Friday, May 24, 2024

Arsenal 2-0 Luton: Smith Rowe stands out as Arteta rotates

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Arsenal are back on top of the Premier League (temporarily anyway), after a 2-0 win over Luton last night.

The question as to whether Mikel Arteta would rotate his squad was answered an hour before kick-off, where the line-up showed five changes from the team that played against Man City. Out went Jakub Kiwior, Declan Rice, Jorginho, Bukayo Saka (not in the squad at all), and Gabriel Jesus; in came Oleksandr Zinchenko, Thomas Partey, Emile Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson and Leandro Trossard.

That in itself would go some way to explaining why the team was a little more disjointed than normal. Arteta talks a lot about relationships on the pitch, as well as combinations in tight spaces which can make the difference, and you could see how those changes had an impact in that regard.

We had lots of the ball, and a couple of sort-of threatening moments without giving the Luton keeper too much to worry about. Then, in the 24th minute, Smith Rowe won the ball well in midfield, he fed Martin Odegaard who gave it to Kai Havertz. The German delivered it back to the captain whose first time shot from inside the box with the outside of his left foot was as sweet a finish as you’ll see. It nestled into the bottom corner to make it 1-0.

Odegaard almost had an assist to his name, cleverly playing Smith Rowe in but the keeper made a good save to deny him. Ben White had some fun with a nice turn in midfield, Havertz had a shot on target, but it was Smith Rowe who made an impact again just before the break. He made a smart run into space behind the Luton defence, Trossard found him well with a good pass, and the number 10 took it on, fizzed the ball into the ‘corridor of uncertainty’, which saw Daiki Hashioka turn the ball into his own net for 2-0.

I’ll happily admit this morning I did not care for the second half at all – and it wasn’t to do with the annoying camera angle on TNT Sport. This may well be just me, because I understand this was a changed side but also one that gave a lot on Sunday against Man City. I also know we weren’t under a great deal of threat, but Luton played well, and had a real go as you would expect. It’s just that throughout the second period I couldn’t shake the memories of some of the previous 2-0 games we’ve been involved in where we don’t look in any danger, then the opposition score an 83rd minute goal from nothing, and then we have to endure a nerve-shredding final 10 minutes.

As I said, that could well be just my problem, and I don’t expect us to win every game by a handful or anything like that, but that was nagging at me all the way through. Some might say we did a good, professional job, and I think that’s probably fair. Luton had a couple of moments here and there, which we stood up to well and defended solidly when we had to, but I thought we were just a little passive in that second half. Which, in the cold light of day, might seem a bit churlish given we won and kept another clean sheet, but I’d just like to have seen a little more control at times.

That said, beyond the all-important three points, the manager was able to get minutes into the legs of some players who haven’t played a lot of late. Their fortunes were mixed on the night, a couple were tidy enough, but Smith Rowe was the one who really stood out with his involvement in both goals, and almost getting on the scoresheet again. On him, Arteta said:

I think a lot. I love him as a player. It’s a joy to watch him, how he moves, how he changes direction, how physical he was today as well without the ball. He won a lot of duels and he was thinking with that killer instinct to play forward and to make things happen and when Emile is in that moment it’s very difficult to stop him. Today he helped us a lot to win the game.

And on making changes, he continued:

I think it was the right moment to do that and they responded really well. I’m so happy with that because I think we’ve won again, especially with a few players with good confidence, physically with the rhythm right now and they’re going to be really important for us.

As I said in yesterday’s blog, I think rotating at the start and winning the game was the scenario with the most upside to it. We didn’t need subs to rescue the game, we just needed them to keep hold of what we had, and hopefully it’s both a boost in confidence for those involved, as well as physically beneficial too. And while there will be plenty of focus and debate on the players who came in, I think it’s important to give a nod to the guys like Odegaard, Saliba, White and Gabriel who did the full 90 again, and who are such an important part of why this team is where it is. Their consistency, of both performance and effort, is hugely impressive.

So, not a classic by any means, but we did what we had to do. One game fewer to play, but with three more points under our belt. Attention now turns to Saturday evening, and what will be a tricky trip to Brighton.

Join us a bit later for a post-game Arsecast, the schedule is a bit mad at the moment, so we’ll get that out for you today – and tomorrow for Patreon members we’ll have an episode of The 30 (Premier League round-up), and a preview pod for the Brighton game.

For now, have a good one.

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