Reddie Eddie Go
Disappointment is a single word but it can have many nuances.
In the second half of Unai Emery’s tenure at Arsenal I became increasingly disappointed with him, with our team, with the results and with the way we were playing.
Last night, as our tired players trooped off the park following the 1-1 home draw with Leicester City, I was also disappointed.
But they were different forms of disappointment. The clue is in the dictionary definition of the word:
sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfilment of one’s hopes or expectations.
In the former example (during the Emery era), my disappointment stemmed from the fact that my ‘expectations’ in the broader sense were most certainly being non-fulfilled.
Those expectations were that, notwithstanding issues of finances or of starting from a weak position, Arsenal should be demonstrating an ability to improve, to learn, to plan and to make progress. In short, we should be competing for the big prizes or showing that we are building towards being able to compete for them. Under Emery we were getting further and further away from being able to do that.
So, the disappointment at emphatically failing to come anywhere near those expectations was overwhelming: there was just nothing to be positive about: not even a glimmer at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
Now contrast that with the disappointment from last night’s game. After 98 minutes of play I was disappointed because we had not managed to get all three points against the team sitting third in the league before the start of play. That’s a pleasurable form of disappointment because it sits in an overall context of positivity.
It’s the disappointment that says: “We really could have won that, but for some unlucky breaks,” not the kind that says: “So we failed to win again – what did we expect?”
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that there are clear and visible signs of progress under Mikel Arteta and last night’s performance was another piece of evidence in support of that notion.
We have a plan; the players seem to understand the plan; they give their utmost to enact the plan.
The game was going very much like the recent match at Wolves until Eddie Nketieh’s sending off: we dominated the first half, scored a good goal and could (should) have scored a couple more.
The opposition came out more determinedly in the second half and gave us trouble for 15 to 20 minutes. As in the game at Molineux, El Patron responded with sensible substitutions… but that’s when our ‘lucky horseshoe’ ran out of luck.
In almost his first action on the pitch Nketieh, showing his usual commitment, over-reached for a ball and nicked a Leicester player on the knee. Slow motion replays made it look worse than it probably was but when the referee upgraded his yellow to a red after reviewing the replay, we couldn’t have too many arguments. There was no malicious intent on Nketieh’s part and he will no doubt learn from this, but it means he misses three big games coming up.
After that it was backs-against-the-wall time and, as we tried to soak up the pressure, our regular nemesis Jamie Vardy snuck in to grab a goal.
We held on to the 90th minute at which point the ‘8 minutes of extra time’ sign was a bit alarming, but we managed to kill the game off with clever time wasting and stalwart defending.
I would like to think that, but for the red card, this match would have continued to resemble the Wolves game and Arteta’s substitutions would have led to us grabbing a second goal and securing the three points. We’ll never know, but I feel there’s a good chance that’s exactly what would have happened.
If he keeps this up, Bernt Leno is going to have a tough time getting back in the first team. Made a couple of great stops and could do nothing about Vardy’s goal. He’s becoming a large and reassuring presence at the base of our defence.
A solid outing from Hector. He made some good contributions going forward (he would have had an assist if Lacazette had steered his open-goal header away from Schmeichel) and was switched on at the back.
Another reliable outing. I don’t want to tempt fate but he seems to have reduced the silly mistakes and the back three clearly suits him.
The back three really suits Luiz too. Good defending and some excellent distribution. Played a full part in our ‘Alamo’ defending after we went down to 10 men.
I’m sounding like a stuck record, but he also seems more secure in a back three. Took some knocks but battled well.
Tierney 8 (MoTM)
This lad gets better every time you watch him. Determined defending, great energy and boy can he cross.
Our metronome kept things ticking over in midfield until we went down to 10 men, at which point he put in a full shift defensively and wasted time by falling over a lot to win free kicks.
The Spaniard is really settling into this role and system. A good and disciplined performance with a superb defence-splitting pass for our goal.
More involved than he had been against Wolves and, just as in that game, made a crucial contribution, in this case setting up Aubameyang for our goal.
Unlucky not to be on the scoresheet. He should have done better with the header from Bellerin’s cross but was industrious and hard working as ever.
Tireless outing from the captain, who was in the right place at the right time to grab our goal.
Willock (71 mins) 7
Nketieh (71 mins) N/A
Torreira (80 mins) 7
Maitland-Niles (93 mins) 6