There was lots to be encouraged about after last night’s 3-0 home win over an admittedly poor Newcastle United.
Smith Rowe and Saka’s combinations, Cedric’s breakthrough game, a clean sheet, Partey bossing midfield, Smith Rowe’s sublime touch and, of course, our captain getting his mojo back.
Not that Aubameyang’s revival is fully confirmed just yet, but two goals in the second half (including the all-important opener) have set him on the right road. It took time – he was poor in the first half – but his first goal was pure Aubameyang.
Mikel Arteta started with what looked a decent team. Partey returned to play alongside Xhaka; Cedric started at right back (presumably to give Bellerin a break) and Gabriel was obviously not felt to be 100% back to fitness so he was confined to the bench while Luiz started.
The front four seemed full of possibility: Smith Rowe playing behind a front three of Saka, Lacazette and Aubameyang.
So it was somewhat disappointing how the first half played out. We lacked smoothness and struggled to make high quality openings, although Aubameyang managed to hit the post with a chance he would normally have tucked away.
And it was the captain who was drawing my ire in that half. A couple of times he seemed to make half-hearted efforts to get on the end of passes; in addition to the miss mentioned above he also created a chance by cutting into the Newcastle box and trying to curl a low shot into the far corner of the net, but it went several metres wide. In short, nothing was happening for Auba and he looked low on confidence.
Elsewhere there was pleasure to be taken from Emile Smith Rowe’s touch and movement. Here are just a couple of observations from AA readers in the comments after the game:
“I see a hell of a lot of Ozil in his play particularly one/two touch passes and then moving again, he looks for space constantly…” (Gooner in Exile).
“ESR reminds me of a combination of two greats, Merson, for his floating running style, and the best first touch player I ever saw, Robert Pires.” (LBG)
High praise indeed. To me he also shows glimpses of Bergkamp at times.
But we must remember how young and inexperienced he is. It would be wrong to expect him to carry the burden of being our sole playmaker for the rest of the season, the “new Ozil” or the “new Bergkamp” or whatever. He will inevitably have a dip in form at some point but, for now, he’s such an exciting prospect.
We went in level at half time, with Newcastle having barely troubled Bernd Leno and a sense that we would need to step it up after the break. Thankfully we did.
Whether it was El Patron’s half time talk, or whether there was any kind of subtle tactical switch (you clever tactics types – help me out here), something changed in the second half. Right from the whistle we were on the front foot and going at the Barcodes in waves.
Five minutes after the restart we got the breakthrough our pressure deserved when Lacazette, having come deep, laid off to Partey who sidestepped an opponent and fired a beautiful long ball over the top for Aubameyang to run on to. If our captain needed an opportunity to kick start his form, this one was tailor made: a foot race, coming in off the left wing, a defender and a goalkeeper to beat… bang! The perfect scenario for him. An emphatic left foot finish put us in front and boy did Auba look happy.
Ten minutes later it was our psychic twosome – Smith Rowe and Saka – combining superbly to put us two up. ESR was released down the left wing and showed brilliant close control as he shimmied round a defender before cutting the ball back into the middle of the penalty area where the late-arriving Saka was there to tuck it home.
By this point the Newcastle heads were so far down they could have juggled them with their feet and there was only going to be one winner.
It was nice, however, that the third goal went to Aubameyang. Cedric and Saka combined well after a Newcastle mistake deep in the Toon left back position. Cedric was freed to get along the goal line from where he cut the ball back to Aubameyang just outside the six yard box for a simple tap in.
Excellent performances from Smith Rowe, Saka, Cedric, Aubameyang, Tierney and Partey give lots of grounds for positivity. At the defensive end Newcastle did not trouble us much but our back line was solid when called on. In particular, as with the recent FA Cup game against the same opposition, Luiz did a good job of containing the giant Andy Carroll and his elbows.
We had 20 attempts on goal including six on target, while restricting Toon to just four attempts, only one of which was on target.
There is a run of tough games coming up in the league, but we have given ourselves a platform from which to build with a degree of confidence.
Leno – 6
He had little to do but is now such a reassuring figure behind our defence.
Cedric – 8 MoTM
I know many will say Auba should be MoTM, but his performance was inconsistent despite the two goals and he had a poor first half. Cedric, on the other hand, seems to be really settling in to his role. Like many, I had doubts about him but I saw signs of encouragement when he started against Newcastle in the FA Cup (here’s what I said after that game: (“Ced has not convinced me when I have seen him in an Arsenal kit but yesterday he was pretty good. He won tackles, competed hard and mostly passed well…”). Last night he built on that performance to have a really good game at both ends. He was a tiger last night.
Holding – 7
Rock solid Rob was rock solid again.
