Was I bit worried when I saw we’d picked an unchanged line-up after losing to Everton? Yes. Did I have concerns that the situation regarding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might have an impact on the team? Of course. Was I confident when Southampton started the game well and we didn’t look like a team that could string Christmas lights together, let alone a few passes? Absolutely not.
And then we scored one of the counter-attacking goals of the season. The wonderful Aaron Ramsdale, who if he is ever orphaned and needs to be adopted I will gladly take care of him, played the ball to Ben White who gave it back inside to Thomas Partey. He zipped it with real pace to Takehiro Tomiyasu (that pace was important) who went inside to Martin Odegaard who returned it to the right back. From there, Tomi fed Bukayo Saka down the right, and I’ve often heard people wonder why we don’t go after James Ward-Prowse in the transfer market but if we wanted a player who is as slow as me, just sign me. Saka didn’t even really need to put the burners on, drove down the right hand side, and crossed it into the box where Alexandre Lacazette gave the move the finish it deserved by sticking the ball with real intent into the top right hand corner.
It was an initially terrifying but then completely exhilarating goal. Was it somewhat against the run of play? Sure. Do I care? No. Because from there we began to remember we were a football team and not a motley collection of individuals who have just been gathered at random, explained the rules of Association Football and told to just go out there and entertain the crowd.
The second goal followed quickly. Kieran Tierney getting a number of bites at the cherry to provide the impressive Martin Odegaard with a chance for the first headed goal of his career. That’s three in three now for the Norwegian, four in total in the Premier League this season, and those of us that have long pined for goals from midfield find ourselves well satisfied by this development. Just combine them with more from the actual strikers and we’ll be in good shape.
It would be remiss of me to close off the first half without mentioning Ramsdale’s sensational long pass to Martinelli. It deserved a goal, it’s a shame it didn’t work out that way, and there were a couple of moments in that first half when we needed to just pull the trigger a bit quicker. However, the pinpoint accuracy of his delivery from his own box was glorious.
Then, in the second half, Arsenal played like a team that’s at home and winning. We didn’t sit back. We didn’t get scared. We didn’t play on the counter-attack. We went for them, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Gabriel had a goal disallowed. Gabriel scored a goal from a Martinelli corner. Martinelli hit the post. Saka hit the post. We had chances. We played in their half. It brought me back to the days when this is what we would do as a matter of course.
I’ve seen some people say ‘Yeah, but it’s only Southampton, they’re 16th, they’re not very good’, and without being disrespectful to them, that’s the entire point. This is exactly how you should deal with games like this against opposition who are struggling, low on confidence, and behind in the game. Don’t give them a lifeline. Don’t let them back into the game. Use your advantage in terms of the scoreline to hurt them even more.
At the same time, let’s not ignore the fact that Ramsdale still had to make a few saves. It wasn’t perfect, but that’s ok. It doesn’t have to be. If Arsenal are a small child, Mikel Arteta is the parent who tut-tuts when they go outside the lines in the colouring book. Go outside the lines lads. Use whatever crayons or pencils or markers you like. It doesn’t have to be Jackson Pollock but express yourselves. Someone buy the manager a Salvador Dali print for Christmas. Sometimes a melting clock is good. Our clock was melting all over the place yesterday and I liked it.
Add to that Arteta’s sensible subs after Monday’s monstrosities. Gabriel was on a yellow card so Rob Holding with all his beautiful new hair came on. Xhaka, still quite rusty, was hooked for Sambi. We even saw evidence that those who speculated Nicolas Pepe existed were actually right. In the end, a comfortable, deserved victory, and this Arsenal team that flummoxes me on a daily basis did it once more, but in a nice way. I hope it’s the kind of performance and approach that Arteta looks at and recognises that there are positives beyond the scoreline.
Afterwards, he said:
In the first 15 minutes we started the game a little bit nervy, we gave some difficult balls away and we could not dominate the game. After that I think we picked up the rhythm of the game. We scored a really, really good goal and after that we went on to start dominating the game better and better.
After half-time we encouraged the players to keep going, and try to be a threat and attack them. I think we did that really well and we created more chances to score more goals. So I think overall, and after a defeat, it’s good to get a performance like that, and a result like this.
No arguments here. Apart from that opening period, which I suspect was informed by our last two games and a Southampton side who recognised the opportunity that an early goal for them might bring, there was plenty to enjoy about what we did and how we did it. The key now is some consistency of performance. I think it’s a bit too simplistic to say that playing that kind of football would win the manager a bit more patience when things go wrong, but at the same time playing that kind of football more often would win the manager a bit more patience when things go wrong.
It sets us up nicely for Wednesday’s crunch game with West Ham (who play Burnley today), and it was important to respond to those last two games. I fully agree with Arteta when he says we should have got more from them, but when you shoot yourselves in the foot, it’s hard. Yesterday, we left our feet alone. We did not blunderbuss our toes off, and when we do that, we can concentrate on the opposition. It’s a much better way of doing things.
As for the Aubameyang stuff, Arteta wouldn’t be drawn on it afterwards despite making it public beforehand. From what we know, it seems like the captain was out of order – not for the first time either. It’s a shame all round really. These kind of situations are no good for anyone, but further comment can wait for another day. The important thing was we didn’t let it impact us yesterday, and the focus today should be on a good win.
The rest can wait.
Let’s leave it there for now. A quick reminder that if you’re looking to do some shopping online and you want to keep things red and white this Christmas, check out Arsebiz.
It’s a directory of Arsenal fan owned businesses, services, artists, creators and loads more so maybe have a quick check around to see if there’s anyone doing or making the stuff you’re looking for. Also, we have a 10% discount on prints from our old friend Matthew Wood whose stuff is really lovely. Visit here, the discount is already applied.
For now, take it easy, have a good Sunday. More here tomorrow and of course James and I will have an Arsecast Extra for you.