Nil-nil draws can be boring or they can be exciting. Yesterday’s stalemate with Manchester United at the Emirates was in the latter category.
We had chances to win it, but we also had chances to lose it and a draw felt a fair result at the final whistle.
And let’s pause here for a moment to give credit to Mikel Arteta and his players. A few weeks ago we were talking relegation. Yesterday we went toe to toe with a team that’s been on a great run that took them to the top of the table, where they were sitting just a week ago.
That is progress.
Inspired by comments from AA readers after the game, here are some questions that have emerged from Arsenal’s performance. Please share your thoughts below.
Are We Expecting Too Much Too Soon From Partey?
There was a split in comments between those who felt Thomas had a bit of an off day and those who thought he was pretty good. To this observer he was a bit of both. He had a couple of his trademark forward charges, was positionally good and played a full 90. On the negative side he lost possession several times, mostly in the second half and very particularly towards the end when tiredness must have been a factor.
To me he shows plenty of evidence of Rolls Royce football, but he’s spent a long time in the repair shop and just needs a bit more running in. He will get more attuned to the way the EPL works as time goes on but he already is clearly our best midfielder.
Has the Long Awaited Pepe Surge Begun?
The mercurial Ivorian was good against Southampton in midweek and had another decent outing yesterday. If his shooting radar had been marginally better he might have had a couple of goals.
He also tracked back well and showed a lot more discipline that we saw from him in his early months at Arsenal, for which credit must go not just to the player, but also to Arteta and his coaching team.
But if Pepe has finally found his feet and is ready to contribute at a high level, our attacking options are starting to look really tasty.
Is the Xhaka Redemption Now a Permanent Feature?
The ups and downs of Granit Xhaka’s time at Arsenal read like a Jason Bourne novel… so have we now reached the Xhaka Supremacy? Even his harshest critics would have a hard time denying that he has been really quite good lately.
He seems to have found a groove alongside Partey, he is playing with intelligence and discipline and (tempting fate) he has stopped the stupid fouls and the infuriating toddler tumbles where he tries to win free kicks. Xhaka has always had good qualities, but they came with frustrating down sides. Remove the down sides and we are looking at a very reliable central midfielder.
Are Tierney and Saka Our Two Most Important Players?
As I wrote in comments, starting yesterday’s game without Tesco and Saka would be the equivalent of Man Utd going into the match without Fernandes and Rashford (which makes our performance and the result even more impressive).
Cedric has filled in well during KT’s absences but we really missed the Scotsman marauding down the left flank and putting in those excellent crosses.
As for Saka… there were times yesterday when Smith Rowe played what to me looked like ‘passes for Saka’. But because Bukayo was not on the pitch and Pepe, for all his improved form, does not have quite the same psychic bond with ESR that Saka does, the balls did not come off because Pepe did not make the right run. Partey may well become the automatic first name on the team sheet in time, but can we all agree that right now it’s Tierney and Saka who jointly hold that position?
How Should We Handle Martinelli?
The young Brazilian had an in-and-out first half and did not reappear for the second period, which I can only assume was because of a tweak. Given his injury history the precautionary principle is probably the right one to adopt with him.
He is struggling a little bit to find his feet since returning to fitness, but he showed typically good movement in this game and worked as hard as ever. One spectacular backtrack to deny Rashford an open goal was particularly noteworthy.
Right now I think the club are handling his return well: use him sparingly and let things take their natural course. A goal will help him tremendously.
Player Ratings From RC78
Leno – 6 – not much to do
Bellerin – 6.5 – had a couple of good moments.
Holding – 7 – Marshalling the defense, especially in the air
Luiz – 7 – Another good outing.
Cedric – 6 – A decent game but a lot of the chances conceded came from his side.
Xhaka – 7 – Tidy.
Partey – 6 – We expect more. Seems to struggle physically a bit.
Pepe – 7.5 – Created chances, full of running but last touch but not there.
ESR – 6.5 – Industrious but lacked the spark today
Martinelli – 6.5 – Looked good when played.
Laca – 7 – A fantastic attitude and unlucky not to score on his free kick.
Willian – a good entrance but still slows the game down.
Odegaard – not enough time to assess.
Nketiah – not enough time to assess.