It’s all well and good that we beat Chelsea at the weekend, but that game is over and done with and it will mean next to nothing if we can’t follow it up.
We all got a bit ahead of ourselves earlier this season after winning at Old Trafford. We said things like “this will kick start our season” and “now just watch us fly.”
I watched us fly…. right into the nearest wind turbine. It turned out we followed up that solid victory against a traditionally ‘top six’ side with a run that brought us only two points out of a possible 21 in our next seven league games. We were properly mangled.
So tonight we need to see a performance that is every bit as committed, energetic and dynamic as the one against Chelsea. Most of all, we are going to need to take some fight to the seaside, because Brighton will be giving us nothing for free.
After Brighton we have games against West Brom and Crystal Palace: so that’s three fixtures from which an Arsenal team would normally expect to take at least seven points and possibly all nine.
But we have struggled against so-called “lower” teams this year. We scraped a fortunate win against Sheffield United, we lost to Wolves and Burnley and were second best in a draw with Southampton.
One reason has been our inability to break down teams who park the bus against us (by the way, how come no-one ever uses the phrase ‘park the bus’ any more? It’s low block this, low block that, when any fool can see that it’s just the same old tactic of sticking a Routemaster in front of the goal and hoping for the best. Perhaps we can compromise, swap the Routemaster for a single-decker and call it “the low bus”).
Chelsea played us with the intention of dominating the game, so we were not faced with the usual 11 men behind the ball scenario and, accordingly, we were able to play more fluid football.
We can’t expect the same approach from Brighton, but there are still grounds for optimism. The introduction of Martinelli and Smith Rowe against the Chavs, with Saka as the right wing back, massively improved the way we played.
Those three linked well with each other and with our fullbacks and also with Lacazette in front of them and Xhaka behind (who was more advanced than usual because he knew Elneny was guarding the back door).
Our full backs got to the byline more instead of having to cross from short of the opposition penalty area and Smith Rowe proved a very effective fulcrum for our attacking moves and worked well with Lacazette, who had a good all round game.
We have seen the likes of Willian, Pepe and Aubameyang used in most league games this season and they do not seem to have the right skillset to break down double ranks of defenders.
Which brings us to the question of team selection. Gabriel is out with a positive Covid test; Partey is still on the way back from injury and Luiz and Willian are both unavailable until January 31st for mysterious reasons.
The one important player who did not start against Chelsea but who is available tonight is the captain, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. He was on the bench on Saturday, presumably being protected as he recovered from a calf strain, and you would imagine he will start against Brighton.
I don’t envy Mikel Arteta having to make that call. If it was down to me I would go with exactly the same eleven who started in West London. They have earned the chance to do it all over again and, frankly, Martinelli is better suited to taking on the “low bus” than Auba is. But Aubameyang is the biggest star in the team and also the captain, so it’s highly unlikely he’ll be left out.
One option would be to play him centrally instead of Lacazette, but that role really does not suit him and, in any case, Lacazette deserves to keep his place.
Here’s the line-up I expect Arteta to go for:
Bellerin – Holding – Mari – Tierney
Xhaka – Elneny
Saka – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang
Martinelli to be kept to the bench (officially on the grounds that he needs to be eased back in carefully after his long injury, but really so that Auba can be played).
If I’m right it will be a shame, because I cannot wait to see that wonderful partnership between Tierney and Martinelli working its magic down our left flank again.
Whatever team we put out, let’s all hope they can build on that Chelsea win with another solid three points. It’s time to really watch us fly, this time with added turbine-avoidance.
If we get a decent run going, who knows what this season could yet hold for us?
Come on You Gunners.
Thanks Rocky, before anything else I need to be a slight pedant. I noticed in the Chelsea match report you referred to a front 3 of Laca, Martinelli and ESR, while also referring to Saka as a right wing back.
I didn’t see it that way but thought maybe I was wrong so didn’t mention it till I went back and looked at the MOTD highlights. To me it looked very much like Saka was the right wing forward with Bellerin as the right full back, while ESR looked like he had the free ACM role (or number 10, or in the hole role, whatever term one fancies).
