Let’s start with the good news – Arsenal kept a clean sheet. Granted, they were a little fortunate with Rodriguez’ effort cannoning off the bar and onto the goal-line, but you can’t argue with a bit of luck, on which note, Sign up offers for Cheltenham bettors are available if you feel your fortune will be as good as Arsenal’s yesterday. The other plus is that under Arteta, the Gunners have become very difficult to beat. They’ve lost a single game in the nine played. However, of the three wins, only one has been in the Premier League. A draw is two thirds of a defeat. Five draws may have gleaned five points, but there are also ten points dropped there.
The bottom line though is that Arsenal needed sorting out defensively, to lay the foundation for future progress. Too many points were being lost through basic errors. That hasn’t been ironed out completely, as witnessed by the defeat to Chelsea, but that was only Arteta’s second match. In the current calendar year, they remain unbeaten.
There were some interesting selections for the starting eleven yesterday. Few would have expected Shkodran Mustafi to start for two reasons – his removal on a stretcher from last Monday evening’s match and the availability of Sokratis. One imagines Arteta favours the German because he feels he is better in possession. Matteo Guendouzi retained his place next to Granit Xhaka ahead of Torreira, and although combative, one felt Arsenal would have retained the ball better with the Uruguayan starting. With Aubameyang returning to contention, one of Martinelli, Lacazette or Pepe would have to give way. After his contribution in the last two matches, Martinelli was not sacrificed, and it was Pepe who was benched.
Arsenal started well, and had two very decent chances in the first 15 minutes, spurned by Lacazette heading wide and Aubameyang hitting it well wide with his right foot with the goal in his sights and only the keeper to beat. It was a story of a frustrating inability to make use of opportunities, especially on the break. Bukayo Saka became injured in the first half, but with a lack of natural alternatives on the bench, played through the pain until the interval. It felt like once he lost his mobility, the team dropped its level. The squad are off to Dubai in a few days’ time, but this had the feeling of a team already on the beach in terms of its lack of intensity. Maybe its physical, but it ended up looking like a tired performance.
Arsenal could have sneaked the points, but so too could Burnley. It was a surprise that no-one scored, and it confirmed this season – in terms of the league – is about whether or not the club can climb into a position that qualifies them for the Europa League. What happens in the two domestic cups will play a huge part in that, and for those wanting European football next season (and it will certainly affect the bottom line if Arsenal fail to secure it), it’s important that Manchester City win the League Cup for a third year running against Villa on the weekend when they were originally scheduled to play Arsenal at the Etihad.
I suppose one advantage of increasing defensive solidity is that it will at least stand the team in good stead in Europe, where I suspect the greater focus will develop as the season continues, assuming the club remain in the Europa League.
The second half saw Sheffield United take advantage of Granit Xhaka having to move to left back, as Torreira came on for Saka. It felt like the visitors were under the cosh and rare excursions upfield were wasted. Later substitutions saw Willock inject more drive than Ozil, who he replaced, and we saw why the number 10 rarely appears in this type of fixture. A few touches here and there, but the team would probably have achieved more with Willock on from the start. Arteta states he picks the team based upon what he sees on the training pitch and in matches. One wonders if he is being a bit loyal to Ozil because of him being a team-mate for three seasons, or is under some kind of unofficial instruction to select him to justify the expenditure on his salary. Whatever the reason, even with the head coach’s faith, it doesn’t seem to be working.
So now we have a two week break, and it feels like we all need that. Arsenal’s squad will spend some of that period in the sun, whilst the rest of us look at instagram photos of the players enjoying themselves. On a chilly day in Lancashire, not too many of the travelling support would have taken too much joy from the performance yesterday. Still, we’ve seen two decent displays in the previous two matches, it’s not going to happen every time.
The work in progress continues, and we are unlikely to see the real fruits until next season at the earliest.
As for Burnley away, file under: easily forgotten.
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