With an average age of 22 across midfield and our forwards, it was considerable trust in Project Youth against an experienced Bournemouth side, despite the 6 changes Eddie Howe made after their weekend win.
Despite this healthy smattering of youth, Bournemouth seemed quite content with us having the lion’s share of the ball in the early stages. We said thank you very much, and our two brightest prospects combined to create an opening, for which Saka took full advantage by absolutely leathering it. It was one of those finishes where you’re not entirely sure if he intended to let the ball run that far across his body, but gives you the chance to really open your body up and let loose. Fair to say he did just that.
A resourceful fan dug this up, and I don’t think “Podolski-esque” is far off – he really generates a lot of power with minimal back lift and he gives us another avenue for end product which we’ve been dearly lacking.
That’s now 7 assists and 3 goals in all competitions this season. Not bad for an 18 year old in his first season at left back (not that he spends much time in his own half when he is played there). I’ve also spoken at length (link) about the need for partnerships to really prosper, and although it’s early days, the synergy and awareness we saw for the first goal was a glimpse. Saka had this to say afterwards:
“We train a lot together, we speak a lot … every time we’re speaking about how we’re going to beat the defenders and how we’re going to get in behind and score goals”
I wouldn’t necessarily expect that kind of gumption from two 18 year old’s but maybe that’s what continues to set them apart. It’s completely believable as well, because Martinelli didn’t even seem to look up before making the pass.
Joe Willock also deserves huge credit, and was one of our star performers for me. With two pre-assists to his name, it was his clever body shield/feint that opened up play for the first goal and he also found Saka bombing down the wing for our second. After finding himself maligned in the darker days of Emery’s tenure, in which it often felt like he was expected to somehow drag us into the light along with some of the other youngsters, I was worried about how long he would take to recover. What we saw last night was much more in keeping with what Willock can actually do, and he’s also one of the few players in this squad who can carry the ball in the same manner we became used to with Aaron Ramsey. I was disappointed to see him forced out wide after Ceballos’ introduction (who was tidy enough but it remains to be seen whether he’ll survive the window), but we needed change.
I was also especially pleased to see Eddie Nketiah starting; it’s one thing for Arteta to say he was impressed by Eddie’s attitude and to keep him on the books, but it’s another matter to throw him straight back into the mix. I thought before the game that it was important for him to make a case for himself, whatever role he found himself in. His curtailed loan spell was ultimately disappointing despite grabbing a few goals early on in the Championship, and he’s now returning to a team where he finds himself further down the pecking order than when he left.
The goal will go some ways in doing so, and he continues to demonstrate that ability for being in the right place at the right time, but he’s often struggled to replicate this formula for the first team despite the dividends it’s paid him at youth level. Mike Dean was frothing at the mouth at the prospect of ruling out an Arsenal goal in the VAR netherworld, but even after his desperate attempts at replicating the “ENHANCE” scenes from CSI, he couldn’t scrape together enough evidence to rule it out. It really was pathetic and one of the most ridiculous VAR deliberations I’ve ever seen because not only was he not offside, he wasn’t interfering with play. We had the reverse spiked cocktail of referees as we were served against Chelsea, so if Abraham wasn’t offside for Chelsea’s second, I don’t see why they took 3 minutes to decide on something that was obvious in 3 seconds but there we go.
As for the rest, there were plenty of other very solid performances across the pitch. Prior to his unfortunate injury, Mustafi was almost looking like a player you might actually consider paying £35m for (in this market), and he now will likely force our hand in acquiring someone to cover for him before the month is out.
Matteo Guendouzi, often finding himself on the bench in Arteta’s first full month in charge, put in the kind of performance that put him on everyone’s radar in the first place. He was assured on the ball, fulfilled his defensive duties and also continued to demonstrate his innate ability to absolutely boil the opposition fans’ piss with ease. I do symphathise with them at times, because some of the antics we’ve seen Guendouzi pull (and get away with) must be utterly infuriating to be on the receiving end of, but he’s ours and that means we have to (mostly) back him. The diving, play-acting and goading of opposition fans doesn’t really sit well with me but everything else he gets up to is fair game. We suffered against the dirty tricks the Boltons, Stokes and Burnleys used to pull for far too long, and every top team has a player who’s “a bit difficult”. I think Matteo fits the bill here, and I hope he boils Sean Dyche’s piss on Sunday because that gravel-gargling toddler always has something to complain about when we face Burnley.
Granit Xhaka also put in another reassuring performance, and he seems like an entirely different player under Arteta. He may have lost the armband, but I still value his ability to lead by example and for the time being, we still don’t have a player who can dictate a game like he does. I don’t know how Arteta’s managed it but both deserve credit.
I didn’t care much for the late scare Bournemouth gave us, nor the lengthy injury time but we weathered the storm and in reality, we were in control for most of the game.
Looking ahead to Burnley, I imagine we’ll revert to our normal Aubameyang-less lineup, with Lacazette flanked by Martinelli and Pépé, though Arteta will have selection dilemmas in midfield regarding the central pairing. Burnley’s combative approach is likely to be a better fit for Torreira than Guendouzi, but neither would be inappropriate so we’ll have to wait and see. Teams around us are heading into a difficult run of fixtures, as seen below, so the Burnley game gives us a real opportunity to seize any openings that might present themselves. We’re still outsiders for a top four finish, but I feel like this team is slowly gaining momentum and stranger things have happened.
- Burnley vs Arsenal
- Sp*rs vs City
- United vs Wolves
- Leicester vs Chelsea
- Palace vs Sheffield
- Southampton vs Liverpool
- Arsenal vs Newcastle
- Wolves vs Leicester
- Chelsea vs United
- Villa vs Sp*rs
- Arsenal vs Everton
- Leicester vs City
- Chelsea vs Sp*rs
- United vs Watford
Credit to /u/Kolosalsnatch for the observation