Luiz – 7
Performed his defensive duties well and didn’t slow us down too much in possession (he mostly laid it off to Xhaka or Partey).
Tierney – 7
Cedric having a good night meant there was less pressure on Tierney to have to drive us forward down the left flank all the time. He was as reliable as ever.
Xhaka – 7
His good run of form continues and he made a very strong contribution last night including some excellent tackling. I don’t want to tempt fate, but the timing of his tackles (and his decision-making around tackling) seem to have got better.
Partey – 7.5
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something about the way Thomas plays that just exudes class. Wonderful long ball assist to break the deadlock.
Smith Rowe – 7.5
I can’t add to what I’ve written in the report. A joy to watch (and a lovely post match interview in which he seemed humble, grounded and happy to credit others with his success).
Saka – 7.5
We are spoilt with this young man to the extent that we just expect these sorts of performances now. Excellent.
Aubameyang – 7.5
The first half was a cause for concern but he came roaring back in the second half so fair play to him. If he continues to rediscover his form like this then our attacking options are starting to look sweet.
Lacazette – 7
You always get a tireless shift from Laca and his link-up play was very good.
Elneny – 6.5
Came on for the excellent Partey when we were two up and did a tidy job.
Willian – 6.5
Replaced the captain on 79 minutes and seemed to link up well with his team mates. Admittedly the game was won, but perhaps the first glimmerings of a return to form?
Martinelli – 6.5
Gabriel got around 10 minutes after coming on for Smith Rowe. Not long enough to really get involved but he showed his usual energy and desire.
Nice report Rocky and a nice result.
The play between Saka & ESR is a joy to watch. These two can go right to the top.
Through a combination of luck and signings Arteta is getting close to the team he wants.
Thanks Rocky for the pre-match and post-match reports 🙂
I just wanted to mention that our team looked:
– particularly well organized
– balanced both in attacking and defensive phases
– in control.
The opposition was not great let’s be honest but we did nullify them and we defended set pieces properly. I think they were a few factors for this assured display:
1. Holding is being solid and not erratic.
2. Tierney was back and that just adds to our team’s balance and strength
3. Xhaka is in good form recently – mature and assured displays. Let us hope he keeps it up.
4. Partey just adds that extra class in our central midfield. He sees the pass. He can move the ball around and he can get the ball back. Hope we can now keep him fit and rely on him until the end of the season.
5. Saka is a gem. I think we will see Pepe move this summer unless he turns it around by 160 degrees…let us see
6. ESR understands the game beyond his years and never stops running.
7. Laca is a key piece to our puzzle. His link up play is phenomenal and he was a bit unlucky not to score yesterday. I think we can let Nketiah go and bring in a forward who is better than Laca in aerial and has good link up plays. I can’t believe we re letting Milik join Marseille 😦
8. Auba found the net, what a relief! I hope he keeps his form.
Everyone is raving about Soares’ display last night but this was the first time he performed at a good level in quite a while. The jury is still out for him.
I think Arteta is edging closer to his best starting XI:
Leno – ? , Holding, Gabs/Luiz?Mari?, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Saka, ESR, Auba – Laca
Still a doubt on right back and left center back but for the left centre back, we do have 3 good options in Gabriel, Mari and Luiz. I think at right centre back, we need to replace Mustafi by another player. There is a 22 year old called Cristian Romero who is emerging as a great CB…
Anyways, a solid win. Arteta clearly having a clearer picture on both his system and best XI.
Nice one, Rocky!
Five consecutive clean sheets in all comps for the first time since 2009..
MA was right – we have missed Tommy. And what a peach of a pass for his first assist! That guy is worth every penny of what we paid for him…what a beast!
So happy to see that grin and front flip again! Auba’s first was superb…
Cedric was aboard the show boat – what a filthy nutmeg!! Hector must’ve been sweating watching 😆
Croydon De Bruyne and Saka combining yet again… how special are these 2?! Since Boxing day they’ve contributed to 8 goals & assists
All ‘hale’ Hale End… 🙂
Saka on Twitter:
“Thanks for the assist Kevin 😉”
Love it!!! 😆
A very happy gooner today!! We’ll find out tonight who we’ll face on Saturday – Saints or Shrewsbury…
I agree with your ‘question mark’ positions, although they are different in nature (as you point to).
At left CB we have several good options. At RB we have Hector who, while OK is failing to convince a lot of Gooners that he’s the right man for the job, and Cedric, who needs a few more games like last night’s to really start pushing for a place as starting RB.
As for right CB, it’s Big Rob’s position for now. Whether we buy in someone else is probably contingent on whether or not the club believe Saliba is going to make it.
I’d be OK with Chambers as first place cover for Holding for the duration of the season, although his injury record is a cause for concern.
