For a game that looked there for the taking, I’m still slightly amazed that Arsenal came away with only a single goal to their name. That’s been a familiar theme in recent weeks for one reason or another, but Benfica were set up to negate and frustrate; happy for Arsenal to have plenty of the ball and even risk a high line with ageing defenders against a front line with pace.

You’d be easily fooled into thinking it was a close game if you only saw the match stats. The golden opportunities that fell to Aubameyang would have put the game to bed, and nothing Benfica produced came close. You can’t really account for that in your preparations – sometimes your striker just has an off day – but for it to come so soon after his weekend flurry was less than ideal. The chances were there and were well-crafted, and the hope is simply that there’ll be more of the same when we need it most in the second leg.

Arteta’s intentions for this competition were clear as day; that he’s not taking any chances because the team he fielded was arguably his strongest available. It’s for that reason that he’ll be especially frustrated to have put so much on the line with some crunching Premier League ties loitering either side of our games against Benfica. I fully expect a loss against Man City because they’re simply a cut above the rest right now, but becoming competitive against sides of their calibre is still a useful exercise for Arteta between now and the end of the season. Going into the match drained will really hamper our chances of making it useful and I wouldn’t be surprised if City play like it’s a training exercise but maybe this is the time their crazy run comes to an end. At any rate, anything that isn’t a loss would be a great result and the performance against Benfica doesn’t leave me with any real concerns. Obviously that’ll go out the window and we’ll be despondent over the missed chances if we somehow lose next week but for now, all is calm.

While it’s always disappointing to concede a penalty, it’s nice to not have to bemoan some poor decision or VAR nonsense and thought the Turkish officials put the Premier League’s to shame. It’s a soft penalty in the grand scheme of things but they’re inevitable; the idea of footballers only ever jumping or blocking with their arms by their side like robots is ridiculous but that’s the state of the game. Smith Rowe is clearly smart enough to remember that next time and I was much more reassured by the overall defensive display than our profound ability to concede penalties anyway.

There were two standout performers of the night in Ceballos and Ødegaard, who both found plenty of success with line-splitting passes through and over Benfica’s high line. Aubameyang will be most rueful having squandered Ceballos’ brilliant through-ball to Bellerín but I’m still convinced there’s more where that came from in the second leg. The two loanees almost combined for a walked-in goal that was reminiscent of peak “Wengerball” and judging by Ødegaard’s hands-on-head disappointment, he knew it too. After his signing was announced, he revealed that Fàbregas was “one of [his] idols” and part of me secretly hopes that this kind of affinity for past players and the club would help get a permanent deal over the line. It’s early days but the speed at which he’s slotted into the team, with so little playing time under his belt at Real this season only bodes well for the remainder of his loan and beyond. When he plays like he did last night, the same can also be said for Ceballos but with 63 games notched up for Arsenal already, he remains less convincing until he can do that with some regularity.

The game seemed to ebb with each subsequent substitution and as is so often the case with two-legged knockout ties, it transitioned into simply protecting what we had. That’s not to say we simply stopped trying but Benfica were defending with numbers and had already threatened on the break, so it was wise to not over-commit in search of a second. So too did Saka’s influence ebb, with Smith Rowe and Aubameyang’s simultaneous substitution, he became easier to isolate and control, looking jaded towards the end. Still, getting another important goal when you have an off-day is quite alright in my book and his scuffed effort wide was equally as uncharacteristic as Aubameyang’s. Benfica may have rode their luck in the first leg but for both players to have a similar showing in the second is hard to imagine, so I’m setting myself up for heartbreak by trusting the gods of probability.

On the topic of substitutions, I thought Pépé and Martinelli’s arrival came too late in the day to make an impact – and not for the first time under Arteta. Benfica were already more than happy sitting on their haunches as the game state had already eclipsed the times of Arsenal getting in behind, and the pair found little to no joy trying to run at their back line. The final two changes made Arteta’s stance abundantly clear because those two are not match-winners, and in some ways, he might as well have not bothered at all

All to play for.

Bielsa’s leaky Leeds (and jacket) continue to leak

Before I start, I can only apologise for this ridiculous title but Bielsa’s clearly-not-waterproof, puffer jacket was too hilarious not to mention. I know he’s a fairly resilient guy and is happy to live a modest life but surely someone could have given him a raincoat.

After two disappointing losses on the bounce, it was imperative to get back to winning ways before facing Benfica on Thusday and they did just that. Leeds are a funny side; they have the joint-second worst defensive record in the league and you never really know which Leeds is going to show up. They comfortably beat Leicester only a fortnight ago and can go toe to toe with anyone on their day… but yesterday was not their day.

Arteta was rightfully undeterred by those disappointments with an unseen lineup that accommodated Ødegaard alongside Smith Rowe from the onset after the idea was cameoed as we chased the game against Villa. With his first chance at playing with a clean slate in front of him, his addition gave me the same feeling as I’ve had whenever I’ve watched Partey this season: he’s better than whatever was there before. The same can also be said for Smith Rowe, so to have the two working in tandem, threading things together with seemingly minimal effort bodes well going forward.

In many ways, the first half was no different to what we saw against Wolves, save for the last few minutes. On both occasions, the immediate intensity was too much and there was a real familiarity to the flat-track bully approach that Wenger’s Arsenal sides so often adopted against teams “beneath” us (although that’s a precarious word to use this season).The difference really was just end product. That responsibility had Aubameyang firmly in its sights after he was reinstated centrally and he scored with his first sight of goal. It was a brilliant finish and I think any criticism levelled at Meslier for conceding is a disservice to the effort; he really didn’t help his case as the game went on but he was clearly blind-sided.

Our end product is also the reason why I’m able to sit here and only briefly mention the V-word instead of another lengthy tirade 👇.

Okay, we have a penalty rescinded. As minimal as the contact appeared to be, there’s still three things I really struggle to understand:

  1. If it’s against us, particularly under the challenge of a Luiz or a Xhaka, we all know the answer.
  2. It wasn’t a clear and obvious error, so I don’t know why they’re getting involved in the first place.
  3. The speed at which Saka’s moving and the fact he’d already brushed off one challenge meant only minimal contact was needed. He’s clearly not taken a Salah swan dive and the contact has caused him to lose his footing without playing the ball.

