Two consecutive wins in the league. A clean sheet. Further encouraging performances from our young players… all in all this was as a good a trip to the seaside as I can remember since the day I won £2.43 on the Penny Falls.
A Lacazette goal (less than a minute after he came on as a substitute) turned out to be the only score in the game as we beat Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex stadium.
We may not have actually built momentum just yet, but we have surveyed the ground and got the architect’s drawings, so we can see that momentum building is on the way.
But the game raised (and possibly answered) one or two questions about our personnel.
Let’s start with the positives:
Bukayo Saka demonstrated again that he is fast becoming the most important player in our current squad. He plays with a maturity beyond his years and, if I think back to his early outings last season when, let’s remember, we were hugely impressed with him, it’s clear that his decision making and all-round game play have improved exponentially.
Pablo Mari: in my last match report I got my wires crossed and called him a Brazilian when, in fact, he is Spanish (as I’m sure you all know). But in the last two games he has played with an un-showy confidence that bodes well for his future with us as first-choice back-up to Gabriel.
Emile Smith Rowe: so modest he doesn’t even bother with a hyphen. I’m not someone who watches our reserve games or our pre-season friendlies so I had seen little of ESR until recently. But against the Seagulls he picked up where he left off against Chelsea, showing a quickness of thought, touch and movement that puts some of his senior colleagues to shame (yes Willian, I’m looking at you).
Bernd Leno: I had my reservations about whether we’d kept the right stopper when we let Martinez go in the summer and kept our big German. After his penalty save against Chelsea and another excellent game against Brighton those doubts are assuaged. He made a couple of top quality stops in this win. Given how hard Brighton were to break down even at 0-0, imagine how tough it would have been if one of those chances has gone in and given them a lead to defend. Leno made sure that never happened.
Now to the negatives:
Mohammed Elneny: in what was otherwise a reasonably tidy outing, Mo nevertheless had two or three moments of madness that almost cost us. If he’s going to play that defensive midfield role he needs to cut those mistakes out of his game. He had a couple of similar loose moments against Chelsea and one day soon these sorts of blunders will cost us dearly.
Finally, I come to Aubameyang. Here’s the question that’s been bumbling around in my brain, rolling from one side of my head to the other, enjoying the sheer emptiness of the space: did our poor performances as a team this season sink Auba’s form, or did Auba’s form help sink our performances as a team?
I’m inclined to the former explanation: namely that our general dysfunctionality and lack of any attacking central midfield/number 10 options meant we have been so crap at chance creation that our poor Gabonese star had had no real chance to shine.
But the angst of our long goal-less and chance-less run seems to have knocked the stuffing out of Auba and he is half the player he was at the end of last season.
Against Brighton I have little doubt that if we had started with exactly the same line-up that walked out to face Chelsea we would have been ahead in the first half and might well have won comfortably.
Lacazette is much better as a central striker in the system we have been employing for the last two games. We have mostly played without a central attacking midfielder this season (Willian, Ceballos and Laca himself have all been tried in this role with varying degrees of ineffectualness). But Smith Rowe is an actual CAM and his presence changes everything. He can hold up the ball and he looks for a striker to play off. With the best will in the world, that’s not the role to which Auba is suited. Lacazette is much better suited to it because he holds up the ball better, is more committed and, frankly, works harder.
Before you all jump on me, I am not writing off Aubameyang. I love him. He brought me such joy just a few months ago when he won the FA Cup for us. But that was in a team that sat deep and hit (better equipped) opponents on the break. It suited him.
I think Auba can still work wonders for us this season, particularly in big games. But if I were the boss I would rest him for games like Brighton and West Brom, where we are likely to be facing the low bus. Right now, for me, he is not in our optimal starting eleven (although I know that, as captain, he is likely to start more often than not).
Against Brighton Auba did OK. He was really unlucky not to score when he got on the end of a Saka cross only for the ball to fly off the knee of the Brighton ‘keeper, Sanchez.
