Three games gone and all is looking rosy for the boys in red and white. Of course it is early days but what nobody can take away is that we started very, very well. This is not just about the nine points from three games and being the sole TotL team right now, but a general sense of improvement in a number of key areas.
Arsenal areas of improvement:
- The obvious one is the quality of our squad-depth. More than decent back up in defence and midfield, and we are almost there in attack. Rumours remain strong that Arsenal are after a left winger and they would allow Martinelli to play more regularly as our CF. I have said before that with Jesus we are effectively getting two CFs/attackers, as Martinelli is clearly growing under the tutelage of his ‘older brother’. Getting GJ9 was just such a clever move. I still believe Gakpo will come our way but any of the alternatives mentioned in the papers would also be an improvement.
- Our currently ‘first-choice’ full backs may not be pure, classic ones but they are so effective in Arteta’s system. They can squeeze into midfield and form a wall with Xhaka and Partey. They can also get forward and interchange with the central midfielders, making it hard for opponents to pick any of them up. White and Zinchenko are no-nonsense defenders when it comes to it, with the only potential weakness of not being able to block out speedy wingers. Yet Xhaka and Partey are happy to help out then by doubling up. This is still a work in progress as especially on our left we have been porous a few times, as Leicester’s Maddison showed us last week. I really like the way Big Ben is developing his passing and crossing skills and he is getting better at this every week. With Tierney and Tomiyasu we have great back up and competition, allowing Mikel to rest and interchange players. It would not surprise me if Arteta will put either or both of White and Zinchenko in central midfield at times.
- The central defence duo of Tequila and Big Gab is even stronger than the Big Ben/Big Gab one. Early days of course and sterner test will no doubt follow, but Saliba really is looking very calm, composed and decisive when it matters. This goes well with Big Gab who is by nature more explosive and extrovert. With Big Ben and Holdingho as back up we really cannot complain about our cover in central defence.
- Our pressing has been so much better since the start of pre-season. Not only do we do it more, it is now also leading to dominance in the opposition half/box, and with three goals per game scored we are starting to see real payback from our concerted efforts. This is where Gab Jesus, and Xhaka’s presence higher up the pitch, really make a difference. Granit, Gabriel, Martinelli, Saka and especially the Ode are awesome pressers, helped very much by the likes of White, Partey and Zinchenko keeping it tight behind them. I thought Laca always gave his all when we were pressing but it did often result in what looked to me like fatigue when it came to taking his chances. With GJ9 we have a player who can press, dribble and take his chances for (best part of) 90 minutes. The man is simply electric – a turbo boost to the whole attack.
- Goals and assists are coming from everywhere. Of course I would like GJ9 to become top scorer this season, but it is also important we don’t become over-reliant on him. We have goals by GJ (2), Martinelli (2), Saliba, Xhaka, Ode (2) and an OG (forced by Saka). We have assists by GJ (3), Xhaka (2), Zinch (1). This is just great. We have not even had any goals or assists by Saka and ESR yet, our two top scorers of last season, so there is more in the tank, much more. On top of that we have Eddie waiting in the wings who clearly knows how to find the net if given a chance.
I am fully aware that we will face some really tough challenges this season. The way Liverpool, MU and Chelsea have dropped points already against teams they should have beaten tells us this is going to be a tough season in which, on the day, any team can beat any team. That is why I believe so strongly in the OGAAT – One Game at a Time – approach. Remain humble and totally focused, see games out till the last minute, work as a unit and for each other, and celebrate every win as a huge one.