Thankfully, that didn’t matter because Saka is a man possessed and closed down the Leeds backline – on his own, from the halfway line – and won another penalty minutes later after Meslier’s sloppy footwork. It always bothers me when commentators say things like “oh, that’s a great penalty” when they’ve stuck it down the middle. Granted, there’s a craft to it but I think there’s a tendency for praise even when it’s not deserved. In Aubameyang’s case, it was a great penalty and no ‘keeper in the world is saving a shot struck with that kind of pace into the side setting.

Saka’s involvement in the third goal reminded me of something Raheem Sterling did against José and his doomed clown show on Saturday. It’s easy enough to draw comparisons between the two because they’re both left-footed, right-sided forwards but it was the way in which we were able to drag players out of position while maintaining the patience and composure as the move transitioned into a “new phase”. Arteta’s influence on Sterling was already well-documented, so it’s been interesting to see Saka’s meteoric progress out on the right.

On this occasion, Saka was given the space to do his thing and when the momentum was lost, there were players queuing up in the right positions to get things started again. Even when the ball was almost lost, Smith Rowe was also able to fend off players around him and keep the move alive and Ceballos had the composure and ability to slip in Bellerín. Between Ceballos, Ødegaard, Saka and Smith Rowe, there was real pace and fluidity to their interplay throughout and Xhaka continued his fine form doing the rest.

As is the nature of the club, no match is entirely plain sailing but on this occasion, my only real gripes are with Arteta’s choice of substitutions. If Saka’s post-match comments are anything to go by, Arteta was indeed aware of what kind of response to expect from Leeds after half time, saying “if there’s any team that’s going to come back fighting with so much fighting spirit, it’s going to be Leeds”. If that’s the case, why on Earth is Willian the answer? He’d already failed the “come on as a substitute when the game’s already over and get some confidence back” test with flying colours when he came on against West Brom last month. On this occasion, it was a doubly bad because Leeds not only came out fighting but he replaced Smith Rowe in the process. Who he replaced isn’t even the issue, but rather what we lose whenever he steps onto the pitch. In an entirely non-hyperbolic descriptor, he is simply dead weight.

Thursday was no doubt playing on Arteta’s mind and Smith Rowe is fast approaching Saka-levels of “protect him at all costs”, but why not bring on Pépé or Martinelli? Both have futures at the club, both are actually hungry and the risk ahead of Thursday would be minimal in 30 minutes of playing time. It’s a shame to keep highlighting one particular player but he is Arteta’s whopping, sore thumb and there’s now a real dichotomy between everything else we’re seeing.. and Willian. Relationships and combinations continue to blossom, Ødegaard’s assimilation was seamless and Arteta has mostly shaken the kind of rigidity that shackled his decision-making until the Chelsea game, with some real, tangible progress. And yet, he remains. The only real consolation Willian has left is he continues to be played out of position because a 19-year-old has essentially made themselves undroppable. He didn’t look comfortable on the left wing with Tierney behind him and he looks even less comfortable with another right-footed player behind him. I thought we’d reached the end of a never-ending headache with a certain players January departure but I fear this is going to be another one.

I was also less than enthused to see Elneny come on because an additional forward and midfield reshuffle would have probably sufficed but given the other options on the bench and the importance of our matches ahead, I could live with it.


He’s looked a forlorn figure in recent weeks, which is no surprise because of his off-field worries but even before that, he’s not exactly been his usual self. That’s just as much a circumstance of the team behind him as his own decline, because he’s not the kind of player to just make things happen and our dependency on his goals last season have probably stoked that particular idea.

Sometimes a break is enough and other players stepping up to the mark will have no doubt helped allay some of that pressure in easing him back into the team. In hindsight, easing was a bit of an understatement and I definitely didn’t see him putting on a clinic but the timing couldn’t be better.

It would also be remiss of me to not mention a widely-held assertion that Aubameyang is simply a finisher and can’t link play, because he was instrumental in both the third and fourth goals. The dinked cross to Bellerín gave birth to the next phase of the move started by Saka, and his lay-off to Saka on the halfway line unlocked the door into Leeds’ half of the pitch. Speaking of which, I really have no idea if Smith Rowe was shooting or crossing. I’ve watched it more times than either of the two penalty decisions and I still can’t decide but I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s a very deliberate with everything he does and sees things that many don’t.

As for Aubameyang, if not for the woodwork and a brilliant tackle by an Arsenal academy product in Ayling, he would have had five to his name and that’s what you get from him when he gets the right kind of service. He’s the one tied down to a long and expensive contract and regardless of his conditioning, his age profile and skillset shouldn’t leave him with the dirty work. He won’t always be afforded the time and space that Leeds gave him, which is reason enough to play him on the wing from time to time but going forward, I hope Arteta’s priority is figuring out how to enable Aubameyang in that manner every week.

I even heard him giving orders to Bellerín(?) with a conveniently-placed microphone just before half time, which well and truly rubbishes the idea that he’s only a captain because he leads by example (words I’ve used before), although that’s by no means a negative in and of itself.

It’s just good to have him back and that seems like a good note to end on.


After a such a promising run of form, trying to come to terms with how that momentum has ground to a halt in these last two games is a fraught process. I don’t want to go over old ground but there are similarities with the match against Wolves that can’t be overlooked. In the same way that Luiz switched off before half time on that occasion, half of Arsenal’s back line were apparently unaware that the match had kicked off yesterday.

It was a recurring feature of the afternoon for misplaced and sloppy passing but Cédric’s weak pass to Gabriel very much set the tone. That mistake was bad enough and was then compounded by Holding not being tight enough to Watkins and that was that.

Consistency is something that continues to rear its head in all shapes and sizes and as much as the club and fans would be right to bemoan inconsistencies with officiating, they become easier to swallow when you haven’t already pressed the self-destruct button. The club took great strides in January to root out several of the repeat offenders but we’re not quite there yet. It’s an impossible task to stop these careless moments entirely but at the moment, it seems to be the biggest spanner in the works for Arteta.

While we’re on the subject though, I’d just like to succinctly and angrily get my point across just how fucking bad referees have been lately. In general. Mike Dean’s ridiculous red card for Bednarek has already been rescinded after he failed to spot a blatant dive even after consulting the pitch-side monitor and he then went and sent off Soucek for the most blatantly accidental elbow I’ve ever seen. As for the Arsenal game, off the top of my head:

  • Saka fouled by the last man, running through on goal
  • Lacazette very clearly fouled by Martinez

A red card in the first half and a penalty in the second are difficult to get past and I don’t think either decision was even remotely contentious. Peter Walton of course disagreed, saying “from a subjective point of view, has Lacazette used that [shirt pull] as an opportunity to then lean on the goalkeeper?” and that “VAR is not there to get the correct decision”. While he may not be in the job anymore, it would be a fair assumption to make that many that still are share these nonsense, contradicting thoughts.

