Well, it wasn’t exactly a classic cup tie, but Arsenal kept the recent momentum going with a 2-0 win over Leeds last night, and we have a place in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals.
As expected, Mikel Arteta made quite a number of changes, explaining his decision making afterwards:
I can’t keep demanding players to do what they do every day, and to keep believing that they can get in the team and ask them to raise the level without giving them a chance to play and I trust them. I was calm as I know that they can do it. Obviously it was against a tough opponent.
I think it’s fair to say that Leeds were tougher in expectation than reality. I was expecting a lot more from them, but on the night they were pretty poor. Not exactly the Marcelo Bielsa whirlwind or anything like that. I suppose that was good, because we weren’t that great either. Our best sight of goal came late in the half when Emile Smith Rowe shot over, but up that point we didn’t get a great deal out of Nicolas Pepe, Gabriel Martinelli or Eddie Nketiah.
Early in the second half, Ben White went down, which was a bit of a worry at the time. Subsequently it emerged he had been feeling unwell, a bug doing the rounds which had prevented Pablo Mari from playing, so hopefully he’ll be better before Saturday. Mikel Arteta sent on Calum Chambers as we prepared to take a corner, and with his first touch he headed the ball over the line when Pepe nodded it back across the area.
It looked obvious to me, but the referee didn’t signal straight away. Apparently his watch, which is supposed to buzz when the ball crosses the line, wasn’t working, but in the end it was given, sparking big celebrations when Chambers ran to the touchline and to new set-piece coach Nicolas Jover. He’d told him he was going to score with his first touch, some serious soothsaying going on there, hence the group hug on the sidelines.
Leeds made lots of changes to try and improve but didn’t. We then doubled the lead through Nketiah who did his best to miss a chance from a yard out, but to be fair to him, his anticipation of a header back to the keeper showed a player on his toes, and the two touches he took to take it over him, and to control it were excellent. The smile on his face as he miskicked it over the line tells you how close he came to fluffing his lines, but it went in, and that was pretty much always gonna be that because Leeds were just so bad.
Holding went off with what looked like cramp, Lacazette and Lokonga came on for Elneny and Smith Rowe, to get some minutes into their legs and it’s just a slight shame that with five subs at our disposal we only made four, leaving Flo Balogun and young midfielder Salah-Eddine on the bench for the duration. It’s a small thing though, nothing to get particularly bent out of shape about.
Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:
Winning this trophy is something we want to accomplish. It’s great to see the players that didn’t have a lot of opportunities. The way they played today, the way they competed, and the way they won the game against a really good side.
It was a bit hit and miss for some of those ‘fringe’ players. Rob Holding did well enough at the back, and I thought Ainsley Maitland-Niles was bright in midfield. Alongside him though, Mohamed Elneny looked very much like someone who hasn’t played a great deal this season, but it was a performance which also reminded you of all his limitations. Further forward, although Pepe got the assist for Chambers he had one of those nights we’ve seen from him before, while Martinelli wasn’t particularly convincing, even if he did work hard.
It’s a tricky thing when you have what appears to be a solidified ‘first XI’ because it becomes difficult to give opportunities to other players. Whether that demotivates them or makes them try too hard, those chances to impress are infrequent. I think last night was generally fine, but nobody was especially banging the door down for more Premier League involvement.
Fingers crossed the likes of Smith Rowe and White have no lasting issues from this one, and with players like Aubameyang, Gabriel, Saka, Partey and Tomiyasu rested, hopefully we can go into Saturday’s game against Leicester at full-tilt. There are a couple of injury problems with Kieran Tierney and Martin Odegaard set to be assessed before the weekend, but we should get more clarity on those later in the week.
Right, we’ll leave it there. For Patreon members, James and I will be doing a short post-game podcast – if you’re not a member you can sign up at patreon.com/arseblog to get instant access to that.
For now, take it easy.