But he did not conduct the press with the vigour that Lacazette does; he did not chase down their goalkeeper with the determination of Martinelli; and his touch and passing left a lot to be desired.
He is a man out of form who maybe needs a rest.
But that’s enough about Auba. Here are a few overall thoughts about the game – take them or leave them: I’m no tactician and, as Roy Walker always encouraged us in Catchphrase, I can only “say what I see.”
Brighton are struggling this season but they knocked the ball around really well, were confident in possession and in playing out from the back and seemed to be trying hard for each other and their manager. It made me think two things: one, they’re staying up; and two, the overall quality of play in the Premier League is now ludicrously high.
This game (as Redders mentioned in the comments) had a sense of “after the Lord Mayor’s show” about it: after the dynamic win against Chelsea it was something of a crash back down to earth. But that’s not completely surprising: the West Londoners wanted to out-play us and consequently gave us space in which to play; the East Sussexers* were less ambitious and dropped 11 men behind the ball whenever we had possession, making it harder to get any fluidity to our play.
Nevertheless, this formation of four at the back, two holding midfielders, a CAM (Smith Rowe), two wide attacking midfielders and a central striker looks like our best bet for further success this year.
Next up it’s Fat Sam the Walrus Man, smarting from a 0-5 thrashing at the hands of Leeds United.
We can guarantee two things: one, Sam will spend the next few days on tightening up his defence, so there’s no chance of us achieving a similar result; two, he’ll tell his players that Arsenal “don’t like it up ‘em”, so brace yourself for some heavy tackles and all-round crappy behaviour from the West Brom players.
Still, there’s enough about us now to feel a degree of confidence that we can come away with the points.
Leno – 8
Some very good stops when it was 0-0. But that bit of ball-juggling on his own six yard line gave this observer palpitations.
Bellerin – 7
Not everyone in AA comments was happy with Hector, but I thought he did pretty well.
Holding – 7
One misplaced pass put us in danger, but other than that Big Rob was committed and solid and even set up the move that led to our winner.
Mari – 7
I’m liking him. No fuss, but exudes a confidence in his own ability and never hides from receiving the ball.
Tierney – 7
Not as dominant as in the Chelsea game, but a typically committed outing. He managed to get to the byline a couple of times to get crosses in.
Elneny – 6
He’s tidy, he makes himself available at the right times, but in the last two games he has had several kamikaze moments. He needs to cut it out because it will cost us.
Xhaka – 7
A decent follow-up to his good outing against Chelsea.
Saka – 8 (MoTM)
Most of our best moments in this game came from Bukayo. His excellent (and strong) run set up our winner for Lacazette. He was unlucky not to have another assist after putting Aubameyang in with a great chance. The future of Arsenal. The only criticism is that he took three corners all of which hit the first defender.
Martinelli – 6.5
The packed ranks of Brighton defenders made it hard for Gabriel to have the same impact as he did against Chelsea, but he worked hard and had some good moments.
Smith Rowe – 7.5
I’m liking this lad more and more. His touch and speed of thought and play are exceptional. He’s only going to get better and should now be considered a first team automatic choice expect when he needs to be rested to avoid over-playing.
Aubameyang – 5.5
His touch and passing were off, his half-hearted efforts to close down the opposition goalie and defenders compare badly with those of Martinelli and he can’t hold up the ball like Lacazette. He is still very important for Arsenal but Arteta needs to figure out a better way to use him.
Lacazette – 8
What more can you ask for? Came on and scored the winner inside less than half a minute with a clever and skillful finish. Resumed his impressive work rate from the Chelsea game.
Ceballos – 6
Came on in the 81st minute. Ran around a bit.
Maitland-Niles – 6.5
Only got one minute plus stoppage time, but did some decent time-wasting hold-up play in the Brighton corner.
- Did you know that “Sussex” derives from “South Saxons”? Likewise Essex is “East Saxons”, Wessex is “West Saxons” and Middlesex is “Middle Saxons”. But it does beg the question: whatever happened to the North Saxons? Why don’t we have a place called Nossex?