We then also had to endure systematic, rotational fouling on Saka which is becoming the normative tactic to deal with him and it’s only a matter of time before he’s seriously injured. There was a deliberate handball charge-down by Traoré(?) that was deemed not bookable, so too for a late challenge by Trezeguet and I’m sure I’m missing a few more. I hate that these incidents play such an important part in assessing a performance but it also feels disingenuous to simply chalk them up as something we have to deal with each game. At the very least, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the last two results have been heavily affected by factors beyond our control.

Therein lies the importance of finding a solution to these silly mistakes, though. The team has to reach a point where they are not dependent on VAR or the officials to do actually do their job – they’re not fit for purpose and it’s not going to change any time soon. It’s sort of like if you had toothache and the only dentist available was insisting on using dynamite, you’re better off using some string instead.

Going 1-0 down in the first minute certainly shouldn’t be the death knell, even if it was against a team we’re in direct competition with. Arteta said that “we controlled every department, we dominated the game completely but we just gave them the goal”. That just about summed it all up, but the domination we were afforded was equally indicative of what Villa afforded us.

If I was a Villa player watching how Cédric and Bellerín played, I’d probably be alright with having less possession because it was pretty dreadful stuff from the pair of them. The substitutions from Arteta also left much to be desired, with Aubameyang once again ghosting through another cameo and certainly not the right fit for breaking down Villa, at the expense of Lacazette and his combination play. Willian’s introduction after Thomas Partey’s untimely injury was another performance I never want to think about again, with a passing map that was almost entirely comprised of Kolasinac-like backwards passes. It also served to undo one of the only things that was actually working on the day, which was Pépé down that left flank. It would be hypocritical of me to say he was wrong to bring on Willian after he had a better performance the other day (by his standards) and that it’s an important part of rebuilding a player to reward them as such, but he simply isn’t serviceable and we can’t keep hamstringing ourselves all the time trying to make it work. Martinelli is a player who Arteta is clearly still figuring out but we’ve surely reached a point where whatever he is doing wrong should only be seen as collateral.

Besides a brilliant freekick from Xhaka, I can hardly remember Martinez being tested and it was our debutant who was the far busier ‘keeper. For all of our “domination”, Villa were unsurprisingly more threatening in the eyes of xG and besides Ødegaard’s late, blazing miss, it felt like a game where the equaliser was destined to escape us. If it’s any consolation, I at least thought Ødegaard had another good performance – missed chances aside – and a double-8 pivot alongside Smith Rowe is a viable option.

At this point, I think I’ve looked at the league table enough for one season. If we can’t be consistent, it doesn’t do much good to play the “what if” game and our luck has just about run out for making something of this season domestically. I’m loathed to say we should only be focusing on the Europa League for the rest of the season because there’s still a great deal of benefit to finish the season as strongly as possible; it lays the foundations for next season after a (hopefully) busy summer transfer window and we still need to maximise our ability to attract top talents, of which reputation plays its part. For now though, the sooner this season comes to an end, the better.

Silly season back on track

Sometimes football tricks you into feeling safe and cozy, even optimistic. Last night was a brutally sudden reminder that we are in fact… never safe.

After being deliciously lulled into this comfort zone by 46 minutes of some of the best football I’ve seen under Arteta, the game was turned on its Sideshow Bob-shaped head. I can’t remember seeing such division over a decision as the Luiz incident, but from my understanding and desire to be objective, by the letter of the law, he had to walk.

Watching it in real time, I thought the same as everyone else – Luiz has done that Luiz thing again where he needlessly makes a last-man challenge instead of just letting the player score. What actually appears to be the case is Luiz was a victim of an incredibly grey and non-sensical area of the rules.

Law 12 of the F.A.’s Handbook – Fouls and Misconduct

SENDING-OFF OFFENCES: denying a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent whose overall movement is towards the offender’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick

DENYING A GOAL OR AN OBVIOUS GOAL-SCORING OPPORTUNITY: where a player commits an offence against an opponent within their own penalty area which denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and the referee awards a penalty kick, the offending player is cautioned if the offence was an attempt to play the ball; in all other circumstances (e.g. holding, pulling, pushing, no possibility to play the ball etc.) the offending player must be sent off.

It’s clear where the grey area catches Luiz. The contact was minimal and entirely accidental, albeit avoidable since Luiz was out of position and should have known better than to get too close. It’s a penalty every day of the week, and I would be aggrieved if an Arsenal player was brought down in similar fashion. Unfortunately, it just so happened to find that sweet spot with “in all other circumstances”. Where the referee’s defence unravels, is not only by Craig Pawson’s repeated and unaccounted ability to make the right decisions (see below for a game of “odd one out”), but by Law 5 of the same handbook.

Law 5.2 – Decisions of the referee

Decisions will be made to the best of the referee’s ability according to the Laws
of the Game and the ‘spirit of the game’ and will be based on the opinion of the
referee, who has the discretion to take appropriate action within the
framework of the Laws of the Game.

If the laws of the game find equivalence between tackles that endanger opponents, violent misconduct and persistent fouling with an accidental coming together that just so happened to be in the penalty area, then surely the ‘spirit of the game’ should prevail. A penalty is punishment enough – the odds are overwhelmingly in favour to convert the chance – and recent changes to the ruling have even sought to reduce the incidence of these double jeopardy scenarios. This unfortunately relies on the assumption that referees are actually capable of making well-reasoned, objective decisions on a consistent basis.

One of the core dependencies of consistency is accountability. You can see it in every aspect of the game; bad players get dropped and rotated, the manager position at some clubs is like a carousel and yet the worst thing that can happen to a Premier League referee is a slap-on-the-wrist-demotion for a few games and then they’re back to their usual antics. The best kind of referees are those that go unnoticed and yet here we are with blatant egotists like Mike Dean who undeniably revel in the spotlight and treat the sport like an exhibition. Without accountability, standards will stand still and it’s part of the reason no Premier League officials went to the last World Cup after Clattenburg dropped out (and if his recent revelations about Spurs are anything to go by, the tournament was better for it). This was the first such instance in 80 years and it doesn’t look like much has changed since.

