do against the likes of Southampton, Man United, Wolves etc? As always, we should only focus on one game at a time (OGAAT), but that does not mean we cannot look at the team and make a general statement about the strength of it. I have noticed a number of developments in the team which I would like to share with you. Please add yours if you can think of anymore.
Eight Positive Developments at Arsenal
- The first development is that after many seasons we now finally have real quality CBs… and there is competition. A good PL team needs a solid pair of CBs and Arteta can choose from four players: Luiz, Holding, Gabriel and Mari (and Chambers?). They are all fit now and eager to play and you tell me what the best pairing is! Many will exclude Luiz if they can but if he is surrounded by the right players he still has lots to offer. My favourite pairing is probably Holding-Gabriel but I have also really liked Mari’s no-nonsense and committed performances. This is a beautiful headache for Mikel and long may it continue.
- The second development is the balance we now have in midfield. Elneny has been fantastic in recent weeks and no doubt this is down to Arteta’s coaching. It takes a former midfielder to get the best out of his midfielders and I have no doubt that Arteta and Elneny get on very well. Xhaka is also one of his favourites and together they form a more than decent deep-midfield pair. But now, finally, Arteta can add Partey to the mix and he does offer something different. So, a good midfield can become a great one. Left-footed Xhaka and right-footed Partey seems to be the strongest combination, with Elneny a very good back-up for either of them. This should allow a youngster to try and claim the fourth spot, but neither Willock or AMN seem to have convinced Mikel that they have what it takes to fill one of these crucial positions in the team as yet. It would not surprise me if Arteta were to buy another left-footed defensive midfielder in the next six months or so but really hope that he doesn’t need to.
- The third development is the one we have been most enthusiastic about: the emergence of the three super youngsters, Martinelli, ESR and Saka. Okay we already knew how good Martinelli and Saka are from the previous campaign, but together with ESR they really have stepped up a level. Martinelli is so hungry and desperate to play and score; you totally sense that nothing else matters to him at the moment. ESR has been dancing on the pitch with the ball whilst always keeping his head up when it matters. Saka – the Silk – has been so graceful and powerful and he can just play anywhere where he is needed on the pitch… and that for a boy born just days before the 9/11 attack – yes that is how young he is! These three are loved by the whole team and they have great masters to learn from, and together they provide the team with the much needed energy. Without this sort of joy and existential energy nothing of note happens.
- The fourth development is the emergence of two equally dangerous wings. With Xhaka and Partey we can feed both wings with both defensive and attacking support. They both are very strong positionally and read the game so well. They are quick passers and can play the long ball well too. This allows the full backs to work with the advanced midfielders in a really effective way. ESR can help out on each wing and so we can increase the numbers when we are attacking on the wings. Auba/Martinelli and Tierney on the left and Saka/Willian and Bellerin/Soares on the right have been making a lot of progress in recent games. Hector’s attacking contributions remain under par but Saka’s plays well with the loyal Spaniard. Soares played really well v the Barcodes and he may actually be the stronger option for the right full back position. But the most important thing is that we can now spread our attacks and become less predictable.
- The fifth development is the rebirth of Alexander Lacazette. I must admit I didn’t think this would be possible anymore. He revels in the ‘free CF’ role for which he has the engine and right attitude. His link up play has been impressive and he always keeps defenders busy. I also really like his desire to get stuck in and get bruised. The only problem is that no other attacker seems to be able to play that role, other than Martinelli possibly. We are seeing less of Eddie at the moment and I wonder whether the new formation and style of play is something he can adapt to. I hope so as Eddie is a great lad who cares for the shirt (and his imaginary phone 🙂 ).
- The sixth development is the growing maturity of Bernd Leno. I think he really is benefiting from the strength of the CBs in front of him and the 4-2-3-1 formation. We play so much more solid now and hardly give anything away anymore, so Bernd can be calm and focused on the moments he needs to make the difference. He has made some superb saves recently, and you can tell that attackers are fearing him now. His distribution has much improved since last season too. The big elephant on the pitch is of course who is going to replace him if and when he is unavailable. This surely is our big priority this January.
- The seventh development is the Auba-Partey link up. Balls over the top from the right from right-footed Partey could just make the difference for Auba. Okay it is early days, but I sense that Auba will be more effective when the ball is played like that, as he can make the first touch with his left foot and can watch the pass all the way. Luiz, Tierney and Xhaka have all tried to supply Auba from the left with their left feet but it didn’t really work well until now. Auba is best when given the ball in space and the more he can be launched the better.
- The eighth development is the youth involvement. Paradoxically, because of the high level performances of young Guns ESR and Saka in particular, the bar has got higher and the likes of AMN, Willock, Eddie and Nelson are currently struggling to make the grade with Arteta. So they will have to work even harder but I have no doubt that they will get a fair chance. This may mean that one or two should go out on loan, which should never be seen as a punishment or demotion but simply as a good opportunity to grow somewhere a bit more suited to them at this stage of their footie careers. We are also blessed with more good youngsters coming through and Arteta may well feel that it is time for one or two (temporary) promotions. But there is no doubt in my mind that Arteta will give the youngsters a chance; how couldn’t he after the new life the team and he were given by Saka, ESR and Martinelli?!