For his first match in charge, Mikel Arteta for the most part gave the established stars and top earners at the club the chance to prove their worth. The exception was Nicholas Pepe, who saw Reiss Nelson selected in preference to him, and there was no choice at left back, where 18 year old Bukayo Saka played.
I’d say that we saw commitment in the players and more of a notion of team shape. In the first half, the plan was for Torreira to pick the ball up off the defence and assist in moving it forward, Granit Xhaka a halfway point between the Uruguayan and Ozil. Basically a lot of triangles to aid getting the ball up the field under control. It led to opportunities, but Arsenal weren’t clinical and there was some very poor crossing. So an improvement in attitude and purpose, but quality was lacking in the final third.
They paid the price for the policy of playing out from the back and it all felt very familiar when Bournemouth went 1-0 up. Looking back at the goal, the obvious pass for Saka should have been to Ozil near the centre circle, but the number 10 was not screaming for it, or making it easy by running at pace into the space that would have made Saka’s decision easy. The left back was caught out of position as he lost the ball and it was ironic how the goal came from an overlap on the flank – given Arteta had spotted this as an area where Arsenal could be beaten two seasons ago whilst his then employers Manchester City were playing them.
Having said that, Arsenal didn’t give the ball away casually quite so often in their own half, so there was incremental improvement. Nobody is expecting a quick turnaround, although with Chelsea and Man United to visit the Emirates in the next week, there were hopes the team Arteta sent out would have enough about them to get three points yesterday. They created enough chances to have won this game, but only one was converted out of the two that were actually on target.
Defensively, there did feel like there was a little more discipline and organization, no mean feat given the personnel available. This may have been partly down to the new head coach spending half the game barking at “Papa!” Sokratis. After the interval, Arteta switched things around, pushing on his full backs when the team were building a move from the back, and dropping Granit Xhaka into the left side of a back three when Leno passed it out. It led to less pressure on the defence in possession, as they did not have to start from so deep.
Fortunately an equalizer came via Aubameyang when, for once, the passing in and around the Bournemouth penalty box was crisper, and the relief in the players and the travelling support was palpable. Too often though, Arteta’s team broke with enough space and players to fashion a goal, but poor decision making or plain bad passing negated the chance. In terms of the personnel he has to work with, it’s an obvious downgrade for the manager, but he improved Rahim Sterling’s wastefulness so he has history of getting more out of raw talent, and Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka are both young enough to benefit. The latter did well given the task he has been handed, but his contribution in attack is not yet reliable.
Anyway, the game predictably opened up in the final 20 minutes with both sides going for a win, but the big takeaway from the Vitality Stadium is that Arsenal, under Arteta, look far less ponderous, more purposeful. You did get the feeling they would have lost this match a few weeks ago. Chelsea, who are suffering a spell of unpredictability, visit on Sunday. Assuming the players get today off, that allows for one training session before the game. So we are not going to see much different in the next fixture (or indeed for Manchester United next Wednesday), and one assumes the starting eleven will be very similar, with the possible exception of Pepe coming in for Reiss Nelson. Mustafi might replace Sokratis if it is viewed he suffered from concussion, but hopefully it won’t come to that. In the limited time the German was on the field, reminders of why he rarely starts these days were all too apparent.
Arteta was gesticulative, went over to thank the travelling supporters, and acknowledged his team would have won the game were they more clinical in attack. At least there is no public denial of the obvious. Three points would have been nice, but more fundamental is the weeding out of bad habits and bad attitude. On that score, I’d say we’ve seen the beginning of what will be a lengthy process with inevitable lapses and setbacks.
It’s difficult to predict what kind of game we will see against Chelsea, although at least there is a sense that something is finally being addressed in a team that has gone rotten.
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