Five Questions After Our Draw with Man Utd (plus Player Ratings)

Pepe Goes Close

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.



20 Responses to Five Questions After Our Draw with Man Utd (plus Player Ratings)

  1. james webster says:

    Totally with you in regard to your comments: particularly relating to Thomas Partey who lacked a little in speed of thought and pace and a bit sloppy with distribution and being caught in possession. Should rapidly get into top gear once fully fit and integrated with more game time.
    ESR was great in the centre engine room despite not having the intelligence and balance of the fantastic Saka alongside: you are so right about Pepe visibly not being on the same wavelength to make the necessary movement and outside runs to take advantage of the ESR lay offs!
    Think Leno merited an “8” for his sharpness stops great saves and quick distribution. Not quite so sad about the loss of Martinez now.
    Swap the “7.5” and “6.5” between ESR and Pepe this should give a better picture of impact each had on the Pitch —– maybe add another “0.5” to the ESR score giving him “8” to acknowledge his excellent on target strike that brought out the best in David de Gea!
    The team is on a good path and even Willian looked more energized.
    The big picture now underlines the impact Arteta is having.
    This great club should never have to put up with so called stars and hangers on just up for the ride and the cash.
    Had hoped for more with AMN who I think could have been up there with a little better handling and encouragement.
    Gunner since 1953 and always.

  2. RockyLives says:

    Thanks James – good points all.

    I’m glad you mentioned Willian. I’ve been very critical of him (I’m hardly alone) and when he came on in this game he lost possession the first three times he received the ball, so I thought “here we go again…”

    But – credit where it’s due – he put in a decent effort in that game. He worked very hard and even looked threatening at times.

    A goal would really help him.

  3. RA says:

    I guess it is because my expectations have increased over the last few weeks, wobbles aside, which accounts for my disappointment that we did not score and win, that game, but on the other hand I was pleased that we did not lose either.

    That’s football from a fan’s perspective of course.

    The report on the game, and the player ratings, are fine, and any ‘yes, buts — no, buts’ from me would sound rather petty, so I won’t indulge in a bloggers carping.

    It is the case, as I see it, that Xhaka, lately known as ‘Xhocker’ by me has improved his alround game and demeanour, much to my surprise, and fingers crossed he will continue to improve.

    It is also the case, again from my perspective, that Cedric has moved from ‘why the hell did we buy him’ into ‘wow, he is intelligent, hard tackling, skilful and energetic in attack and defence’ and I cannot wait for Tierney to reclaim the left back role, and for Cedric to become our permanent RB, though the vagaries of management make that unlikely, as Mikel for reasons best known to himself, often thinks Bellerin is good enough to be captain material. (Hopefully that is a ploy to get RC’s main team, PSG to put in a bid for him at last.

    Men of the Match, must be Leno for his finger tip saves, and also Luiz (yet another player who is surprising me) for his goal saving headers in defence, and his delight in preventing almost certain goal attempts by Fernadez and Cavani.

    As for the slight regression in the performances of both Martinelli and Partey, that is down to the intense number of games recently, and being rushed back from injury a little too quickly — it’s nothing and they will be fine when they fully recover.

    Finally, we were without probably our two best players (Tierney and Saka) and also our best goalscorer (Auba) against a fully stocked Manure, and it is easily overlooked, (despite the yappy and vulgar appraisal of Keane dismissing Arsenal as no-hopers), that Utd were lucky those three were not available, as we would have given them a good seeing too.

  4. Rasp says:

    Thanks Rocky. Like others, I only see Partey’s lack of sharpness as due to the fact he’s yet to get fully fit and used to the pace of the game over here. He’s already dry good, I’m looking for him to be dominant in the big games in the future.

    Big credit to MA and all the players for their effort and sticking to the plan. If those players currently lacking in confidence had converted their chances we would have won.

    At the risk of being accused of putting a downer on what should be a celebration of a fine performance I’m going to be brave and ask the question …. should Auba even be in our best eleven when his skill set doesn’t suit the way we want to play?

  5. LB says:

    5 questions, clever angle and I am pleased to say I have spotted something to differ with.

    Thinking about it, my first impressions as to why Martinelli went off were that, like you, I thought he must have tweeked something but if you see what Willian did when he came on things get a little clearer — it was tactical.

    The one thing that Willian had to offer that Martinelli didn’t was that he was able to keep hold of the ball for longer and thereby taking the pressure off of the defence and enabling the team to collectively more further forward. He still lost the ball in his usual way but he did buy us more breathing space than Martinelli.

    The flip side is that the best chance of the game fell to Willian 6 yards out and due to what must have been lack of confidence he fluffed his lines — had that fallen to Martinelli I feel sure all three points would have been ours. If, but, maybe……

    Still, like you, can’t complain.

  6. LB says:


    Re Auba, good question, given that we were able to field our best 11 I see no reason why Lacazette and Aubamayang could not be interchangeable. Aubamayang is better in front of goal but Lacazette works harder in defending from the front.

    I suspect Arteta will continue to play them both to keep them happy — but he shouldn’t — because Martinelli is better out on the left flank.

  7. LB says:

    “Cedric has moved from ‘why the hell did we buy him’ into ‘wow, he is intelligent, hard tackling, skilful and energetic in attack and defence’”

    Nicely put and so true.

  8. Rasp says:

    Thanks LB. I agree with all that.

