Ooh to, Ooh to Be, Ooh to BEE eh Gooner! Arsenal 2 – 1 Spuds.
I don’t think many of us were expecting an Arsenal win, but we got it. If anybody still has any doubt about Arteta and his mission to ‘Bang’ football, I guess you are not going to be cured from your antipathy of the man. This was only the third game Mourinho – the chief-looking-up-at-the-table-rat – lost to an Arsenal team, and Mikel achieved it in only his second year as a manager. Extend his contract, Arsenal!
- Tactically this was so much better than the last time we played the Spuddies. We were invited to attack as the crumb-collectors sat back to play us on the break, with half-moon face Kane and Son eagerly awaiting the ball over the top and into space. Mikel did attack but he did not allow his team to over-commit and he kept it tidy around those two top-rats. They were starved for almost the entire game, and Son did his hammy early on so that was a welcome Aufwiedersehn. Our full backs pushed up and kept the Spuds well into their own half and we managed to get behind the Spuddies’ defence with some fine combination football from the flanks. And this made all the difference on the day.
- Arsenal also once again made good use of the space that was left behind in the middle of the pitch by the Spuds because of our almost continuous focus on the wings. Partey still has not find his shooting boots but sooner or later he will get one in the net, but it was Emile with a beauty of an effort through the middle that almost crept below the bar for his first PL goal. Our boys were able to open that JM defence and midfield up so much more than in previous games, it really was fantastic to watch.
- Key to it all were three things: a rock hard, no nonsense central midfield duo; extremely mobile attackers and full backs with good passing ability and no fear to keep hold of the ball, and; a solid defence. Our midfielders Partey and Xhaka made sure that the Spuds could not break out and collect the ball in midfield which is so pivotal to their game. These boys were immense which was epitomised by that crunching but fair tackle by Xhaka late on. Together they are my MOTM. The Swiss’ positioning was fabulous and he made many interceptions at the right moment, and so was his ability to be at the right place at the right time. At times it looked like the ball was seeking him out rather than the other way around… This is the bit that not everybody notices about him and it is absolutely key for the success of a midfielder. But Granit needs support and he got that from the equally impressive and towering Thomas the Tank Engine. Partey has that athletic, physical presence which he combines with great on-field intelligence. He knows where he needs to be, where the action will be next and how he should destroy any opportunity to advance by the opponent. He also is great at pushing up at the right time and thus creating momentum in our attacking efforts. Thomas is still not 100% and this almost cost us the game late on, but Arteta knew that he just could not take him off; it would have hurt us both tactically and psychologically.
- The mobility within the team was just great. With allowing three to four players to attack a flank at any time we had the numbers and inventiveness to get through the Spuds. We mashed them, we chewed them, we forked them, we swallowed them whole: what a feast we had below the table. Arteta’s inclusion of both Odegaard and ESR is a masterstroke: the combination of these two super talents adds a whole extra dimension to our football. One is not enough as the Spuds would have had a man on them, but two did the trick. On top of this we had Saka who was clearly targeted to get some rough treatment. Yet Bukayo was not intimidated and helped a lot with keeping the ball moving and being an attacking threat.
- Our new MO11 had a very good game. I was not sure whether including him was the right idea, given the much needed individual intensity for these sorts of Derby encounters. But Martin was a like a fox among the rats and reveled in his role all game long. He really helped Granit and Thomas to keep it tight in midfield and made himself available constantly. Of course he also scored the all important equaliser and for this alone he should be offered a long term contract!
- And then there was Laca who was like a cat among the rats below the table. Alex never gave the defence and midfield any peace and this added to our mobility and unpredictability. It paid off big time when Laca was found with a super sharp pass by Pepe in the box which led to the penalty. The Spuds were Lacaed.
- The defence was strong and especially Big Gab and Luiz deserve praise for their concentration, positioning, clearances and interceptions. Gabriel offers us that same combination of presence, intelligence and athleticism that Sol used to have. What an extrovert and force on the pitch, which was highlighted by that fine goalmouth safe with his head at the most crucial defensive moment of the game.
- After Lamela, the vilest of Spuds-rats, was sent off, Arsenal were given an ideal gift to see out the game with ease. Yet we were not able to make the difference count; in fact we imploded and allowed the Spuds to attack us far too much. And it almost cost us. For me this was mainly due to fatigue in midfield and especially Partey suffered from this. Arteta should have brought on Elneny sooner imo, but he will have had his reasons not to do so. Laca mentioned after the game that the ability to see out a game is still a work in progress. Yet in the end it was a Derby and this was bound to happen: our legs were tired and the Spuddies’ legs were fueled by that desire of just not wanting to lose. But lose they did.