Phew. Three whole points. It’s a miracle. And a clean sheet. Happiness. Finally. Or, at least, not depression and despair.
For the first 10 or 15 minutes it seemed that we could not establish our games. We were out pressed and harried. They clearly seemed intent on overwhelming our confidence; they knew we were fragile. But we survived. They had barely any attempts. And then we started to control and manage the game. Even though we should have won against Brighton, this performance was improved and coherent.
The improvement started with Xhaka. Having him calmly (if not slowly) function at the base of the midfield gave the defense some protection and was also the springboard for our creativity. Whether it was sliding the pass through for Ska to cross for our first off-side goal or spraying the ball around the park. His presence elevated the team.
While our goal was jammy we deserved it for the continued bad luck we’ve had with the woodwork. Though Aubameyang did not score, today he both lead the line and the team. He deserved to score and worked his socks off. Though I fear we will have to sell him, I facilitate between taking the money to invest long-term in this team and then wishing to retain him after these types of performances.
Because we need the money. Because today we saw the quite clearly a couple of players that are struggling. I’m referring to our two Spanish double-double “LL”s. Bellerin and Ceballos. Literally every pass (by foot or by head) was misplaced today. I’ve rarely seen him so disconnected from the game. Though he could tackle and track back his technical limitations were all too obvious. But he was still better than Ceballos who was, utterly ineffectual. He was barely present. He’s too slow on the ball and too predictable. It’s a damming indictment on Artetas’ opinion of Ozil that he picks a clearly useless player that could soon leave the club instead of his highest paid player-maker. And even when Ceballos is completely shit, he still perseveres with him. These two are our version of the Spanish flu.
The second half was worrying. It seemed like, once Southampton changed their strategy, we could not adapt. But thankfully we held out and capitalized on their GKS two mistakes. I seem to remember a game at the Emirates a number of years back where their GK also gifted us a goal. Today though Eddie worked hard, helped lead the line and hopefully built his confidence. He is no Rashford but he has potential.
I still worry about Arteta’s game management. He should have made his substitutions earlier. Ceballos should have been pulled after 60 minutes. Wilock, in addition to scoring the goal, just works harder. He should also have pulled Pepe today. When Bellerin can’t pass a ball to his own player Pepe won’t be involved in the game – as was the case today. Once we reverted to a 4-4-2 we looked more solid and Arteta was too slow with the change.
Another game and still we’ve yet to see Mustafa give away a goal or get a red card. You know it’s coming. Today he was solid with only a few crazy tackles and wild passes. He benefits from being alongside Holding who was clearly our best defender. He is stable, calm and controlled. Not blessed with great speed he shackled Ings and others today. He is towering in the air and dependable. Let’s hope he can stay healthy and get his match fitness back.
Martinez was not too shabby either. His distribution is shit but he made important saves and was quietly reliable 0 unlike their goalie.
There is so much work to be done with this team. So many players to be replaced. But it’s important for Arteta to be able to get a response and then build on it. I was happy to not see Guendouzi either. He needs to settle down a little. We need calmness out there. And today that’s what Xhaka provided. Now we just need a creative player in that Ozil/Ceballos position because neither seems to be up to the job.
And then there is Saka. Another impressive performance. The injury he picked up clearly impacted his contributions but still showed more creativity and skill than anyone else. An 18 year-old in his first year with the first team is remarkable as to how important he has become. Now we have to make sure, after signing the players most would have liked to have seen leave, we tie down our future. If we’re paying Luiz £115,000 a week, how much would you pay Saka?
Now off to Bramall Lane for the one realistic chance we have to get back into the NoHopa cup