Leicester City would have risen to second in the Premier League if they had beaten us at the King Power stadium yesterday.
So the fact that we did not just beat them but that we bossed the game from the moment we went behind after six minutes to the final whistle is testament to how well we played.
You can point out that the Foxes were without the influential Maddison and that the in-form Barnes went off injured part way through: but we started without several first teamers including Saka, Aubameyang and Partey and we lost Emile Smith Rowe to injury during the match.
Defeats bring questions of one kind and victories bring questions of another kind. Here are five that arise from yesterday’s win.
Should Cedric Be First Choice at Right Back?
Cedric the Entertainer had a very good game, linking well with Pepe and looking generally secure defensively. We have debated Hector Bellerin’s performances on this blog at great length. He can be very influential but at other times his play seems to be “all sound and fury signifying nothing” to quote young Billy Shakespeare who played left back for Stratford Strollers over 400 years ago. On his current form I would start with Ced as first choice. I suspect that Arteta will not do so, partly because he will want to keep him in reserve as back-up to Kieran Tierney if the young Scot has another injury setback.
Smith Rowe or Odegaard in the Middle?
We got to see both of our putative central playmakers in their preferred position in this game. It’s an interesting contrast. ESR is all fast turns, clever flicks, one-touch passes round the corner and give-and-go moves to break the opposition defence. The Norwegian likes to spend more time on the ball, probing for the killer pass. They could certainly play in the same team and could well form a good understanding, although perhaps not if Smith Rowe is exiled to the left wing. However, if we had to chose one or the other for that central role I would go for ESR because he speeds up our play more than Odegaard. Even so, I’m very happy to have young Martin as back-up.
Is Xhaka Now the Most Underrated Player at Arsenal?
Granit’s time at Arsenal has been eventful to say the least, but this season he has played more minutes than anyone else and has put together a long run of utterly reliable performances. He is the metronome at the base of our midfield and I think a lot of his good work is ignored by fans because (a) we have baggage with him and (b) it is the unspectacular ‘water carrier’ work of closing down opponents, breaking up moves, occupying space and playing simple balls in possession.
When Do We Start with Laca and When Do We Start with Auba?
Obviously in some games we start with both, with Lacazette as the central striker and Aubameyang on the left wing, but increasingly Arteta seems to want to play one or the other. Is it a case of ‘it all depends on the opposition’? For example, against Leicester Lacazette got the nod. This may be partly because Auba played a full game in Greece on Thursday night, but it’s also possible that El Patron knew that Leicester like to sit deep and hit opponents on the break, meaning there would be less space for Auba to run into and more need of a link-up player like Laca. Is that how it will go for the rest of the season – Laca against teams likely to play with a dense defensive set-up and Auba against more expansive opponents?
What’s Our First Choice Centre Back Pairing When All Are Fit?
Rob Holding should return from his concussion absence next weekend so Arteta will have exactly this dilemma. Yesterday Luiz and Mari did very well apart from sloppiness with Leicester’s early goal. Against Benfica Luiz and Gabriel were surprisingly hesitant at times. Holding has put in a string of good performances. So which two are the first choices? Notwithstanding the Benfica wobble I still think it’s Luiz and Gabriel. That’s hard on Holding and Mari who have done little wrong, but I feel Luiz, for all his occasional moments of madness, offers a wealth of experience which is beginning to really make itself felt in games. The nice thing is that if the starting centre halves for our next game are Holding and Mari instead, I will look at the team sheet and think “OK, I’m fine with that.”