Monday, May 20, 2024

Arsenal 5-1 Sunderland: Ready, Eddie, go

Match reportPlayer ratingsBy the numbers

Fun stuff in the Carabao Cup last night with a 5-1 win over Sunderland. Mikel Arteta did rotate his squad, but had to do without Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers and Albert Sambi Lokonga who were missing because of Covid, as well as Ainsley Maitland-Niles who was unwell. Had they been available, chances are they would have started, so we saw the likes of Ben White, Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe play instead.

It was a good night for Eddie Nketiah, who grabbed a hat-trick, and not a particularly great one for Folarin Balogun. It’s not that he was bad, per se, and to be fair he started on the left hand side rather than up front, but it was the kind of performance that just hammered home how much he needs a loan move in January. The talent is there, the experience just isn’t. He’s only 20, and has plenty of time, but you can see the difference between himself and Nketiah who is much more ready at this level. He has a couple of years on his teammate, but he’s also played more senior football, even if his own loan spell at Leeds wasn’t as successful as he might have liked.

This was Nketiah’s night though, opening the scoring in typical fashion. Ready and alert inside the box, waiting to pounce on anything that came his way, and when a Rob Holding header from a corner was saved he was there to stick the ball over the line from close range with his thigh.

Nicolas Pepe, back from the cold, took a while to get into the game, but scored the second after Cedric got forward well to feed him in the box. It look a bit of a deflection, but they all count. Cedric’s willingness to get forward isn’t always matched by his desire to get back, evident when Sunderland scored a good goal on the break to make it 2-1, and the visitors had a good spell after that. It wasn’t that we were under great pressure, they just played some nice stuff for a few minutes.

Eddie got his second just after the break, Nuno Tavares taking advantage of a defender’s slip to drill in a low cross, and the movement from Nketiah to get ahead of the centre-half and nick the ball home was really excellent. I’m not sure you get defending quite that static in the Premier League, but it was still fine play from the striker.

Then we got the goal of the game, a move which began with Leno bowling the ball out at the back. I really liked Odegaard’s pass, splitting the defence and demanding a run from Pepe. He duly obliged, nutmegged the full-back and his low cross was flicked into the net by Nketiah to make it 4-1. It was almost a carbon copy of his finish against AFC Wimbledon earlier in the season.

Then, the most League Cup thing of all, the introduction of a highly rated young player. Charlie Patino is the most 12 year old looking 18 year old I think I’ve ever seen, but there’s a buzz about this young man, so when Pepe fed him and he slid in to score on his debut, it capped a very good night for the team, and made his first appearance in a senior Arsenal shirt something to remember. The crowd sang his name like he was a regular who does this every week.

“We have to cook him slowly,” said Arteta afterwards, but moments like that are always fun. Almost a throwback to Carling Cup days of yore when lower league opposition would turn up and get blown away by whichever collection of young talents Arsene Wenger had decided to put out that night.

The focus though was on Nketiah, and once more the manager talked about wanting to keep him, saying:

“I tell you every day that we want to keep Eddie. We see how he trains, that’s what he does every day, he works so hard and puts the ball in the net every session. I am really delighted with him.

“We are trying. It’s not about anything else but minutes. He wants game time, he wants to be on that field and that is the only reason to say, ‘Can I do it here?’ That’s the question. We all want him to stay.”

Eddie was asked about himself on Sky afterwards, and while you can’t always read too much into post-game interviews, he didn’t exactly sound like a player who saw his future with us. He turned down a new contract, more than once, and he’s at a point in his career where he has a big decision to make. By the end of the season, he’ll be 23, and if it’s regular playing time he wants, there’s no better opportunity than his current situation.

From January he can openly discuss terms with any club in Europe, and in reality if there are English clubs interested in him he’ll be aware of that too. The fact he can go for free (albeit with a tribunal fee if he stays in England) opens more doors for him, and I’m sure he’ll have offers. Clubs will be interested in goalscorer, and there will be specific clubs who will be looking for exactly what he is – a penalty box poacher.

Even if the Lacazette and Aubameyang situations are potentially door opening for him at Arsenal, he must also know that the club’s next big purchase is going to be a striker. That leaves him as second choice, not to mention when we talk about the kind of forward the club are going to target, it’s somebody with more of an all-round game than Eddie. That’s not to do him a disservice, but that’s the accepted wisdom. As a super-sub kind of option, he’d be a useful squad player in my opinion, his movement is sharp and he’s much more ready physically than he was, even compared to a year ago. However, is that what he wants? It doesn’t seem like it – so I think his path is fairly obvious.

However, with Aubameyang currently in exile, Lacazette can’t play every game, and in the short-term there are minutes for him here with the hectic schedule we’re facing. Whether can he translate that performance level from League One opposition to Premier League is another question, and without downplaying his excellent performance at all last night, that’s another consideration. Still, he deserves all the plaudits for his hat-trick last night, a match ball is a lovely Christmas present to himself, and if he does get chances over the festive period, let’s hope he’s as clinical as he was against Sunderland.

The other ties take place this evening (come on West Ham!), and there’s a suggestion that because of everything that’s going on with Covid, fixture congestion and all the rest, the semi-finals might take place over one leg rather than two. That seems eminently sensible to me. Let’s see what happens.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now. I will have a short Arsecast for you later this morning, discussing the game, and a few other bits and pieces so keep an eye out for that.

Until then, take it easy.

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