Tell you what, when you wake up on a Sunday morning to write about Arsenal winning a game of football, it’s far preferable than the alternatives. I like it, and I wish to do it more often.
I’m not going to go through the game from start to finish, but instead here are some things I liked yesterday.
Five of our six summer signings started this game, including a debut for Takehiro Tomiyasu and a first Premier League start for Aaron Ramsdale. It gave the team a different look, one that was less tired, less been there, done that, worn the raggedy old t-shirt that really should be used as a rag now or thrown out because you can’t even donate it to a charity shop.
I think perhaps it’s been overlooked how young the team was. The average age was 23.9, pushed up by 32 year old Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and 26 year old Nicolas Pepe. We had one 20 year old, three at 22, three at 23, and two 24 year olds. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s much easier to see how we might be better when they play together more.
I was impressed by the Japan international’s debut, especially when you consider he only arrived on Wednesday and has barely had time to get his feet under the table. He was very good aerially, winning 5 of 6 duels, he recovered well a couple of times when things didn’t quite go his way, and for a player who didn’t get forward much at Bologna, he had two attempts on goal in the first half – the second of which, a flying volley, was probably our most eye-catching moment of the opening 45 minutes.
It’s very easy to see why he has been bought to play in this team, and while it’s obviously a very small sample size, he had a good debut.
Ben White and Gabriel
This is the partnership that has to work for us. I watched Ben White closely, and the thing that stood out for me from early on was how, whenever he received the ball, his first thought was how he could get it forward rather than immediately circulating it out to the right back. Whether it was a pass into midfield or carrying it himself, he wanted to get the ball further up the pitch.
I know it doesn’t completely add up because Tomiyasu only lasted 62 minutes, but he passed to Tomiyasu just three times, whereas in the Brentford game – the most analogous to this one – he passed to Calum Chambers 18 times. A change of approach and instruction, perhaps, but it was notable how he eschewed the easy option so often. I suspect there’s more to come when he finds his range and settles in to the side, and when his teammates realise where he can ping the ball.
Alongside him, Gabriel was less adventurous with the ball, but very secure with it – and only just behind White when it came to attacking third passes. He won all of his defensive duels, and produced one outstanding block late on to deny Norwich a clear sight of goal. Again, early days, but you can start to see how the balance of their partnership might work.
The visitors had some dangerous moments, but Ramsdale barely had a save to make because of the commitment of the defending from front to back, which is a very encouraging thing to see when a team is in the doldrums like we are. It, as much as getting forward and making things happen at the attacking end, shows a desire to change things.
One of the big complaints is that we don’t score enough, and that’s obviously a problem. We took 30 shots yesterday, the most we’ve ever had in a Premier League game under Arteta. In the heat of the game, I felt frustration that I’m sure many of you did that we didn’t make the game safer, or that sense we were still a bit toothless, but I also think in the cold light of day you can look back and see chances/moments that we should have done better with. Tim Krul made some good saves between bouts of time-wasting, and we weren’t as clinical as we should have been.
If you are minded to look for green shoots though, the fact we had those chances is a positive. Arteta referenced the pressure the team felt going into this, and we all know why. At times it felt like we were being somewhat inhibited by it, like we were playing on some kind of precarious tightrope where one misstep would have been disastrous, but looking back it’s a game we should have scored more goals in and won more comfortably.
I really hope that the win has released the pressure valve just a little, and that in turn might see us play with a bit more freedom and thus be a little more assured in those final third moments when they crop up.
It’s clear there’s a serious split when it comes to the manager, but I thought there was full backing for the team – it came across very clearly on TV, and from those I’ve spoken to, it was evident inside the ground too. There’s a very big difference between expressing unhappiness with your team’s performance and hating your team, which appears to be the media portrayal of Arsenal fans far too frequently.
I genuinely dislike the ‘true fans’ trope that pops up after a game like this, as if the only people who genuinely care are those inside the ground, or those who only seek positives, even when times are bad. However, on a day when the team badly needed to rouse the supporters, the supporters played their part too and I’m glad the reward was a win and three points.
As I said at the top, it’s good, and I enjoy it when it happens. I can’t tell you how tired I am of the social media tone police who try to cast everything into a negative light. Losing is bad, so if you complain about that you have every right, but if you also complain when we’re winning, what are you doing with your life?
You see stuff like ‘It’s only Norwich’, or ‘People are celebrating like we’ve won the world cup’, and it’s such bullshit. Of course there is significant room for improvement. We know it’s Norwich. We know we should beat them. We know the start of the season has been terrible. We also know that winning one game doesn’t mean everything is perfect again, or that all of our problems are solved. Not one single person has ever made that assertion, but you get bombarded with that kind of stuff all the time.
The reaction to yesterday’s game was a mix of happiness and relief, and I think entirely justified. We needed a goal from anywhere, and a win, and we got it. It is a small step in the right direction, and that’s it, but people are quite entitled to feel happy when their team has won a game of football – even if its significance is small in the grand scheme of things. If you’re not happy, that’s up to you, but stop trying to tell other people how they should feel.
Right, that’s it for today. More tomorrow, and James and I will go over the Norwich game on the Arsecast Extra.
Have a good Sunday, weekends are far better when we win games, eh?