Another performance. Another statement. This time against, nominally, a good team. Right from the start we completely controlled this game. Deservedly won. And keep pace with the Juggernaut.
These last few games in the Premier League (let’s ignore the Champions League for the moment) have shown how much this team has developed since last year. Since our early Christmas break, this team has been on fire. And today, we ripped Newcastle apart. They had no clue how to respond.
Arteta brought back Jorginho and pushed Rice into the Xhaka role. And Jorginho, in the first half, completely controlled the game. He kept the game in front of him and linkup the defense to the midfield – Odegaard in particular. Odegaard floated between their lines and helped slice them apart.
With Have-that up front, we played an intense high press and they could not cope. They made so many forced mistakes. In truth, we had a number of chances that we managed to squander. It seemed inevitable that we would take the lead. And, naturally, it came from a corner. Rather than spend money on a center-forward we’ve gone the route of becoming a goal-scoring team from corners. We are the more elegant version of Stoke City. Soon we will have Ben White launching long throws.
Jorginho was so good today. As he was the last time he started. As long as we can dominate, he can pull the strings. But as we saw with their lone goal, he does not have the pace to recover on counter attacks. In many ways, he is our own little version of Fabregas.
How bad were Newcastle? So bad that their best player was their worst player. Karius helped keep the score respectable and can’t be held responsible for any of our goals. He was unlucky with the first one after pulling of a great save from Gabriel. And thereafter he was undone by his leaky defense (and midfield). I just don’t understand what Newcastle’s strategy was. They looked like Forest or Palace, just with a much higher payroll and bank balance. Everyone was singing Howe’s praises last year – rightly – but today they looked completely random and uncoordinated. At home they are so aggressive while on the road they are meek and docile.
So many of their players did not turn up. Trippier was completely lost today. Martinelli, though he set up the second goal, was not at his best today but was still able to torture Trippier. Our movement was so much faster and decisive. We clearly wanted to make amends for Porto. It was so enjoyable to watch yet another demolition. It won’t always be like this so enjoy while we can.
This was as enjoyable to watch as the other recent games but more like the Liverpool match as these lot were supposed to be half decent. As we applied that high press they wilted quickly and had no outlet. I’m not sure they induced a single save from Raya in the first half. Arsenal were imperious. It was just a case of whether we would convert our chances. The Jorginho pass to the incisive run of Martinelli then set up Have-that to double the lead. Have-that really is a little bit of an enigma. Right at the start of the second-half, he managed to miss another, super straight-forward chance after we’d sliced them apart again. That, against a better team, might have been a sliding doors moment. Instead we had Saka to thank for the that goal that finally put the game to rest.
Have-that worked so hard at pressing and closing down their defenders. And his link-up play and passing is simple, smart and uncomplicated. He just has this propensity to miss too many easy chances. In that way he reminds me of the departed but not missed Danny Welbeck. That’s a little unfair (to Have-that). But his presence allowed us to compact the game into their 1/3rd of the pitch. I’m just grateful he got on the score sheet again. If he’s rate of development and progress continues, he will, at some point, be a star in this team.
Rice took a little time to slot into the Xhaka role. While abrogating his primary responsibility to Jorghino, it took him some time to find his new groove. But having him press higher up the pitch meant he was able to breakup play much closer to their goal. But, at times, you wondered whether he’d have preferred to be playing in his normal role. Of course, this formation was most likely what Arteta was hoping for in the Summer with the expectation that it would be Partey playing that defensive role instead. I doubt we’ll ever see that happen now.
Saliba and Gabriel were again largely unchallenged. Certainly not in the first half. With Isak up front you’d have though they’d feed him the ball. But with White completely dominating their other high priced signing – Gordon – they were able to help push the play further up the pitch. And Kiwior again had another solid game. He even managed to support Martinelli and venture up field. With White playing the inverted role, Kiwior is released to play a more conventional attacking full back role. You can see though that he is a more natural center-back. And he can score goals as well! Without Zinny, Tomi and Timber, we’re lucky to have him. The idea that he might have gone off to Italy in the winter is a joke.
Saka had another stellar game. He destroyed their Dan Burns replacement. He created chances, linked up well with everyone and look like he’s back in fine fettle. And he got that all important third goal. And he set up that first goal as well. I loved though how Odegaard roamed over the pitch, he really seems to be enjoying his football. And he’s another one that presses their defense so well. Sometime, he insists on playing that perfect pass. But that’s the price you pay for brilliance.
We are firing on all cylinders in the league. We might not win this league but we clearly have grown since last year. Most of this can be ascribed to Rice but some of it is just a maturation process. In the second half we were not quite as aggressive, we played more in a game management mode. And even then we doubled the score. But, that’s what we should be doing. We are surely creating fear amongst other teams now. It’s not now as simple as doubling up Saka and Martinelli. We have evolved. And unlike the other two we have further growth years ahead of us.
It was good to see that we made some early substitutions today. We need to rest some of our key players when we can. Especially after Wednesday. That game reminded me why I don’t really enjoy European football. It can be so tedious watching these technical teams set up conservatively and play to hit you on the break. It’s like seeing and AI version of Bolton. They obviously have more talent but are so tedious to watch. It’s this style that explains why European football stadiums are largely empty for their regular league games. I mean, who’d pay to watch that dreary, tedious, Mourinho type football.
And then it’s compounded by the insanely poor referring. I know the EPL refs really suck. But in Europe the refs have gone off in a different direction. This referee was blowing for free kicks if someone touched anyone. Porto would fall over if you looked at them. And he kept awarding free-kicks (to them). In Europe football is a non-contact sport. In the EPL, thankfully, you’re allowed to tackle. It’s just VAR that sucks. But Wednesday reminded me why Europe is so different and difficult. It takes an adjustment. And we don’t (yet) have the experience to adjust.
Hopefully we’ll overcome Porto at home. But expect to see a Bolton-esque defensive wall, plenty of time wasting, Academy-ward winning rolling on the ground with the intent of disrupting any rhythm we might develop. Maybe this is inevitable when teams know they are over-match and the underdog. If we can somehow survive to the next round and play against teams that expect to win, then it will be interesting to watch.
I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s just too much fun watching this team play at the moment. No-one saw this coming after our Christmas disaster. I’m sure this is related to being able to rest our key players. And that’s a by-product of not having Partey, Jesus, Tomi and Timber available (and ESR back then). So, it was good to see ESR get more minutes. I think that’s his role this season. Until he can demonstrate some durability. Not having mid-week games benefits us. And not having any red cards (sorry to jinx it).
As you look at the title race though, there’s only one team people would actually pay to see play. There’s only one team that is entertaining and exciting. And they are the youngest team in this battle. So we might not win it. But the future is blindingly bright. And it’s ours.