A belated report this morning from our great victory yesterday. As we now embark on yet another unnecessary and distracting break from the most important sport league on the planet into an abyss of useless international matches, let’s recap yesterday
- After Wednesday, this game was like watching a slow motion re-enactment of Wednesday. Whereas on Wednesday our players were visibly knackered after 70 minutes, here we could have played on for another 70 minutes. The pace of the game, the intensity was more akin to a practice match. Villa barely pressured our backline and were surprisingly passive throughout (except maybe for the last 10 minute scramble). I expected a much tougher game but after 5 minutes you could see the speed of the game was more akin to that of a lazy Sunday afternoon.
- We controlled the entire game and came out of the blocks nice and quick – no hangover from Wednesday. We controlled the game and retained possession in a way we could only have drams of even six months ago.
- When I saw the team sheet I heaved up my lunch (fortunately it was a lite lunch). Leno in goal? OMG. In hindsight, Ramsdale being injured explains a lot about that Liverpool first goal. But my confidence going into the game was not exactly high. I suppose I do forget that during his time he was actually a good GK for us – just not as good as Aaron. And of course I feared for our distribution from the back. But, given that Villa decided to sleep walk through the game I really did not have anything to fear. So Gerrard – Steve boy wonder – the great coach, did not realize he could disrupt our game plan by putting pressure on the one player in our team who had not played for 6 months and who everyone knows can’t play out from the back. Evidently not. Thankfully he barely had a shot to save until the 94th minute. And it was a nice reminder of prior years to see numerous long kicks either do directly into touch or right back to their defenders or Martinez. Luckily Martinelli was not running up the wing to expect passes to him from our GK,
- So this was a game between the two most recent Arsenal GKs. Each has their strengths (I think) but neither could link up their defenses nor play with the momentum and speed of our Aaron. The incremental cost of Aaron of £5+ was money well spent.
- Why do referees not give Saka even a modicum of protection. Their entire team (slight exaggeration) took lumps out of Saka throughout the game. It was clear systematic fouling. And Madley handed out a couple of yellow cards but nothing else. And somehow Cash avoided one. Of course, Xhaka got one for barely breathing on an opponent. Likewise Partey. Villa would only get one if the player decapitated one of our players and then chopped off both legs – and then only with regret. Saka – one of the shinning lights in English football who is barely 20 years old – should warrant some protection here. He’s a star of the English team and the future for this country. But week after week left backs (and others) feel free to take lumps out of him. The poor boy had to crawl and hobble off the pitch after 70 minutes or so.
- Did I mention we were so much superior to Villa. The rhythm and understanding – the ball movement – was consistent and controlled. The distance between the two teams was surprising. I’ve not (thankfully) seen Villa play recently but they were underwhelming. On the other hand, we continued to look like a team that is finding it’s identify and has established a clear pattern of play.
- If only we had a center forward. Cigarette links up play well but clearly – aside from penalties – can’t score. In the second half on the counter-attacked he had a chance, on the counter-attack, to play the final pass out to his right but instead decided to try and shot. Against better teams that might have proved crucial. And even when he was placed by Eddie, things did not improve. On another breakaway Eddie slips over in their penalty area. It reminded me of his missed header against Everton. I don’t see how, next year, either will retain their places in this squad. Both have lost their way. With Cigarette he can at least help our play. It’s remarkable really that Cigarette has so much support given his lack of productivity. When you think back to Giroud, who really could score goals and also linked up the team quite nicely, there was frustration with him because he was as slow as a donkey. But actually, given the choice, I’d take him over Cigarette. Though I don’t miss a 6 foot 3 man lying, in agony on the ground, waving his wrist every time he fell over.
- Both Eddie and Pepe were pretty shit when they came on. Pepe found ways to lose the ball and commit unnecessary fouls right at the end of the game just when we needed to relieve the (limited) pressure. Instead he foolishly tumbles over their player to create chances that they could not create himself. It makes you wonder if he has any football IQ.
- This team now gives me a warm glow. They are entertaining to watch again and no longer possess the self-destruct button of Mustafa and Luiz (and Kolinisac and…). You forget that was less than a year ago. 2021 will have to go done as one of our best transfer windows ever. Finally, we getting close to watching a team that does not hurt itself more than the opposition. That’s not to say the last 10 minutes weren’t a little scary and fraught with worry. It was never-wracking. But Partey was in control. White and Gabriel were dominant and Cedric was not really tested (fortunately).
- ESR was brilliant today. His speed of thought and link-up play was outstanding. He roasted Cash. Cash fouled him continuously and somehow avoided a yellow card. But ESR was a shining light. He plays – like Saka – with genuine joy. And we are better with him in the team. The quality of his movement, close ball control and awareness remind me just a little of Pires. ESR is that good.
So now we have a few weeks in which our players can hopefully recover for the final push. Our squad is quite thin so we need to allow for Aaron, ESR, Saka and Martinelli to regain their strength. We are in a great position now for those last 10 games. Better than anyone could have reasonably expected. This team has grown on everyone. Even the biased commentator’s are seeing something in this team now. But ahead of us lay a number of tough games. And there is limit margin for error now. And there will be real pressure so it will be interesting to see how a young teams handles that. We also have Partey and Xhaka accumulating (unreasonable) yellow cards. We can’t function without Partey. He was the key to our midfield against Villa. Lack of quad depth could really hurt us. It’s fine balance between a small squad when you’re not in European matches and the need for more players when you are. And it’s not like we’ve finished turning over this squad. We will need at least two attackers for next season if we are to progress. But for the moment we can enjoy the success of this team and wallow in the glow of yet three more points that were well deserved and well earne.