It seems a long time since we were bottom of the Premiership table with zero points from three games and our noisy neighbours were sitting smugly on top laughing at us.
Since then we have had an unbeaten run of nine games in the EPL and the Carabao Cup. There have been some excellent performances and a few less convincing ones.
Yesterday the team put in a thoroughly professional display to take all three points against a Leicester team that has caused us problems in recent memory.
Rather than a detailed match report, here are some observations that occurred to me. Feel free to add your own or dispute any of mine.
- First Eleven: it is clear that the manager now has most of a ‘first 11’ in his mind. There are one or two places up for grabs in midfield and attack, but the following names will generally be on the team sheet for important games when fit: Ramsdale, Tomayisu, White, Gabriel, Tierney, Partey, Saka, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang.
- Back-ups: the contested places are a good problem rather than a headache (with the possible exception of CM where it’s not yet clear whether Xhaka, Lokonga or AMN will be the long term partner to Partey). Odegaard or Lacazette as back up to ESR? Fine. Pepe or Martinelli as back up wide men? Fine. Lacazette, Martinelli or Nketiah as back up central striker? Not so bad.
- Ramsdale. What an impact this lad has had. Some of his saves yesterday were world class and character and commitment ooze from every pore.
- Team Spirit: it’s natural for a team to look ‘together’ when they’re on a good run of results (and the real test will come when we have setbacks, which we inevitably will) but the body language among our squad is exceptional at the moment. It’s clear they like and believe in each other and that they believe in the manager’s plan. The days of factions, cliques and ‘big personality’ players on huge wages at the tail end of their careers seem long gone. Arteta and the club management deserve credit for having grasped that particularly painful nettle.
- Centre Back Partnership: every successful team needs one of these and we have been lucky over the years to see some great partnerships at Arsenal: Frank McLintock and Peter Simpson; Tony Adams and Steve Bould/Martin Keown; Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure; Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. In White and Gabriel we appear to have the makings of another outstanding combo in the heart of our defence.
- Defensive commitment: we needed it at times yesterday when we were on the back foot (which we were for much of the game after our early two goal lead), but the commitment and effort never wavered.
- Quick breaks: not so long ago it seemed we had permanently lost the ability to break quickly (formations like the dreaded Horseshoe seemingly designed to stop any spontaneity of play). We’re getting it back (as in the second goal yesterday) and it’s a joy to behold.
- Attacking Set Pieces: what a terrific corner from Saka and what a great header from Gabriel for our opener. In general our set piece delivery was very good and we are becoming a genuine threat from these opportunities.
- Game Management: although Leicester made us ride our luck at times, you always felt the team knew what their jobs were. In the past, at 2-0 up, we might have been tempted to over commit and get sucker punched on the break (how many Vardy goals fall into that category?). Yesterday we played with a maturity that belied the youthful nature of the team, which brings me on to…
- Youthfulness: apart from Lacazette and Aubameyang this was a very young side. How exciting to think that most of these players are nowhere near their ceiling yet.
- Physicality: despite the youthfulness of our team, we stood up very well in the physical battles.
- Lack of Control: OK, “bad” may be overstating it, but we struggled to keep control of the ball for long periods of the game. Although our defence held firm, it would be less of a heart-in-mouth experience if we were able to win and keep possession in the middle of the park more effectively. This will surely come.
- Jonny Evans: what a plonker. He tried to deliberately dead-leg Ramsdale when our ‘keeper was in mid air (a cowardly and dangerous move) and then went all handbags when Ramsdale remonstrated with him. I was delighted to see the way our players got involved quickly to let the Manchester United cast-off know that he wasn’t going to be allowed to mess with any of our team. Evans then proceeded to run around making nasty fouls and whining like a baby for the rest of the game.
Ramsdale – 9 (MotM)
It would have been a 10 apart from the fact that his kicking was a bit off at times, leading him to give away possession on several occasions. Apart from that… wow. An outstanding showing from an outstanding ‘keeper.
Tomayisu – 7
Solid and athletic.
White – 8.5
Watch out, hyperbole alert, but White reminds me of a certain centre half who used to play for England a very long time ago, name of Bobby Moore – ring a bell? Another great performance from our summer signing.
Gabriel – 8.5
Less skilful on the ball than White, but more physically aggressive, Gabriel had another excellent game. This pair are really becoming something special. Also, Gabriel’s aerial threat is now an ever present danger to our opponents on set pieces.
Tavares – 7.5
The youngster is emerging as an excellent back-up to KT. Some people at the club really did their homework before dipping into the market this year.
Partey – 8
Thomas is beginning to find his feet on a consistent basis. He still makes the odd loose pass here and there but his combativeness and reading of the game are first rate.
Lokonga – 7
His inexperience means he gets out of position sometimes and occasionally over-commits in the wrong areas, but in general this was a very encouraging performance from young Sambi. He is strong, fast, intelligent and very comfortable on the ball and is a terrific prospect.
Lacazette – 7.5
I like him in the deep-lying forward role and his contributions were important in the first 20 minutes when we took control of the game. He tired around the hour mark again and was replaced by Odegaard.
Smith Rowe – 8
Took his goal beautifully (I love it when players pass the ball into the net) and had another game full of great touches, progressive attitude and physical commitment. I’ve said it before, but for my money ESR is the player with the highest ceiling of any in our squad. He could be world class in a year or two.
Aubameyang – 7.5
Given that we spent 70-plus minutes on the back foot he got few opportunities to threaten the Leicester goal, but he put in a good defensive shift when needed and his body language – as captain – was very good throughout.
Saka – 7.5
Offers so much more than any of our other wide attackers. Every time he gets the ball you think something is going to happen. That said, I thought he looked tired in the later stages when he might have made more of a couple of good opportunities.
Odegaard – 8
Replaced a tiring Laca in the 58th minute and helped restore a bit of composure and possession for us during a nervy period of the game. He put Saka through on goal on at least two occasions and pressed the Leicester players high up the pitch with great energy.
Pepe – 7
Came on in the 85th minute and held the ball up well on occasion.
Kolasinac – N/A
Got a couple of minutes in stoppage time.