Arsenal’s position at the top of Group B was consolidated last night with a comfortable 2-0 win over Sevilla at the Emirates.
There was no Eddie Nketiah, nor Martin Odegaard, so Kai Havertz started in midfield, with Leandro Trossard deployed up front. The German, who has had a difficult time since his arrival during the summer, really should have put us ahead in the second minute when a corner found him unmarked at the back post. Maybe he had ‘too much time’ to think about it, but he mistimed his header badly and glanced it wide instead of on target.
That early chance set the tone though. Arsenal were in almost complete control, dominating the ball and possession, with little to no threat from the visitors. We weren’t exactly making clear cut chances, a Gabriel header when he could probably have left it for Saliba was about the best we had. It was also open season on Bukayo Saka again. I think there must have been a new law passed that he gets no protection from referees, but on the half hour mark he took his revenge.
Jorginho’s pass through the lines to send him in behind was delicious, and from there Saka rolled it across to Trossard who slotted home to make it 1-0. They said on TV that every one of the Belgian’s five goals this season has been set up by Saka, so that’s clearly a relationship that can be leaned on as and when we need it. I thought Trossard was lively in the first half, but if we’re talking about players standing out, we have to talk about Gabriel Martinelli.
That early corner from which Havertz had the chance came when he burst beyond Juanlu, and it gave him a taste. Like a shark smelling blood in the water, he knew he had the measure of the full back, so he ran past him again. And again. And again. Whenever he wanted. There wasn’t even that much variation. It was essentially the same move each time, and while the Sevilla man knew what was coming, he couldn’t do anything about it. The post-game heatmap told you plenty.
The only thing I would say is that perhaps the final ball lacked a bit of craft at times, but I’ve rarely seen a full-back get so completely given the runaround. It explains why Sevilla shifted their formation a bit in the second half to take him out of the firing line and deny Martinelli space. Which worked to an extent, but here’s the thing, he’s quite happy going inside if there’s nowhere to go outside, and that was on display for our second.
Oleksandr Zinchenko, on at half-time for Takehiro Tomiyasu, was sharp to take a quick throw. Martinelli got ahead of his man, drove inside and set Saka free. There was still plenty to do but he did it with aplomb, chopping the ball onto his left foot, and then coolly finishing beyond the onrushing keeper to make it 2-0. After a relatively quiet spell by his own high standards, this is much more like the form we know he can produce. In many ways it was a typical Saka performance: a goal, an assist, and going off late with a knock that makes us worry about whether he’ll be fit for the weekend. Fingers crossed on that.
The bench was fairly light, so there wasn’t a great deal of action until late. In terms of chances there was a Havertz shot which curled not far wide, and I’m sort of torn, because that’s the kind of conviction when striking a ball I’ve been looking for from him, but at the same time that’s quite a low bar. I remain worried about him, but I think perhaps we’ve seen signs of life in the last two games that I hope, for the sake of the team, he can build on.
The paucity of the Sevilla performance was evident in the fact they didn’t have a shot until the 97th minute, which David Raya saved easily. They were, it’s fair to say, toothless and terrible. Not really what I was expecting, and I think we had a fairly easy ride in this game. Which isn’t to complain, and after two successive defeats, it was nice to win without any drama or complication.
Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:
I think it was more of the really good things that we did against Newcastle, we didn’t need a response because the team performed extraordinarily well against a team that are really difficult to play against. Today it needed other requirements, tactically we needed something else, we played at home, we need a different game, and we implemented what we wanted really, really well, so I’m really happy with the last two performances.
The only concerns are injuries. Arteta confirmed Tomiyasu ‘felt something’ during the first half so they didn’t risk him for the second. Let’s hope that precaution pays off, because with Nketiah, Odegaard, Partey, Smith Rowe, Jesus and let’s not forget Timber all out, the last thing we need are more injuries. The same with Saka, so we’ll keep a close eye on fitness updates over the next couple of days.
Right. I’ll leave it there for now. As we have done this season, we’ll have a post-game Arsecast for you a bit later on this morning, so keep an eye out for that.