  9. jjgsol says:

    These players are being paid hundreds of thousands, and some of them, millions of pounds a year, so please don’t tell me that they can’t play 2 90 minute games a week.

    These poor little sounds need so much rest, don’t they?

    Why, they must spend 3 nor 4 hours a day training, so must be really overworked.

    Talking up players and giving them pathetic excuses is not acceptable.

    We are a mediocre middle of the table team with a young inexperienced manager, who demands complete obedience from his players to do what he says and that inflexibility shows on the pitch.

    We have scored 26 goals in 20 games. Great isn’t it?

    If any of you are really happy to watch 90 minutes of a game when our team can only muster 3 shots on target, then please continue with your optimism, but do not expect everyone to agree.

  10. jjgsol says:

    souls, not sounds

  11. Aaron says:

    Rocky, RA, LB, James and Rasp all put it well.

    jj, do not really know what you are on about, players had no preseason, AFC were in 3 competitions last year, 2 now this year, and players are playing in a worldwide pandemic with little rest.
    Give it a break man.

    I was pissed, yelled at Mikel through the tele, with venom, when he brought on Willian, and he proved me right the first 3-4 times when he got the ball. I strongly encouraged Willian, knowing he is paid handsomely, to take a damn risk. Run at the opposition, to the hole, into the box, something, anything other than the dreaded back pass or dribbling toward Leno.

    Really thought we were going to lose the game.

    Then Willian did something, he held the ball, cut in a few times and ran to, at and passed some defenders, and it made all the difference.

    Thought the pass from Willian to Pepe was going in for sure, De Gea would have wiffed had “jughead” not blocked the shot.

    Only thing I will say to add here is Auba and Laca are not interchangeable in the middle as Auba can’t hold the ball up and pass as well as Laca in tight spaces.

    Let’s get our team healthy and ready for another move up the table with a few more wins.

  12. RC78 says:

    Our most decisive players are Tierney and Saka for sure going forward. At the back, Leno, Holding and even Xhaka have played their part since Boxing Day.

    I think Partey will come in good and he is still adjusting to the speed. I think Martinelli is also going to be a major player for us and there is hope for ESR as well. So let us hope that this 2020/1 season is our transition season and that next year, we will finally challenge for a Top 4 spot.

    Leno – , Holding, Gabriel, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka (?) – Saka, ESR, Auba – Laca

    Let us get a good Right back and maybe a better alternative to Xhaka and then we are ready to roar knowing that we still have Martinelli up our sleeves and hopefully Balogun too…

  13. TotalArsenal says:

    Great Post Rocky.

    Are We Expecting Too Much Too Soon From Partey?
    He needs time to settle in the team and maximise his partnership with Xhaka. They were up against four in midfield at start of the game but stood their ground. Thomas is quality.

  14. TotalArsenal says:

    Has the Long Awaited Pepe Surge Begun?
    In our 4-2-3-1 system, Arteta can use Pepe as back up for Auba and Saka. He will have to work hard to become Nr1 in those positions again. Martinelli is also back up for those positions but he has the ability to displace at least Auba at some point. But I see Martinelli mostly as back up or competition for Laca in this system.

  15. TotalArsenal says:

    Re Xhaka, redemption is only needed with the fans, as manager and players rate him highly. Just look at his tally of games per season since he arrived.

    Are Tierney and Saka Our Two Most Important Players?

    No but they are v important in terms of thrust and key passes production. They are our red bull boys.

  16. TotalArsenal says:

    How Should We Handle Martinelli?

    You can see his eagerness to pick up his career again, absolutely desperate to score goals. But his body is not responding to his mind’s commands right now. Arteta will have to tame him a bit but what a prospect.

  17. jjgsol says:

    Aaron. So the players had not pre-season?

    They had 3 months off between March and June.

    They play 2 90 minute games a week and sometimes only one. Sorry, no pre-season is not an excuse.

    Marvellous, Wiilain does one thing good in an entire half. Shall we nominate him for an OBE, perhaps?

    The rest of the time, one saw him get the ball and knew he would either lose it or pass it back.

    I suppose it is better that he was on the wing, where he is supposed to be and not pretending to be Ozil, which he could not do in a month of Sundays.

    I am happy to give credit, where credit is due.

    I saw very little in the 30 minutes I could watch from the outfield players that indicated to me that they were heading in the right direction.

    You may think that I am being overly critical. Maybe I am, but surely that is better than deluding myself that there was anything there that might give me hope for the future.

  18. Aaron says:

    Let’s see AFC started their 2019 preseason July 17th, 2019, I was there, then we played 7 friendlies, through August 4th. We started our season on August 11th, and played a total of 54 games that season. The EPL season ended on July 26th, 2020 and finished with a FA Cup win on August 1, 2020.

    AFC started their 2020 season on August 25th with a friendly, won the Community Shield on August 29th, 2020, then played our last friendly on Sept 5th, 2020.

    The EPL 2020-2021 season officially started on August 12th, 2020 against Fulham.

    So, they basically got 3 weeks off total rest, at the end of the season, after a 3 month lockdown towards the end of the season, and players could run or stationary cycle in their flats with their families all draped over them.
    That is not rest and recovery after a year like that, especially all things considered.

  19. Aaron says:

    Correction: the EPL 2020-2021 season officially started on Sept 12, 2020 against Fulham…

  20. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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