The 3-0 win over Bodo/Glimt last night felt about as Europa League group stage as the Europa League group stage gets. Mikel Arteta made eight changes from the side that won the North London derby, only Gabriel, Granit Xhaka, and Gabriel Martinelli retained their places in the starting XI. The rest, as we had predicted, were rotated in.
As you’d expect, Arsenal started the game with the plenty of the ball, and had early chances. A good run from Eddie Nketiah saw him curl one just wide with the keeper stretching, before Fabio Vieira came closer – his shot on the turn clipped the top of the bar. The Norwegian side looked quite tidy and confident in possession, but that composure disappeared every single time Arsenal coordinated a press.
Martinelli started like a man who had 90 hard minutes on Saturday, but when he burst into life midway through the first period, he made a difference. His run through the middle set up a chance for Kieran Tierney, the left-back’s shot thudded off the post, but for all the improvements he’s made to his all round game, Nketiah’s key strength is as a penalty box poacher. He anticipated a rebound, and while he made the finish look easy, I don’t think it was quite as simple as it appeared. Nevertheless, it was a classic Eddie goal and 1-0.
Four minutes later it was 2-0. A corner was cleared, it came back to Vieira who did really well to make space for a cross, and Rob Holding’s header was inch perfect – just inside the post, giving the keeper no chance. Their keeper had to make a good save from a Xhaka free kick from just outside the box, Tierney had a chance to shoot but skewed it wide, and when Bodo/Glimt were again caught in possession when Arsenal pressed, Nketiah’s final ball for a Martinelli tap-in was cut out.
At the break, we more than deserved the two goal lead and it could have been more. Whether that led to us getting a bit complacent in the second half, I’m not quite sure, but the opposition too might have had a half-time rocket which sparked a bit more endeavour from them. More than once they carried it from deep towards the edge of our box. Usually it came to nothing as we defended pretty well, but once Matt Turner had to get down and make a good save as a shot came through a sea of legs.
It prompted Mikel Arteta to make changes: Gabriel Jesus, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard replaced Martinelli, Xhaka and Marquinhos. It made us better but chances on goal were still a bit scarce. Late on, Odegaard’s fantastic pass to Nketiah fashioned a chance for the striker but he blazed over, before Jesus and Vieira combined to put some gloss on the scoreline. The Brazilian’s dribble inside the box to create the chance was just sensational, and Vieira’s finish was as cool and emphatic as it gets.
The Portuguese was probably our stand out player on the night, even if he did drift in and out of the game a bit. You can see the quality, and he ended the night with some very solid stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 5 shots, 5 crosses, 3 key passes and 100% pass completion – albeit from a surprisingly small number of passes (16). When Arteta talked afterwards about ‘lack of connection’ in certain areas, it might well apply here. It’s early days for the 22 year old, but so far he looks like a player who is more than capable of producing for this team.
He drew praise from the manager afterwards, who said:
You saw the quality. Every time he’s around the box he’s a real threat, really intelligent player and brave. In defending he still needs to do more and understand it more because organisation is key when you play against good teams in ball possession.
I think that last sentence might also apply to Albert Sambi Lokonga who is always tidy on the ball, but to me looks like someone who still has a bit to learn in terms of his positioning off it. When Bodo/Glimt had their decent spell in the second half, the space in front of our centre-halves felt a bit empty, but hopefully games like last night are useful in that respect when he and the coaching staff assess them afterwards.
Beyond that, not a lot to say. I don’t really get the frustration with using ‘first team’ players on night’s like this. Yes, someone could get injured, but that could happen in training just as easily. If, and I know it’s a big if, this was a Champions League fixture, we’d have to get used to the idea of our big players doing it at the weekends and in midweek. I also think the way managers and players view situations like this is very different from fans.
Yes, we’re concerned that the worst can happen, but for them that cannot be the mindset. The manager wants to win the game, the players want to play, and after a break in September, I don’t think those are minutes that are going to completely fatigue them or anything. You might also note that those who are most susceptible to injury (Thomas Partey, Oleksandr Zinchenko) didn’t feature – and someone like Kieran Tierney was ‘protected’ by a substitution.
So the win puts us top of the Europa League group with
PSV Bodo again to come next week, but for now all eyes will be on Liverpool at the weekend. There will be plenty to say about that one in the days ahead.
In terms of a podcast today, various scheduling issues mean it’ll be after lunch before we can get that to you, but we will have it for you later today.
Until then, have a good one.