At least we got some points. I half expected us to find a way to lose this game after taking the lead. Third time lucky I suppose. As grateful as I am for this victory it’s hard to look past the last two losses. The sharp eyed amongst you will have noticed the absence of any postings for these last two games. I only managed the grab the first half of the Man united game but unfortunately I caught all of the Everton game. That loss ranks up there with our Man City drubbing earlier in the season. This was a game we should have won but a combination of lack of backbone, leadership and awful substitutions caused us to regress into failed versions of Arsenal that are all too familiar over the last 5+ years. It felt like a reversal of all the good work in the last 3 months. And, most painfully, it shone a light on Arteta’s tactics, strategy and leadership. All things I had finally thought we’d put to bed.
The remedy for such concentrated pain was to shut myself off from football for 5 days. Bury my head into the sand someone and ignore all the websites and other social media to avoid being subjected to the extreme voices who most likely wanted to burn down the entire Arteta edifice.
And then Southampton come to town. Thankfully. We started too passively. Gabriel committing an unnecessary foul and getting a yellow card after 3 minutes. To be followed by careless passing by Partey and Arteta. Southampton had greater intensity and pressed us into easy giveaways. We had to absorb some pressure as they controlled the ball but just could not find any cutting edge. They had various free kicks awarded by a pretty dumb and young looking referee who seemed to give them all the calls. There was little fluency to our game. The passing along the back-line was ponderous as we tried to work the ball out of the back. As was the case for most of the game Partey, though unmarked, is not in a position to receive the ball and thus limits the choices for our center-backs. Neither Martinelli or Saka were involved in the game.
Then Ramsdale came to the rescue – again. He must have had more touches than any outfield player. After receiving the ball from Gabriel he was able to evade their forward and set up a counter-attack down our right. And for once from White to Tommy onwards it was quick, direct, one-touch passing that lead to Saka setting up Cigarette. And that took the air out of Southampton. To be followed soon by our second from Odegaard. By this stage the game was essentially done. But we took the opportunity to find some rhythm and cohesion in our passing. Xhaka was a stabilizing presence while Odegaard found space between the lines. Most of our creativity came down the right with Tommi and Saka interlinking. Annoyingly Party still tried to shoot and missed by his usual mile. It makes you wonder what he’s like in practice if this is what he does in games.
Partey has been with us 18 months now. I loved him when he first came. But now I have my doubts. Sure he’s suffered from injuries and was disrupted – like everyone – by COVID. For a player who’s so senior he make dumb-arse mistakes. And, worryingly, they tend to be the same ones. He gets caught in possession too often. He does not sense when he’s being swarmed by the opposition. Rather than get rid of the ball he’ll try and dribble out it – a very high risk strategy. His shooting is a joke. And it’s not clear that he’s a vocal leader on the pitch. He is clearly a good player but I’m not sure he’s good enough. I’m not sure he’s evolving and developing. I’m not sure his game is improving. Against wanky teams like Southampton, Norwich or Watford he might shine. Against Everton, when we needed a backbone, he was absent. Those are the games where he needs to sine, to dominate and assert himself. And we’ve yet to see that. And until he does, he will be a B+ player at best. And, as one of the older players, we need more than that from him. We’ll lose him soon to the ACN but when he comes back he better not be injured. And then he has to prove his worth. Because for this team to progress we need to have a backbone player in midfield. And if he can’t do it then we better find someone else.
When the ACN does start up I hope to see more of AMN. He must be getting bored on the bench. Hopefully we won’t just play against Sunderland. He needs minutes. And before we have Man City at home. Now he needs to play ahead of Elneny.
Ramsdale seems like the real leader in this team now. A vocal presence. An Adams-like figure. Everyone else is too quiet. In that first 20 minutes when we had no shape he was the only player directing and instructing those around him. Against a better team we would have suffered. And I fear a little for the West ham game. They will apply more pressure and restrict the available spaces for us.
So, no Aubameyang again today. It’s not clear we missed him. He’s obviously not the smartest tool in the shed. With the ACN round the corner we’ve only got him a game or two now. This stupidity combined with his inability to find the net make you wonder what his future holds. Both him and Eddie had chances to bail us out against Everton. The fact he came on after Eddie is telling. As was his miss with the last touch of the game. Let’s hope he finds his scoring touch at the ACN. Cigarette will surely see a contract extension in his future. He provides better link up play and can score. Of course, he had a few more chances and should have done better on his breakaway. He was set up with an excellent through pass (I can’t remember who from) but he lacks pace to get away from defenders and then the confidence to shoot. There was another instance when he dribbled into the box and should have shot. He’s not perfect but at least he is involved in the game. And Eddie does not seem to be the answer. Both of these could sign -prenuptial agreements next month. So, in addition to a Partey replacement we’ll need another striker. When we do enter the market I suspect we’ll have a little extra cash from when we sell Pepe. I’m amazed he made it on the pitch today. And, for a guy who’s been warming the bench for a month or so, he displayed little appetite to convince anyone he’s in the wrong place. He did not dart around, he did not take on players and, as ever, his body language sucked. He looks like a defeated person. He reminds me of Gervinho. Pepe is not suited to the EPL. Sell him off to Italy or Spain. Get some money back and invest in another striker. Pepe has no future with us. And he knows it.
The overhang from that Everton game colours the points today. And will do for another game or so. West Ham will be a real test. And I fear for the outcome. Those casual giveaways will be punished by a well-drilled, organized and hard working team. We need to regain some semblance of believe and control of games. And put our chances away. At least they won’t sit back in two banks of 4 – they will attack us and threaten us from corners. Thankfully Arteta removed Gabriel today to protect him. His arial strength will be crucial. West Ham basically score from corners. That’s it. But with Gabriel and Ramsdale we have a chance.
Currently we look and feel like we’ll be top of the mid-table teams. Maybe landing in 7th or 8th. To go beyond that we need to figure out our balance in midfield .We feel too vulnerable and get overrun too easily. We’ve sorted the defense and goal-keeper. Now Tierney is back in, he needs a run of game to redevelop his rhythm. But this backline is one for this decade. Add in Saka, ESR and Odergaard and maybe Martinelli and we’re half way to a winning team. Let’s see now how Arteta sets us up for Wednesday. This one will be tough.