Friday, March 1, 2024

Arsenal 4-1 Rapid Vienna: The missing ingredient

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Hey, you know what? I like this scoring goals thing, and playing the ball forward thing, and running thing, and movement thing. I reckon we should do more of it.

Our position at the top of whichever Europa League group we’re in (A or D or F or whatever, I literally can’t be arsed to look and until UEFA start naming groups after breeds of dogs I won’t change my mind on this), was confirmed with a 4-1 win over Rapid Vienna at the Emirates last night.

And in front of fans too. I guess there’s a bit of a cause/correlation thing going on, but it’s difficult to look at a more energised Arsenal performance and not put some of it down to the fact that supporters were back in the ground for the first time since March. I know there are other factors: responding to the last game, players playing for a place in the team for the derby, Rapid Vienna being a bit crap and so on, but it still felt as the crowd had some effect.

It made it feel like a real football match, and 2,000 people can make a surprising amount of noise despite the fact there were 58,000 empty seats surrounding them. Having endured the sterile environment since Covid-19 hit, this felt different. More real, or something. I don’t know how to explain it, but even watching on TV you could sense the change, and perhaps the players responded to that. It’s impossible to quantify, but it was great to see and hear real life football fans in a stadium again.

Mikel Arteta’s team sparked some debate beforehand, as is always the case, with perhaps fewer young players than some might have liked. However, there was a first start for Pablo Mari since his injury in June, Reiss Nelson in there, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles deployed in a midfield role – something we haven’t really seen too often. Again, with all the necessary caveats, I think he did really well in there, and I enjoyed his post-match interview when he was asked what he thought he brought to the role.

His reply: “Had a bit of legs in the midfield, you know”. I mean, who can argue with that? A player with pace who can run, support, get in the box, it might just catch on. He could have scored a couple – one excellent run and drive into the area deserved a better finish than the left-footed dink wide (although I fully admire his desire to match his Panenka style penalties from open play), and he provided an assist for substitute Emile Smith Rowe when he powered forward to overlap Nicolas Pepe. At a time when our midfield options would make a grown man weep, it was nice to see him play that well. Whether it’s enough for the manager to consider him in there for Premier League games, it remains to be seen, but fair play, he had a very good game.

The opening goal from Alexandre Lacazette was extremely welcome too. When strikers don’t score, every aspect of their game suffers, and I think that’s been especially true with the Frenchman. It was a hell of a hit from 30 yards, the keeper was left grasping at air, and Lacazette’s overall performance was very good. He hit the post, was denied another goal by a good save, and the way he brought others into play in that ’10-ish’ role was surprisingly good. Again, we’re having problems scoring goals, and regardless of what you think of him, having one of our strikers feeling a bit more confident can only be a good thing.

Pablo Mari marked his return with a solid performance in general and a nicely taken goal from a Reiss Nelson corner. The marking wasn’t up to much, but the flicked header to the far post was very smart. I thought Nelson also played well, playing a key role in Eddie Nketiah’s goal just before the break, and while I recognise he got an assist from a corner, someone needs to have a word with him about his set-pieces. One word that might be used is ‘stop’, or more constructively ‘practice’, but his delivery is usually not what it should be (the word there is ‘diplomatic’).

The second half saw Smith Rowe come on and score, Folarin Balogun got another few minutes at the end and almost got himself on the scoresheet, while Dani Ceballos added something to the mix when he was introduced. The Vienna goal isn’t really worth any major analysis, except to say I hope that Bernd Leno never gets injured. Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:

I think the boys showed a great energy, character and aggression today. Right from the beginning you could feel they were touched from the last defeat and everyone individually played a really good game. In the final third we were really aggressive with the ball, we created many chances, scored four goals and probably should have scored more – and now let’s take that into Sunday, a very special game, we are all looking forward to it, and let’s do it all again.

And on the return of supporters:

I am delighted to have them back. I think they made a huge contribution. We had 2,000 but it looked like many more. They were very supportive of the team, very encouraging and the lads were saying it makes a huge difference to feel that support and energy. Thank you so much to them for coming and supporting the team.

Of course you have to look at this game in the context of the opposition, the competition itself and so on, but all the same it was nice to see us play well, score goals, and hopefully restore a little bit of confidence ahead of what’s going to be a much, much tougher test on Sunday.

More on that game on the site over the weekend, and James and I will discuss it a bit on this morning’s Arsecast Extra, I’m sure.

Before I leave it today, can I please point you in the direction of this? Ahead of Christmas, where a lot of online shopping is going to be done, we’ve put together a kind of Arsenal-friendly classifieds site.

Basically, these are all businesses, creators, services etc, run by Arsenal fans, and we’re just trying to connect them potential customers. There are hundreds of different companies, individuals, musicians, artists, gift-makers, and so on, so if you want to help fellow Gooners during these difficult times for many industries, please check it out. And if you like it, share it around, the more people that know about it, the more successful it will be.

It’s also completely free, and if you’d like to be listed, you can submit a form on https://arsebiz.arseblog.com/ – and we’ll do the rest. Right now, every bit of support we can give each other goes a really long way, so if you’re looking for Christmas presents – or anything beyond that, do check it out.

Again, a big thanks to Olly Cowan for building the site, and if you’re in need of design/website services, look him up at https://olivercowan.co.uk/ or on Twitter @ollycowan.

Right, that’s it for now. James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you later. As ever if you have questions or topics for discussion, send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Pod should be out before lunch, until then, take it easy.

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