The question nobody has asked when assessing the individual and collective qualities of a Premier League team is “…can they do it on a mild spring Sunday evening at an empty Emirates against a relegated West Bromwich Albion?”
It evidently appears that Mikel Arteta’s team can pass that test, as a 3-1 win on the night showed us, although passing the eye test was a different matter where the ‘expected goals’ (xG) numbers are concerned (more of that later).
So what did we learn from beating the Championship-bound Baggies? The answer has to be ‘very little’. Having exited the Europa League in midweek and with the season over, barring a miracle in the league table taking us to the rather pointless UEFA Conference tournament, it was reasonable to expect this to be ‘game one’ of planning for the 2021/22 campaign.
The line-up betrayed those thoughts as the boss fielded a mixture of young players, players that should be on their bikes next season and a few of those that have the jury in and out with each inconsistent passing match. Let’s actually be clear about one thing which seems to be taken for granted when looking at how the squad should be reshaped in the next three months. It would be a huge surprise if more than six first team players left. So people can stop with those lists, no doubt tweeted in times of frustration, where they’re indicating that the departures should reach double-figures.
No teams have that kind of wholesale clear-out unless something drastic like a relegation occurs. Undoing nearly a decade worth of errors will take three efficient windows in a row. We go into the summer starting that particular run from ground zero – having wasted the last few opportunities to turn the corner. The defence contained three English players at differing levels of their Arsenal careers. Only Bukayo Saka would be a definite on the ‘keep’ list.
Once again he was ‘man of the match’, this time from a left back position that might have been a sensible call at other points in the season. Holding and Chambers are solid squad players that keep up the homegrown quota, although both wouldn’t be regular starters in a team aiming for the ‘top four’. Gabriel has had a slight blip of late, having had a decent start to his time at the club. He’s certainly not worth giving up on just yet.
The Ceballos and Elneny pivot in midfield did cause a due sense of dread pre-match, although both should be capable of controlling a midfield against the 19th placed team in the division. Elneny wasn’t too bad, but Ceballos showed why he should be on the first flight back to Madrid when that whistle blows after the game against Brighton on the 23rd. Filling the boots of a player as inconsistent as Aaron Ramsey should have been a suitably achievable task for a player whose parent club is Real Madrid. He just hasn’t cut it though.
Pepe and Smith-Rowe contributed with superb goals although, without taking the joy out of the moment, they should have had some kind of humility not to over celebrate the fact, having both been at the scene of the crime on Thursday. Martinelli getting a start was something Gooners had clamoured for most of the season yet he had a rather quiet game. Some on social media were bizarrely discarding the lad as overrated as he made way for a late sub. Let’s give him some time and an extended run in the team, eh?
From watching the game play out live on TV it was evident that West Brom were causing us the odd problem, although it was rather a shock to see the xG stats heavily favour the away side after the game. Something we’ve been clinging to with a degree of hope this season is that the numbers have mostly favoured us in the bad results. Which should mean the tide was about to turn. It didn’t turn and now we’re losing the numbers but winning a game. I know which I prefer, but is it sustainable?
Playing a Chelsea side who had results go exactly their way at the weekend and are also looking forward to two major finals might mean that we can find an edge tomorrow night. You’d expect wholesale changes from their impressive new boss Thomas Tuchel. I want to see a young Arsenal side playing with freedom and desire to claim places in a squad that needs a huge summer before it all starts again.