Seems like ‘the Croydon De Bruyne’ is really catching on 😀
We haven’t had a nickname like that since Ray Parlour – the Romford Pele.
Not quite in the same league, but I always liked the chant we used to sing at Tim Sherwood when he was Spuds boss:
“He comes from Borehamwood,
He ain’t no f—–g good,
Tie Sherwood, woah-oh, Tim Sherwood, woah-oh…”
All excellent, Rocky, both the Post and the player ratings. Thank you. 🤪
There was a little bit of caution expressed, both from you and RC that we might be going slightly overboard, particularly re Cedric, and Auba, that is sensible and based on experience we know a good game can sometimes result in a dead cat bounce in the next game.
[Did your camel send me these, GB? 🌹🌹 — I hope he realises that altho his name is also Cedric, I was talking about the French one last night!!]. 😁
Very enjoyable read, thank you.
Great work Rocky, I enjoyed the read nearly as much as the second half yesterday. We saw what was missing under Unai yesterday …. a team! I thought every player was on his game and did his job well. Whether or not Mesut’s departure has lifted a cloud I can’t say … but we have cause for optimism for the future with these players. The hard job for Mikel will be to keep them all fresh but involved.
One good thing to come from this sudden clarity is that we can see without doubt which players we can afford to let go … bye bye Mustafi … go join your mate is what I say.
I wonder when Sokratis and Mustafi will be let go…
Agree that Chambers could be a good back-up if fit.
Cracking read Rocky can’t really extrapolate.
I’ve just watched some Ozil best moments….he was soooooo good. But that’s done now. So along with his departure which saves some wages but does nothing for squad strengthening possibility unless we are looking at a home grown.
My summation of what we need today:
Second left back (Hale End)
(One can be overseas at the moment)
Who can go now:
(Frees up one more overseas berth)
Who can definitely go in the summer:
Luiz, Mustafi, Pepe, Willian
(Frees up 4 overseas berths)
Who can possibly go in summer:
PEA, Laca, Hector, Elneny
Frees up (3 overseas berths and 1 homegrown)
Those can only go if we can see Martinelli develop and good replacements bought in.
I know that might seem a bit revolutionary and some youngsters like Willock, Nketiah AMN have avoided the chop) but we have to always consider the 17 overseas players rules.
I haven’t looked at others but I assume it won’t be long until the likes of ESR, Saka, Martinellli, Nketiah have to be named as part of the 25 so we really need to keep clearing out.
Hey Gooner –
I think there is a question mark on three youngsters: Willock, Nketiah and to a lesser extent Reiss-Nelson. We are still waiting to hear about Balogun, whether he goes to Leipzig or stays but it s not looking good.
There are also the curious cases of Calum Chambers and Maitland-Niles. Home-Grown players, good squad players but would they accept to be Cup Players?
Like the cuts of your jib, sir!
Cant disagree with much. I personally would keep Elneny but let Dani go. Bola is a competent left back/centre back. Interested in what you will do with Torreira and Guendouzi!
Like Rasp, I rate Azeez highly, and hope we could persuade Balogun to give us one more year if, as I agree, Aubang and Laca, could/might want to move on.
All in all would leave some room for a prolific goal-scoring Giroud-type with pace.
Strong rumours that we fancy Lamptey at Brighton. He plays at right back. Having watched him a few times he’s very quick and seems more suited to attacking than defending. He’s short for current trends, but full backs vary in size.
I’m surprised Chelsea let him go because he looks a good prospect.
This indicates we would be willing to part with Bellerin. He’s not the same player since his injury and his defending is questionable.
This from NewsNow:
Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain are all interested in signing Arsenal star Hector Bellerin in the summer, according to CalcioMercato.
The Spanish full-back is Arsenal’s vice-captain and he has had a decent season so far. Bellerin has four assists to his name and he is Mikel Arteta’s first-choice at right-back ahead of Cedric and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
However, things could’ve been very different. Bellerin was heavily linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer. The French champions even tabled a bid of £25 million plus £5 million in add-ons, but Arsenal rejected that. (Guardian)
Bellerin stayed put but speculation surrounding his future just won’t go away. PSG are still reportedly keen to sign him in the summer, as are Juventus and the Spaniard’s former club Barcelona.
The 25-year-old has had his critics at Arsenal. Tony Adams is one who has always been vocal about how bad a defender Bellerin is, but the Spaniard is still a quality player.
Kieran Tierney’s fantastic performances on the left has made people compare our two full-backs. Yes, the Scotsman has been up there with the best in the Premier League, but that isn’t really Bellerin’s fault, is it?
Bellerin has had a decent season in his own right and his leadership, as described by Tierney himself, is one of the biggest reasons why the former Celtic man has settled in so well in North London.