These same egotists even had to be told to consult the pitch-side monitors – unlike the rest of the European leagues’ referees who actually had the humility to do so. Aaaanyway, that’s quite enough of that.

Arteta was understandably perplexed at what he’d just seen but praised the reaction, saying the desire to win, even with 9 men, was “magnificent”. I can’t argue with that and as mad as the circumstances were, not much has really changed in the grand scheme of things. The league is still a mess but the performances are still headed in the right direction, and I can live with that. The emergence of an actual shape and balance to the team has done wonders in recent weeks and Wolves looked there for the taking. After being critical of our slow starts on several occasions, that idea was absolutely blown out of the water. Within 10 minutes, Saka had already had already been denied three times, by woodwork, VAR and the keeper and on another day, we’re already 2 or 3-0 up.

The goal itself was a continuation of Pépé’s recent form, and was another step in the right direction as he continues to repay Arteta’s trust. Winning the ball back was one thing but the tenacity he showed and the weak-footed finish showed a different side to him and at this point, he should keep his place on the left wing. I think it’s clear at this point he’s a confidence player and it’s essential to not make the same mistake twice by dropping him after a strong run of form.

After half time, it was clear that damage limitations weren’t on the agenda and if not for an absolute worldie from Moutinho, I’m confident that we had the means to get something from the game. What later transpired very much put that dream to bed but the intent was always there and that at least is commendable.

I really did think I was watching Lehmann-incarnate with Leno’s moment of madness. It isn’t something we’re used to seeing and it was obviously a circumstance of what the game was demanding, but it gets more and more awkward every time you watch it. He’s got some ways to go if he wants to usurp “Mad Jens” – he hasn’t started making a habit of assaulting players that get too close to him or taken a piss behind an advertising board during a match but that was some serious disconnect between mind and body. Joking aside though, I think it’s fair to chalk this up as an isolated incident and shouldn’t take anything away from his season. I’m not entirely sure about what that means going forward and I’m now sick of trawling the rule handbook, but I think we lose Leno for our next game against Aston Villa on Saturday.

Those that remained were forced to run their socks off even more than they already had been doing and while it’s common practice for “10 men scenarios” in training, I doubt there’s much precedent for 9. Credit has to go to them for not capitulating and they almost miraculously snatched a goal back, but that was that.

Anyway, if by any chance you haven’t completely lost your minds thinking about officiating and VAR, I’ll leave you with this depressing compilation.

All square

In the cold light of day, coming away with a draw was perfectly palatable and yet I can’t help but have an underlying feeling of “what could have been”. Bruno Fernandes callously and petulantly raking Xhaka’s calf – adverbs so often used to describe Xhaka after the numerous red cards he’s seen – could easily have seen him taking an early walk down the tunnel in a universe where VAR actually makes sense. There were also notable absentees from the starting lineup, who may have made the difference in an otherwise closely-contested affair, with United having no such problems on this front.

A draw still doesn’t take anything away from what was another step forward in the right direction and a testament to this increasingly streamlined squad, whose depth showed more resilience and ability than they’re perhaps given credit for. With Tierney once again ruled out, it was another chance for Cédric to justify his questionable contractual situation and despite picking up an early booking, he produced another dependable performance played out of position. With the late timing of Saka’s injury reveal, Pépé was also given a fighting chance to surprise United’s preparations on the opposite wing. He may not be a like-for-like replacement to Saka, he was our best attacking threat on the day and if not for Maguire’s block, would have slotted past a beaten De Gea. He not only got through a lot of defensive work, but is also beginning to show signs of development at long last; fewer occasions where I felt he boxed himself into a corner or held onto the ball for too long and he continues to find himself in the right areas.

It was also the first time since the opening matchday where I thought Willian was actually a Premier League-level footballer. After Martinelli was taken off at halftime, I assumed there was some kind of injury but Arteta cleared this up in his post-match interview, explaining it was a “tactical decision”. His first real involvement was to waste one of our best chances of the game, but given the fact he’d only just come on, the first touch and unconvincing finish was a bit easier to swallow thanks to the rest of his performance. It wasn’t long before he put the ball on a plate for Pépé’s aforementioned chance and he got through a lot of defensive work.

Both sides enjoyed peaks and troughs and but save for Leno’s brilliant denial against Fred, it was a match dominated by centre-backs making a name for themselves. After some typical Luiz-mania that threatened to rear its head against Southampton, he rose to the occasion and earned himself a Man of The Match award (after his left-footed 30 yard volley and umpteenth unsuccessful freekick were overlooked). His partner in Holding once again lead the way in headed clearances and was a £78m-cheaper version of United’s slab-headed counterpart. We perhaps rode our luck at times with the intensity of United’s pressure as Rashford and Cavani both squandered some great chances, but so too did they after Lacazette saw his freekick cruelly denied by the underside of the crossbar.

All square

In the end, that’s another clean sheet, and more notably it was against a United side who have been rampant since their defeat to Arsenal at Old Trafford. I never bought into the idea that they were genuine title contenders – they’ve rode their luck in recent times and if the two team’s relative positions in the league table are anything to go by, the gap is far closer than the points tally would suggest. It’s probably still “too little, too late” for making something of this season but an emerging theme is that this club is once again difficult to beat. It seems strange to have had such a quick change in fortunes – especially when one of the key catalysts was a 20-year-old academy product – but the sport is as fickle as it gets.

Going forward, it gave more minutes to Partey who I still don’t think is operating at full potential yet. While he may have been uncharacteristically poor in possession, he was an important cog in stretching United and breaking up play alongside Xhaka and while it was a brief introduction, bedding Ødegaard in the team is one less thing in the to-do list.

With the absentees seemingly all close to a return, it feels like things may be coming together just as we head into the business end of the season. I’m buoyed by certain players reaching new, lofty heights like Saka and Leno and others like Lacazette have seemingly returned from the dead and are once again integral to what we do. If a few more can really step up to the mark, we might just be in business. I can’t help but always look ahead to our tie with Benfica, because that’s the one that stands out as really mattering but with so much congestion in the top half of the table, I’m still confident that we can make something of this season one way or the other.

Point proven

It was important to get back to winning ways as the business end of the season looms, with so much still to play for. After an early exit from our own tournament, to which many – including myself – questioned given the number of changes made, Arteta was eager to set the record straight and clearly had a bee in his bonnet.