ESR did pop up in wide areas at times, as he should as the free creative midfield link, but was for the most part in the central attacking areas. I would say he was the central attacking midfielder with licence to roam.
Saka has that rare commodity of offering both defensive and attacking quality in a game. This is important in our right flank as I still suspect Belly is lacking somewhat defensively so Saka gives him that extra help.
I would still however say that Saka was primarily the wide right attacking wing forward that would drop deeper to help out in defence rather than a wing back, which he has been more specifically in recent games. He was more “unleashed” against Chelsea and must be again tonight.
If you look at many of our attacks that almost came to fruition you will see Martinelli, Laca and Saka lined out from left to right with RSR tucked in behind that 3. What was positive with this is that all 4 were looking to take up dangerous positions in the box so Chav defenders had too many dangers to cover.
I would probably go with exactly the same line up as yours Rocky. My only concern might be that Smith Rowe also needs a phased introduction to regular 90 minute games for similar reasons to Martinelli.
Who else could play the number 10 free roaming role? Controversially I would say Willian.
I think he has been entirely exposed by playing him in the wrong role in the wrong formations, but he is that twisty turn nippy type player with good close control and bags of experience.
I said yesterday that we hadn’t had that formation that we saw with Chelsea to date, at least not with the right players in the right positions as you mentioned yesterday Rocky.
The key tonight is to stick with the 4-2-3-1 again with the inverted wide attackers. In that formation I could see Willian thrive in the central free role, and I wouldn’t write off him still having a positive influence on us this season.
It’s down to how Arteta lines up with the right formation and the right players in their most influential positions. If anything the formation we played against Chelsea is even more important against the routemaster parking teams that it was for them.
You’re right about Saka being more properly described as a right wing forward than a right wing back, particularly given that we were playing a four at the back.
I really hope we keep Smith Rowe in the starting eleven tonight. He made such a difference to how we play and I am not at all convinced that Willian would be able to step into that role (even if he were available tonight, which he’s not).
You say of Willian: “… I wouldn’t write off him still having a positive influence on us this season.”
I don’t disagree with that, but he needs a decent stretch on the bench to focus his mind and then he has to really buck up his ideas when he gets a chance.
If someone wanted to buy him from us in January I’d sell him in a heartbeat, but I can’t see anyone coming in for him (and nor can I see him wanting to give up the cushy, well-paid, three-year, money-for-nothing deal he currently has at Arsenal).
Can you tell I have a bit of a downer on him? 😀
Two comments, what an insult to a really good read and on an match day as well, shame on that list to the right. I suppose everyone is out socialising, oh well.
I am somewhere in the middle of you both, me and GB are in a very small group who believe that Willian still has something to offer; he is a quality player who has not got crap over night, ok, not true, he has but me, GB and Mikel still think that there is something inside that needs the right combination of players around him to be able to enable him to flourish once again.
Still it doubt? Think Lacazette, before Chelsea, we would have all sold him in a heart beat but with the right combination around him — quick, take that for-sale sign outside the Emirates down.
This is where I am with Willian, a good bout of riding the pine to reignite the hunger to play, a reacquaintance with his fellow Brazilian Martinelli and I think we could all be doing a Xhaka style 180.
The worry tonight does not come from Brighton, it comes from our team selection — play the same team and we all have something to look forward to, tinker with it and the fear of pre Chelsea returns.
I’m sure it will get busier as we get closer to the game. It’s a funny time of year – but fortunately one with lots of footy.
I’m not completely closing the door on Willian. It just worries me that he has looked so uninterested at times. A few young players come into the attack against Chelsea and we look like a totally different team.
I know there are other factors that came into play there (the Chavs not parking the bus, for one).
I would much rather Willian came good for us than was a flop who got shipped out.
By the way LB, I doubt you were ever a mod or a rocker, but if you were to be one or the other I fancy you to be a mod.
Rasp is definitely a mod.
BR would be a rocker, obviously. Maybe GiE too but he might give me a hard time for suggesting so.
FGG – rocker.
Terry – proto-Punk.
Enjoyed the photo, reminds me of the “Outsiders,” the “greasers” v the “socs.” But, who is who in your metaphor?
