Despite a valiant effort by Championship club Leeds, they were unable to upset Arsenal in last night’s FA cup encounter. The home team scored their winning goal 10 minutes into the second-half, demonstrating their newly found resolve and commitment that seemed completely lost six-weeks ago under their prior head coach.
After nearly four weeks, everybody connected to Arsenal Football Club seems to be fully in the grip of the Mikel Arteta honeymoon. Going by the tone of the commentary on the Arsenal Player and the fan mail they shared, despite a lousy first half when Leeds outplayed the Gunners in every department, most fans seem convinced Arteta could pull a rabbit out of a hat.
The first half stats were dire from an Arsenal point of view. Leeds fired 15 shots at goal vs 2 from the home team. I saw a stat close to the 45 minute marker where Arsenal had only 40% possession. The Leeds press, so loved by Bielsa, worked like a charm as the gunners gave the ball away cheaply inviting pressure from the opposition. It would be churlish to single out any individual, something the currently dormant scapegoaters love doing when team is on a bad run. But it was self evident that without Torreira as DM and Ainsley Maitland-Niles at right back, the team lacked the composure and tactical nous that was so abundantly on display versus Chelsea and Manchester United. Instead Arsenal could barely string passes from back to front with Ozil rarely seeing in the ball in the spaces from which he loves to operate. Nil-all at half-time was a very flattering scoreline if you are a gunner.
Master motivator or master hair dryer
Apparently Arteta is a master motivator or very good at applying the hair-dryer at full blast. That was the conclusion of the experts at Arsenal Player, none of whom made it into the dressing room but that was their narrative when commentary resumed. It appeared to me the biggest adjustment was to become a little more compact by pushing the backline further upfield, especially the two fullbacks (believe it or not that included Sokratis) and letting the three forwards drop deeper to receive the ball with Ozil roaming behind.
The impact of this tactical change was to completely reverse the tide from the first half. Straight out of the traps, Arsenal took the offensive with wave after wave of attacks, creating chances and forcing saves from their keeper or near misses. Leeds, like most of Bielsa’s prior teams, seem to run out of gas as the half progressed and were rarely able to maintain the press they employed so effectively in the first half. The only goal scored came from one of these attacking moves by Arsenal with Pepe cutting inside and finding Lacazette to his right who crossed to Reiss-Nelson steaming in from the left. He calmly lifted the ball over the onrushing keeper.
Sokratis the marauding defender
While Leeds huffed and puffed for an equalizer during the rest of the half the Arsenal defense stood firm, bending occasionally but never breaking. Holding, in particular, caused some conniptions with some wayward passes from the back leading to chances for Leeds but his team-mates were resolute. Late in the half, Sokratis decided to demonstrate his talents as a marauding fullback, using his hulk to shield the ball, much to the annoyance of the opposition who decided they would be true to their tradition of being “dirty Leeds”. This forced Joe Willock to come to his defense in the ensuing handbags. A bemused Anthony Taylor refused to be dragged into showing cards for this bit of theatre, leaving the Greek to trundle back to his customary position and help negate any late flourishes from the West Yorkshire team.
The final whistle showed a clearly relieved Arteta bounding on the field to congratulate his team for a hard won victory. He might be thinking to himself, how can he sustain these performances with the finely tuned 1st Eleven he has whipped into shape in less than three weeks but having questionable quality on the bench. He is now competing on three fronts (PL, Europa and FA cups) and going by Leeds, unable to play his best players week-in and week-out, how long can the honeymoon at Arsenal last.
It should be a question on the the mind of supporters of Arteta and those who regard his appointment as head coach as critical to the future of the football club.
Very good shotta.
Thanks George. My goal was to prepare sensible fans for the inevitable end of the honeymoon and to get ready for the serious part of the marriage; tolerance and understanding when hard times inevitably come around.
For me it’s all about the fitness. And the kicks. Same as it ever was.
With the thin and stretched squad as we identified during Raul’s glorious Summer, then any injuries in CM or if Ozil is out at AM/10 with no experienced cover in either position after Iwobi and Miki were let go along with Rambo (yes Raul mate: it really is all on you as you asked for it to be. ALL of it.) then:
what we saw last night is what we will get. However I do expect Matteo to kick on under Arteta. Slowly but surely.
A great many players were in the red against Utd, and again so last night. Ozil certainly leggy yesterday. But he had to start over Torreira who also emptied the battery against Utd as he’d had a little more rest then the tiny tyke in the previous matches.
Arteta himself said after the Utd game that he was scared by having to redline so many players. Scared!
But he got away with it just about.
The one who was unlucky was Chambers.
You know how much I’ve admired Chambers’, he might not be the next Maldini but if he’d have been in the squad over Litchsteiner the club would’ve got fourth never mind all the other idiotic calls by Raul “I’ve just snorted my brains out of my arsenal” Montana.
So a big blow there, to lose him to an injury that will take him a long time to recover from. Holding was a first choice CB for the Arsenal when he got injured, and had earnt the shirt sane as Chambers this season, but he & Bellerin needs six odd more months to complete his rehab and rebuild to full fitness and stamina. I hope both young CBs don’t miss out on their chance to be squad regulars at the Arsenal because of these injuries.
But this season there is at least cover at CB so it’s not too bad to lose him.
If anything Shotts do you think that the hype of the shouting over the tactics that Arteta himself mentioned in the post match presser that you and not many others describe so well, this hype will IMO only help Arteta in the tough times ahead. He’s got more support in three weeks then I ever saw for Emery. Then again subbing on a toothless loan shark like D.Suarez for a glorified footballer like Ozil will get you that reaction from most football fans…
If the good vibes can sustain Arteta and what is clearly a thin squad through the perils of the red zone then long may the honeymoon continue. But surely Josh and Don Raul must have some money hidden behind the back of the sofa to buy at least one quality reinforcement.
Will Josh give as much wonga to Edu & Arteta as he did to Laurel & Hardy to recycle through his washing machine?
Think we all know the answer to that one, but in the interests of science I will be paying attention to the data…hopefully to be proven wrong!