“We had five players in the FA Cup that couldn’t play … I want to make that clear. The ones that played today they were to play some part of the game.”

Given the calibre of players missing, and the convincing manner in which the league tie was won, it makes the F.A. Cup defeat easier to swallow. There were still notable absentees to contend with like Tierney and Aubameyang, which makes the result all the more impressive.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit worried given how the early stages of the game unfolded. A missed golden opportunity… here we go. Concede from a set piece after a lapse in concentration. Scriptwriters are back to work…

It’s another game which actually benefitted from a lack of supporters – even away from home – because they could crack on without the background drone of disappointment, and they did just that. In fairness to Lacazette, although I was bitterly disappointed to see him denied in real-time, McCarthy was out with such speed that it made life difficult. Also, speaking from experience, having a chance fall to you so early in the game is always a surprise and sometimes you haven’t quite found your feet yet. Even then, McCarthy was lucky to get just enough on the block to deny any rebounds and as we later found out, rushing out like Prime Neuer isn’t always the best idea…

We’re still by no means a first half team – far from it – so the immediacy to which the players responded was refreshing to see.

They’d started as they’d meant to go on, which was pressing as a unit as high up the pitch as possible. Lacazette’s pressure was enough to regain possession and having already threatened with the earlier through-ball for Lacazette, Xhaka was able to slip Pépé between the lines and he showed two things which have been known to escape him; strength and composure. Game on.

The pressing was relentless and Southampton were so often forced to go long, which was bread and butter for Luiz and Holding. I don’t know if Arteta adapted his approach based on what he saw on Saturday, but even going behind, there was a clear strategy and the rate of turnover was integral to the eventual turnaround. We’re once again showing a kind of unity in everything we do; without the ball, the press comes from the top down, with Lacazette and Smith Rowe interchangeably pressing Southampton’s last man, to Saka and Pépé both being hot on the heels of Southampton’s fullbacks, with the latter making the joint highest ball recoveries along with Smith Rowe.

The circumstances in which we took the lead were unusual by our standards, but no less than we deserved. With Xhaka once again collecting the ball and passing forwards into space, Lacazette without hesitation got his head up and played a first-time ball through to Saka. It later emerged that the two had spoken about this exact scenario before the game, so to see it come to fruition for them must do them the world of good. After Smith Rowe’s glowing praise of Lacazette’s help behind the scenes, it’s great to see things continue to come together.

As for the finish, I do wonder if it was a bit of Hot-Hand Fallacy that was McCarthy’s undoing, but his Fabianski-esque adventure still left Saka with so much to do. After nicking the ball past him, he somehow digs a shot out with his weak foot all in the same motion. I don’t know how he stayed on his feet or got enough power to put that away, but he did both and it was another special moment. In some ways though, I’m not surprised because he does seem to just take everything in his stride – on and off the field, if his post-match interview was anything to do by.

With the inevitable half-time pushback from Southampton, it was important to weather the storm and protect the lead, and they did just that. There were some customary concentration-lapses from Luiz, which will no doubt put his starting place in the lineup against United into question, but Holding was alert and steadfast as he’s so often been.

The clincher was another wildly different goal to not only the others in this match, but in general. What Cédric managed to do (not for the first time either) is something we’ve been accustomed to seeing from Robertson and Alexander-Arnold to great effect, and the other pieces of the puzzle were able to do his cross-field pass justice. I’m running out of superlatives for Saka but once again, I find myself questioning why and how he’s able to do what he does; just nonchalantly hits a side-footed half-volley on his weak foot – first time – and the cross is on a plate for Lacazette. Painfully casual and yet more end product. I dread to think how much he would actually be worth and who’s thinking about coming knocking.

That pretty much killed the game and after Ings made way shortly after, I was a lot more optimistic about our chances to close the game out, as much as I expected Kevin Friend to pull some kind of stunt to help Southampton on top of his inability to book any of them. Thankfully, we did just that.

Looking forward to the weekend, we have a duty to stop this ridiculous notion that United are in the title race. Not that I’m bitter, but they simply cannot win the league and they need stopping by any means necessary, sort of like the farce on 49. That means we’re going to need Partey and Smith Rowe to shake off whatever problems they’ve picked up (which thankfully don’t sound serious) because they are both a joy to watch.

Whether Aubameyang will be back in time is now less of a concern, and it might just be an opening to make something of one Nicolas Pépé. He’s been getting a lot of stick lately, but as I said in my last post, I still have a sneaking suspicion there’s a player in there somewhere. Still don’t know if that’ll be at Arsenal but for now, we have to try and make the most of him. In fairness, he does seem to rise to the occasion, with some of his best games coming in the final stages of our road to victory in the F.A. Cup, and one of his early performances away to Liverpool in which he gave Van Dijk more than a few concerns. I’ve no doubt he’s a confidence player and if he starts at the weekend again, I think there’s a chance for him to do some damage.

Until then.

Not this year

It’s always a disappointment to be knocked out of a cup, especially when the FA Cup has become synonymous with the club’s recent successes. I recently wrote about the emerging gulf between our two squads and where a late injection of quality was enough to overcome Newcastle, it wasn’t today.

It was always going to be a gamble to make 7 changes while retaining enough of the A Team to get a result. Gabriel’s return to the team after a positive COVID test was the first roll of the dice, and besides his reintroduction, the team selection devolved to “players who are underperforming” and “the rest”.

With the Europa League group stage over, there are no more kind fixtures to make a name for yourself or salvage your reputation. Having a break from the spotlight has helped players like Lacazette to have a breather and rediscover some form but it’s failed to energise the likes of Willian, so at times like this, we find ourselves playing damage limitations. With the same fixture in the Premier League just around the corner on Tuesday, it was a clear enough message from Arteta that the FA Cup tie was not his priority, unlike Hasenhüttl’s if the strength of Southampton’s lineup was anything to go by.

The disparity between the two was the difference, with the decisive first half once again dominated by their metronome in Ward-Prowse. Although their match-winner was fortuitous after a double deflection, it was their just deserts from a period of sustained pressure. The only consolation was seeing the immediate impact Thomas Partey once again made to central midfield, which will no doubt be a far more competitive affair on Tuesday.