Mikel Arteta is a huge fan of Bellerin, as was Arsene Wenger. The former Arsenal boss claimed that the Spaniard has ‘a fantastic mentality’, (ESPN) and backed him to be a great player for the club despite the injuries he has had.
Arsenal would likely keep hold of Bellerin, but a big bid from a club like Barcelona or PSG could change things. If Edu receives a massive offer for the Spaniard in the summer, it might make sense to let him go.
We can then make a move for someone like Tariq Lamptey, who is reportedly on our wish list. (The Athletic)
PSG want a right full back to compete with Florenzi. I think PSG might actually be more interested in bringing Lamptey than Bellerin…but who knows?
So as I was saying, PSG in the hunt of a right back and Emerson from Sevilla appears to be on their list.
“and the best first touch player I ever saw, Robert Pires.”
I have been thinking about this comment, was Pires’ first touch better than Brady? Maybe. Was Pires first touch better than Bergkamp………………….
That comment made me ponder too. And my first thought was Bergkamp…
But Pires was awesome too.
Time for a chuckle… at the chavs 😆
Nice post/read. Cheers.
Some nice thought provoking posts too.
Hopefully we can continue to improve and put the terrible start to the Season behind us. It’s hard to believe we’ve lost 8 League matches already, but to hear we were “only 7 points off Liverpool in 4th” amazed me and made me think of the crazy Season it has been this far.
So some consistency would be a nice fillip.
Chelsea’s continuous bad results is starting to take the shine off our win against them.
Newcastle are not a team that anyone has been thumping so the result was excellent and I’m really not too stressed if we struggled to break them by half time and went in 0-0.
The important thing is that we had 90 minutes and we did the job and were the dominant team. The score didn’t flatter us.
Its important we continue to develop around this formation and one of the most important things is to ensure we have able replacements for Saka on the right and Smith Rowe at number 10.
My only mild disappointment last night is that when Willian came on he didn’t seem to get the Smith Rowe position and seemed to be playing wide again,.
I think Willian could be an excellent 2nd player in that position but needs some playing time there which he is not getting. We will enter unknown territory should anything happen to Saka or ESR.
I do feel there is too much of an overreaction on Auba and in turn an over-estimation on Martinelli seamlessly replacing him.
Aubamayeng has been a prolific goal-scorer for many years, was in the running for the golden boot last year and was one of, if not the, key reasons we won the cup.
He has had a crap period in a team that was playing crap, it happens, but Martinelli should not be considered someone who can just oust him and make us stronger. He is a very exciting prospect and one of the keys to our future but can we really expect him to guarantee to start hitting goals at the statistical rate that Auba has proven he can do for many years now?
I also think we should put the odd draw against tough to break down teams, like the palace game, into greater perspective. There will still be some of those this season and I dont think we should look up the table too much at the points gap.
I think that overly sensitises our reaction to the odd iffy result as we become desperate to close the points gap. We may already have too much to make up, and I think it’s more important to look at the points tally from the turning point with the formation change against Chelsea, and use that as a comparison to other sides.
Ita not the odd game like Palace where we should feel we let ourselves down it was the run of games that started with Villa then Leeds, Wolves, Spuds, Burnley, Southampton, Everton.
21 points were on offer in those games and we secured 2. A club like Arsenal should even conservatively expect 10-12 and where would that leave us now?
If think we should analyse the EPL this year as if the league started with the Chelsea game and see where we would have been in comparison to others from that point. If we are near the top it bodes well next season.
The thing to throw everything at is the EL, even beyond the FA cup and league. This is very doable for us and a strong latter half of the EPL campaign and a EL win gets us silverware, the ECL next year, and a renewed confidence for next season.
Thank you again for a fair assessment of most things AFC.
Enjoyed the comparisons too.
Some strong comments on here today, and Gooner B might be onto something, beyond his astute synopsis.
Arsenal midfielder Emile Smith Rowe has signed a new 5 year deal with the club, putting pen to paper on a £45,000 a week contract.
Well this is fantastic news to wake up to!!!
Oh, really, Sue,
I was all ready to break the news that @ 7a.m. I went to a local supermarket and read the sports pages (they are used to me doing that, and never challenge me) and two of them said Emile would soon be offered a much better contract and an extension blah blah — and there you are with a much better story that he already has the new contract.
I’m going back to bed — and I will just sulk!!
Walcott seems to have quite a bit to say about his previous teammates — the best first touch player (above) and then — the best ever goalscorer (van Persie) with, – “I would just have to run and pass the ball to him, and I knew he would score for me” — rather overplaying your role, Walcott?
To say van Persie was a better goal scorer than Thierry? I don’t think so.