We have a problem with flight 101, Laca and Auba are not a good combo against a “low block 6-4-0 setup.”
With regards to Willian, he spends more time dribbling towards our keeper than against. Thank goodness he is on the bench.
Keep the youth train going, Mikel can sub them off early if need be. Balo would be the type of center forward who could do well in this game with actual runs in space, and a holding up the ball to bring other runners into play.
I expect Mikel to start Xhaka, Dani or El Neny, for god knows what reason at this point. We will also see the press fade away and the usual backing off zone type defense coming back to the forefront. It will be his death knell if he continues with this type of setup this year.
Maybe he will have courage and show us something new and go for it today in an unusual manner.
This is a tough team to break down, a set piece of goal from distance might nick it.
Same team as for Chelsea except that Auba is in for Lacazette (which is a mistake in my view, if Auba plays as central striker).
However, it could mean Auba will play left with Martinelli in the central striker role.
Delighted to see ESR start.
I suppose the important thing is that Martinelli, ESR and Saka start, should be interesting to see if we are better with Auba.
It’s true I wasn’t a mod or a rocker, I probably would have been a mod but used did used to like the motor bikes.
Evening all. Thanks once again Rocky. A prescient prematch … only change is Auba for Laca. Top marks to Mikel. Well we’ve got what we wanted so now we will see if this team can be as effective against a different type of challenge. Win this game and this team will pick itself whenever we require our best performers – except Gabriel and Partey who will not only walk back into the team but will improve it significantly.
The thing that protects Auba somewhat is that Martinelli is prepared to compete aerially and play back to goal. He can squeeze up alongside PEA to support him and take some of that burden away.
I hope we don’t see PEA on left as I think that makes Tierneys job much harder.
Laca’s performance against Chelsea said he should start again, although age is not on his side compared to the younger players. A bit embarassing for PEA and Laca that they may be rotated with the three young lads behind them being the key.
It would be a shame not to have the Tierney-Martinelli combo again.
Can we please stop Saka taking corners: two so far, both straight to the first defender in time-honoured Arsenal style.
Hmmm …. Elneny has been a bit of a liability but the main problem is we are not finding the forward players quickly enough
We look better every time ESR gets on the ball.
If we can get the first goal this game is there for the taking.
As predicted a team with everyone behind the ball when we are in possession. Believe in the dynamic forward ball.
Aubang nothing like Laca in positive central movement. Hector not able to control his man. Will be our undoing if not replaced.
Laca on for Auba is a good call
Auba just is not doing the work that Laca did against Chelsea, but obviously the deep defending from Brighton makes it harder.
Sooo, a few half chances, the Martinelli nod down to Auba would have been a very clean look, ESR a few very nice passes to give the runner an opportunity at a cross, yet Brighton had the best chance.
Auba let his man just run passed him for a half chance, sums up his effort so far, yes half effort both ways, and El Neny looking tired.
Would like to see a few cracks from longer range, maybe a drag back low cross.
What does Mikel have in his tool box to get the team to click just a bit more.
You’re probably right Rocky … maybe it’s not a change in personnel we need but a change in mindset
Afraid my digital box went wrong so missed most of the first half. Back on now so hope to see the 2nd half. Likes the line up by and large but seems from what I’m hearing we were slightly 2nd best
We haven’t had many attempts on goal but we created three or four dangerous moments where the final ball was either overhit or cut out.
Hi Rocky, 😁
I guess this game is a bit of “After the Lord Mayors show” after a very good game against the Chavs.
Too soon to analyse why we are so ……… inept. It is like all the working parts of an engine are not in sync — usually results in all the gaskets blowing.
Speaking of which — it was a bit rich seeing Bellerin telling Saka what he should have done — Belli has probably been the worst player on the pitch, apart from one cross from the wing! Sheesh,
(A decent start from him in the 2nd half tho.)
Whereas all the Brighton chances have come from careless mistakes by us (which, of course, is not a good thing!)
Unbelievable that Saka gets to take the corner – again – and hits the first defender- again!
Why don’t we just put a man in front of the first defender to give a flick on
Where’s Stevie Bould when we need him?