That being said, I don’t think Arteta got the most from his changes on this occasion. We’re beyond the point now where Saka should be shoehorned into any position just to get him on the pitch; he should be played in his best position and others should be shoehorned in around him, because he wasn’t able to influence the game enough in a less advanced role, even though he was later switched to the right wing. Partey made a noticeable difference in bringing back control to the midfield but without more of a focal point to feed into, the spark never came. That in part, was thanks to Willian, Pépé and Nketiah all making it to the 90 minute mark and between them, it was too much baggage.

I’ve made my position on Willian clear enough and I’m neither surprised by his inclusion nor his performance. Players needed a break and he’s become a rudderless stop-gap in the space of 6 months, so he at least did that job. Pépé delivered a performance like any of his other non-Europa League performances this season; easily dispossessed, caught in two minds, wasteful and yet still capable of producing chances. It’s fair to question how other players might have taken the chances he created; his quick-thinking freekick looped over Marteinlli’s shoulder and was a difficult finish on his weak foot, while the ball through to Nketiah was weighted well enough that he didn’t need to take a touch but his poked effort was denied.

I do wonder how he’d perform with a stronger lineup, because I still believe there’s a player rattling around in their somewhere. He has technical ability, whether it’s the weight of his pass or the way he strikes the ball, and he clearly has an eye for openings. He’s just so often let down by indecision or his timings that he’s not able to demonstrate that often enough. Like Nketiah, he also frequently finds himself struggling with the physicality at this level and there’s only so long you can get away with that – especially when players like Smith Rowe and Saka have already made the leap.

Such leaps also apply to end product, and while Nketiah was setting each and every youth tier alight with his goal-scoring, despite an abundance of opportunities, he’s not delivering. His loan spell with Bielsa didn’t quite live up to expectations and despite scoring on a few occasions, he wasn’t able to usurp Bamford, who has coincidentally been able to make the jump to Premier League standards. As he enters the last 18 months of his contract, decisions need to be made and I did wonder whether there was more to Arteta’s midweek comments on him than meets the eye.

After already ruling out a January loan away, he said of Nketiah: “His development in a year for his position, compared to any other striker his age in Europe, you won’t see many that have played that many minutes.” While “development” is vague enough to make an argument one way or another, I would argue that Nketiah’s development and future at the club has actually stalled because he’s not been able to show consistency or end product despite the opportunities given to him. This may have been sincere from Arteta, but I did also wonder if he was trying to garner some interest before his contract becomes too much of an obstacle. It’s even stranger given the fact he shares the same agent as Balogun, which would surely have them at loggerheads because whatever happens there, it’s highly unlikely there’s futures for both at the club. It’s even more disappointing because besides Martinelli, there’s a clear path for a vacancy in the not too distant future in a forward position but as of yet, the pair haven’t been able to find it.

The afternoon also spelled a rare blip for the centre-back pairing, with neither looking assured. Gabriel won’t have much time to settle, and may even be dropped again for Tuesday, but he’s at least got minutes under his belt again and don’t think the performance will be much of a setback.

With one less cup commitment, Arteta once again has more to answer for and with any luck, his decision will be vindicated by a win on Tuesday but even with more rest to key players, it’s a tall ask and Hasenhüttl will be expecting a stiffer challenge. As far as the strategy of our season goes, there’s one less opportunity for European football now and while our domestic hopes aren’t completely dead in the water, I do wonder if it’ll be another year of real focus on winning the Europa League. No small feat.

Back on track

After our recent F.A. Cup clash afforded us more than enough time to get a handle on Newcastle, I still had my concerns about our ability to break them down without the benefit of extra time. In hindsight, any skepticism I had turned out to be irrelevant after another revitalised second half performance. In the same way Arteta managed to exact change with his water breaks last season, there’s been a recurring theme this season after the interval.

Power of the interval

While there’s some room for concern to be scoring almost twice as many goals in the second half as the first, it’s unreasonable to expect perfect balance between the two. On this occasion, it wasn’t that we were without chances but for whatever reason, the goal escaped us and more specifically, Aubameyang. It’s fair to say in recent weeks, Aubameyang has been on the fringes of losing his place in the starting lineup and without the captaincy, he may well have already done so. I’d never felt like his drop in form was at all related to his new contract and he was perhaps the biggest victim of our October-December run of form. He’s never been one to create something out of nothing, so it’s no surprise he struggled for goals in this period because the chances weren’t there.

More recently, it’s often felt like the goals have escaped him even when the team has been doing well. The West Brom performance springs to mind, with Aubameyang clearly desperate to get his name on the scoresheet with some uncharacteristically ambitious, if not greedy attempts on goal but it never came. Against Newcastle in the F.A. Cup, even in the dying stages, it was clear that goal meant something. On this occasion, the first half chances that fell to him weren’t the kindest as both were on his left foot but for a player of his calibre, it’s more than fair to say at least one should’ve been put away.

The thing is with good strikers, they carry on popping up in the right places and when Partey slipped his marker as he so often does, Aubayemang was already tearing up the left flank in anticipation. With the ball at his feet, he never looked out of control and while the placement of the finish didn’t look entirely intentional, it was well overdue.

With nowhere to hide, Newcastle came out of their shell and as the game became more stretched, the chances opened up. Saka saw a chance well blocked after combining well with Lacazette and it was only minutes later that the decisive second game. After being fed through by Aubameyang, Smith Rowe still had a lot to do but absolutely turned Lascelles inside-out. One look up and the ball was on a plate for Saka who could hardly miss. If there was still the slightest hint of doubt before the game, Smith Rowe went and carved his name onto the scoresheet and I can’t help but smile watching him do what we’ve been crying out for someone to do all season. He does the simple things well, he doesn’t take any more touches than he needs (which is usually just the one) and he has the brain and the ability to make things happen in the final third.

It was something he touched upon in his post-match interview, saying “growing up, I’ve always tried to play 1 touch. If I know what I’m going to do when I get the ball, why not play off of 1 touch, you know?”. There’s a beautiful simplicity to that but as our other options have so often demonstrated this season, it’s not easy. Since coming into the side, he’s also created 10 chances with only Bruno Fernandes creating more. While the sample size is small, it now complicates our interests in recruiting someone in this position. Until very recently, it was a position crying out for reinforcements and loan moves for players like Isco seemed to be on the cards. A more permanent solution like Emi Buendia was also tabled to take over the reigns from Mesut Ozil. There are still some hurdles for Smith Rowe to overcome to convince those that matter that he’s the one; his sample size is still small and compared to many around him, the first team appearances are still lacking. That is partly a circumstance of his injury record, but unlike other emerging players, he has also enjoyed two loan spells and the regular playing time there, particularly at Huddersfield, seems to have done some good. It would still be a lot to ask to expect him to assume the role for the rest of the season, and I think the team would really suffer if he picked up an injury, but the position is unquestionably up for grabs if he can maintain this kind of form.

A skill often attributed to world class players is their ability to make players around them better. That much is clear looking at a player like Bruno Fernandes, who has transformed United into title challengers (which we can hopefully hinder in a few weeks time). One signing. Thomas Partey is another, as he somehow made Mohamed Elneny look like prime Gattuso against United and brings such immediate and obvious quality and assurance to the team every time he plays (and long may that continue now that he’s back to almost-full fitness). While he has a long way to go to earn that kind of reputation, I also think Smith Rowe has improved those around him. For too long, Saka has shouldered the creative responsibility almost entirely on his own (along with Kieran Tierney), and now that he’s got a playmate, he’s been adding goals and assists to his name on a more consistent basis. He also appears to be on the same wavelength as Alex Lacazette, who was once again heavily involved with the two Hale Enders to great effect. So often stranded with acres of space between himself and the languishing midfield behind him for much of the season, he suddenly has teammates he can play off and he’s looked a different player.

With his contract approaching somewhat of a crossroads with 18 months left, the sell or extend debate has probably become just as complicated as the Number 10 dilemma. I’m a firm believer in the concept of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and as much as he looked dead in the water at times this season, he’s shown what he can do with the right players around him. He was also singled out by Smith Rowe, who said of Lacazette “playing with him up top, really helps me. He gives me a lot of confidence off the pitch and he talks to me a lot.” While David Luiz is likely to be off at the end of the season, one of the oft-cited benefits of having players like him around are their positive influence behind the scenes and if Lacazette is also doing the right things on the pitch, I wouldn’t bemoan a 1-year contract extension to a 29 year old.

The chances continued to flow after the second, with Lacazette himself unlucky to not be on the end of Tierney’s fizzed cross through the 6-yard box, and he was also denied at the back post after an in-swinger from Saka. There’s also a refreshing variety emerging in our chance creation, with the front four all combining well and sharing responsibility, as well as the fullbacks on both sides being heavily involved once again. The third was a result of these usual suspects, with Saka intercepting high up the pitch and immediately putting Cedric through and he did well to pick out Aubameyang who made no mistake with his right foot.

It was important to get back to winning ways and put a disappointing, if not lucky draw with Crystal Palace behind us as we head into a difficult set of fixtures. I’m sure Arteta will be echoing the words of his former manager in taking things one game at a time, but with teams continuing to drop points around us, there’s still some chances to come away with something this season. It remains to be seen whether this transfer window is purely for clearing out the deadwood, but there are still some holes that need plugging so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some loan signings at the very least.

After tonight’s confirmation, we face Southampton in the 4th Round of the F.A. Cup, as another convenient taster course to the exact same fixture in the Premier League 3 days later. It’ll be a far stiffer test than the one posed by Newcastle, and will be a good indication of how far we’ve come in recent weeks.

Until then.

Edit: Oh, and apparently we don’t concede goals anymore, so that’s nice.

Palace leave us pondering

In such a non-entity, it’s a challenge to comb even for the finest of details. While it’s easy to be disappointed at the result on paper, a draw maybe even flattered Arsenal given the need for the crossbar’s helping hand and Leno’s acrobatics.

It’s still the early stages of damage limitations after such a horrendous start to the season, and given our recent problems against Palace, it’s not a disaster to lose some momentum. As bad as they are defensively, bogey teams tend to exist for a reason as much as the statistics might appear to be in our favour. None of this was helped by playing 120 minutes against a stubborn Newcastle either, whose elimination crucially came at a price – to the tune of one. whole Kieran Tierney.

This was bad in its own right because his consistency in the final third is invaluable but his absence just so happened to coincide with Ainsley having a nightmare of a performance, at least on the ball. He wasn’t the only problem going forward – far from it – but there were some really glaring mistakes that were at least out of character.

As taking points go, they were few and far between. Palace were more than happy to sit back, stay organised and hit us on the break and given the problems Zaha and Eze caused in particular, it’s no wonder they were happy to do so for the entirety of the game. In recent weeks, we’ve sometimes managed to get by on a single goal so this result had an air of inevitability about it, as it never the pieces never quite slotted into place. Sometimes the break comes, sometimes it doesn’t.

The most notable break that wasn’t was a case of a cross finding the wrong man, as Hector Bellerín found himself interfering in unfamiliar territory to deny Lacazette loitering behind. It’s one of those which is frustrating to look at and ponder over given how the game unfolded but with Palace missing better chances to score, such things become easier to swallow. Saka, Aubameyang and Maitland-Niles were all able to engineer half-chances for themselves but were never enough to overly trouble Guaita.

The limited opportunities are easily chalked up to post-cup lethargy but the Premier League has no easy games and without quality in depth, you don’t get handouts. Losing Tierney was a blow and you can’t expect miracles when a utility player deputises there, but the lethargy was across the board. Ceballos, Smith Rowe and Saka all had the right kind of energy but never clicked when it mattered, with Palace swarming Smith Rowe in particular before those snappy exchanges could blossom.

Besides the opening 10 minutes of the game where Palace seemed to adopt a surprisingly high line, after settling in and hunkering down, it closed down most of our opportunities to use Luiz and Holding’s ability on the ball to find openings from range. As the match progressed, they became more and more inclined to hold onto the ball and that kind of tempo-setting didn’t exactly help matters. You can probably chalk that up to tiredness and less movement off the ball but there were too many times where a centre-back would dwell in possession and it set the tone.

There was also little to offer from the bench, with Partey’s return too brief and raw to make an impact and Pépé unable to affect the game whatsoever. I was keen to see how he would fare against Zaha, a player whom he is surely aware was snubbed for his own sake, and was at least hoping to see some kind of uptick but that never came. So often caught trying to do too much, only to be dispossessed and with his one-sidedness becoming more exposed with each passing week, he’s becoming easier and easier to nullify. Not exactly a great position for the club to be in, because that looming price tag is never going away. At the very least, Zaha’s insufferable and constant whinnying to anyone that would lend an ear made me glad he was snubbed by Emery’s handlers.