I feel bad saying it, but on current form if Auba wasn’t captain I don’t think he’d be anywhere near the first team.
Laca on for Martinelli- should have been for Auba.
Get in! Laca!!!! And brilliant from Saka.
What a run by Saka and Laca delivers!!
And the real assist was from Rob Holding!!
Hector Bellerin plays 19/20 balls backwards and destroys all momentum.
Laca’s work rate is outstanding
It’s looking like Arteta has had a word about controlling possession when we’re ahead with a few minutes to go
Well done boys.
A very different challenge to the Chelsea game.
Mikel well on the way to saving his job.
2nd half, much better attacking.
What is not to like, well, I will just leave it at that!
Keep the momentum going AFC!
Aaron (definitely a mod by the way 😀)
Momentum momentum momentum
I thought Mari was really confident and solid tonight, following on from a good performance against Chelsea.
It’s all about the points when your languishing in 15th …. the second half performance was a great improvement. I hope Saka is fit for W Brom because Ceballos did nothing when he came on.
My worry for West Brom is that Willian is available again.
We’re six points off 5th place 😀
I agree Rocky. I thought ESR gave a solid battling performance with a few glimpses of trickery. I wonder what must be going through the heads of Willian and Pepe? Will they raise their game after having been upstaged by youngsters? Pepe has been with us for 2 seasons, it’s past the point where we can think he needs to be given more time to settle in.
Looking back over the comments, I am guessing that the Holding assist was written tongue in cheek.
I wonder if Arteta learnt what we already know — Martinelli is more effective that Aubamayang.
It is a worry that Willian is available again. Still, WBA, maybe that is his starting level?
Mari, as was said, took a continued step forward from the Chelsea game.
Not sure we need Elneny and Xhaka for these kind of games, not sure what would be better though, Partey probably answers this question.
So I was interested in how Auba would play, and I’m afraid as I expected he went into hiding on the left wing and allowed Martinelli to take the central role in the first half. That helped neither Tierney or himself.
Second half back to up top he was fed two great chances and should have done better with both. Saka had the chance to lay on a 3rd option but chose instead to try and beat another player and perhaps try and dink to Martinelli before being snuffed out.
Arteta made a point in the post match of praising the senior players when pressed about whether he was going to stick with youth. Seems he is trying to blend what he has and maybe use the youngsters sparingly but they are making it difficult for him to ignore them and more power to them. If I was to choose a player to put amongst them out of our current senior players it would most definitely be Lacazette.
As others have said adding Partey in for Elneny and Gabriel alongside Holding we have the makings of a decent side.
One thing that I disliked in this game and Chelsea was aimless overhead clearances from our 18 yard box. We will get caught out by one of those soon, if it needs to be cleared and it’s a choice of overhead or volleyed out for a throw please choose the latter.
Not at all! It was a pass directly forward, through ours and their midfield, to Saka which enabled him to turn and make the goal for Laca. One of three or four from Rob during the match, and the only way this team can beat a packed defence and, more importantly, move the ball quickly to our exciting young forwards. It was also the type of ball that beat Chelski.
Not scintillating, but an efficient win. Not an easy but to crack Brighton as other bigger teams have found out I’m a bit surprised they are not a bit further up the league table, but I think we can be happy with the 3 points at thos time.
Hopefully we will start getting 3 points with more style and dominance in some forthcoming games but Brighton dont look like a team that ket you walk away with a win that easily, so I think we can be happy with a good job done.
“Nut” to crack
Aaron.. I love The Outsiders!!
Chuffed with the win.. Brighton were becoming a bogey team!
I love Saka more and more each week… he’s so important, first name on the team sheet. ESR 😍 Really glad he’s getting minutes.. love him also!
The table is pretty exciting right now… we’re on the up!!
Leeds scored some beauties tonight.. Big Sam – after the lord mayor’s show!! I really hope we stuff them on Saturday… COYG
Great result. It’s another step forward and another clean sheet. Hopefully we can keep momentum going. The next 4 games are so important to this season.
Hi rocky why u think martinelli is suited to play against a low block aka park the boss defense