Strangely, the only really notable performances came from Xhaka and Ceballos. The latter had one of those games where he was constantly dipping past players or nutmegging them with his jinking, unpredictable style and he showed energy and interest throughout. Xhaka was.. something else entirely, though. After being a big part of the win against Newcastle with incisive passing, there was more of the same against Palace but with far less consistency. Without some last ditch tackles, like the brilliantly-timed one on Zaha, we may have even been on the wrong end of the result. His future at the club is still a conundrum and you never know which Xhaka is going to turn up, but I guess that’s another case of our problem with quality of depth.

There isn’t long to wait before having a chance to get back on the straight and narrow but it will be another huge test of our resolve.

Until then.

The A Team and The B Team

Even after a full week’s rest, there was a case for some players to be rested after a congested Christmas fixture list, with Lacazette, Smith Rowe and Saka all starting from the bench. Further unwanted changes were made when Martinelli suffered a freak injury in the warmup, with what looked like an ankle sprain if this is anything to go by. The fact that he was able to walk off the pitch and was seen weight-bearing with a brace will hopefully mean it isn’t too serious but that remains to be seen until we hear from the club itself.

The only outlier in all of this was Kieran Tierney, who has the most minutes played of any outfield player this season. You’d be hard pressed to argue that he hasn’t quite done enough to earn a rest, what with his imperious form all season but there he was, still bombing down the left flank even as we approached the 120th minute. Turns out it didn’t take long to find a natural successor to Ramsey on this front.

Needless to say, the changes opened the doors for the familiar B Team faces and besides Aubameyang (who likely replaced Martinelli at centre-forward), it was exactly the kind of team you’d expect to see in the Europa League. It was also exactly the kind of performance you’d expect from the B Team when they were tasked with playing a far better side than we’re used to playing in the Europa League. Even with elbow-happy donkeys like Andy Carroll deputising as an extra centre-back for most of the game.

What the B Team did have was robustness in bounds but few who could really unlock the door, so it was no surprise the starting lineup were unable to break the deadlock. It’s not that there weren’t chances; Reiss Nelson did well to fashion himself a chance just after kickoff and despite losing some space with poor control, Aubameyang’s sort-of 1-on-1 was well hit and well saved. The most glaring miss also came to Nelson, who inexplicably tried to take a touch in the box after Tierney passed to him on a silver platter. The more I’ve watched that chance back, the worse it gets and I really can’t understand why he didn’t just put his foot through it.

Chances also fell to Willock, with the best being a header that ended up with more face/eye than forehead if his pained expression after the save was anything to go by. For two players who have done well in the Europa League season, both Nelson and Willock have struggled to make the transition to have an impact against Premier League opposition and I wonder if this is the time for at least one to find a loan spell somewhere. There’s aspects of both their games that I like, but as we’ve seen in recent weeks (and indeed yesterday), end product reigns supreme and a consistent run of games elsewhere may just find that composure.

Our two right-wing understudies to Bukayo Saka were also in action, with Willian pushed out to the left. While his standards continue to amaze me, to the point where I can’t actually remember a player’s form tombstoning so quickly, I thought Pépé – as ever, in fairness – was at least trying to make things happen. Willock’s header was a result of a deft, clipped cross and there were some in-field runs that showed promise before Pépé’s inconsistent decision-making let him down. Much like Willock and Nelson, I wish we had the security to allow these players some room to make mistakes because there’s always glimmers of something but we’re not.

Ultimately, Arteta’s changes in and around the hour mark were the beginning of the end for Newcastle; Smith Rowe’s immediate impact with more give-and-goes and directness, shortly followed by Xhaka and Saka who brought the finesse and uptick in tempo that their departing counterparts were otherwise lacking.

There were still scares that may have cost us on another day if not for Leno. Old Andy Equine missed the goal entirely from 6 yards out, even though he shouldn’t have been on the field after swinging his elbow into Joe Willock’s head, as he so often does (swing his elbows, not attack Joe Willock specifically). The biggest moment of the 90 minutes also fell to Carroll, and despite having little to do for most of the game, was alert to the danger and closed down the initial angle well before diving on the rebound and securing the ball. Now that he’s got some half-decent defenders playing in front of him on a consistent basis, the clean sheets are starting to add up and without him, some results may have slipped through the net in recent weeks.

Arteta saved his last roll of the dice until the last 15 minutes when Lacazette was brought on, and just as against Brighton, he seemed to be the missing piece of the puzzle as the simmering trio came together again. The manner of the goal was much closer to the second against West Brom, with Smith Rowe pouncing on the slightest hint of an opening after Clark’s fumble. Despite being vastly outnumbered, it was the speed and directness which made the opening as they all seemed to read each other’s minds before it even unfolded. Smith Rowe doesn’t even take a second touch when he first intercepts the ball, the give-and-go was immediate and Lacazette is already the right side of his man and strong enough to win the jostle. There was still so much to do though and the effortless way in which Smith Rowe chested it down mid-stride and finished it on the half volley (even harder as he struck through the ball just as it bounced the second time) made it look so much easier than it actually was. Oh, and he stuck it in the far corner. From what I’ve seen and heard about his loan at Huddersfield, he was often involved in what they did well and it’s a credit to Smith Rowe for continuing to prove himself with every opportunity he gets, which very much feels like how Saka burst onto the scene.

His emergence also makes me feel like loans for a few fringe players are overdue. Willock played 44 times last season and has been given plenty of opportunities this time around, albeit in a variety of different roles. Nelson played well for a time at Hoffenheim but has struggled for consistency and game time and while he especially may begrudge another loan, he’s down the pecking order. I also wouldn’t mind betting that if the right offer came along for either of them, we would probably let them go.

Others like Pépé and Willian, even at opposite ends of their careers, seem to be losing stock with each matchday and when the likes of Saka and Smith Rowe have such an impact even from the bench, they become harder and harder to drop. There are worse problems to have, but from an asset management point of view, it’s not ideal. At the very least, the most glaring problem on that front that everyone is sick of hearing about seems like they’ve finally found an exit.

In the end, it’s 4 wins in a row – all of which were in a pretty convincing manner. It would’ve been a massive shame to go out in the 3rd round, not only for our reputation in the competition but for the early shoots of momentum. With Crystal Palace on Thursday being another very winnable game, Arteta now has a clear view of what his best team is, even if it’s still in its infancy and we go into it in good shape.

Until then