Following their remarkable 1-3 victory over Leicester City a week ago, Arsenal fans have likely resigned themselves to a reverse of the recent seasons. In previous years, Arsenal have been unbeatable at home and timid away from home, but like most teams in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the home advantage has since been lost.
With an important Round of 32 tie with Olympiacos and the daunting visit of José Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur in the North London Derby, it was a little surprising to see the strength of the team that Mikel Arteta fielded against Burnley.
However, Arteta’s selection seemed to be vindicated as Arsenal took an early lead at Turf Moor. Some quick play in midfield between Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka meant that they were able to quickly release Willian, who fed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who jinked and swerved through the Burnley defence and squeezed a possibly lucky effort past Nick Pope to give Arsenal a deserved lead.
From there, Arsenal continued to dictate play. Though Burnley continued to defend fairly well, they struggled to contain Arsenal’s main attacking threats, as was shown when Bukayo Saka’s effort fizzed millimetres wide.
However, in recent weeks, Arsenal have since been the orchestrators of their own downfall and Saturday afternoon did not disappoint in that regard.
Arsenal’s insistence of playing out from the back, something that has been a constant source of terrified squeal from Arsenal fans around the world since the final days of Unai Emery, reared its ugly head once more.
Bernd Leno sold Xhaka short on a pass as the Swiss international was being pressed by an attacker, however, the midfielder committed that most unforgivable sin of passing the ball across his own penalty area, which cannoned off Chris Wood and into the open net. It was the easiest goal he’ll score in his entire life and Arsenal inexplicably found themselves level.
The second half was one way traffic for Arsenal. With a renewed desire to grab all three points, Arsenal began to attack with gusto, however, things did not become too clear cut until the introduction of Nicolas Pépé.
The former Lille man, who has been so important to Arsenal of late, was again at the heart of everything that was impressive about Arsenal as they continued to attack Burnley, although he likely won’t be forgiven for his mis-hit of Kieran Tierney’s cross, which would have won the game.
He was however, at the heart of two controversial VAR decisions. The first was a blatant handball from Burnley substitute Erick Pieters. The defender’s hand was raised, in an unnatrual position and Pépé’s flick upwards smashed off the defender’s wrist in a blatant handball that was infuriatingly dismissed by VAR.
The second was his late effort cannoning off the bar from Erick Pieters’ block. Andre Marriner incorrectly dismissed the Burnley defender for a handball, though replays showed that the ball had brushed his shoulder and was therefore not a penalty. VAR again coming to Pieters’ rescue.
But the drama still wasn’t over. Following a scramble in the penalty area, the ball fell to Dani Ceballos, whose shot thudded off the post and ended the game not five seconds later.
It couldn’t have been a more frustrating afternoon if Arsenal had tried. Try as they might, they seemed unable to score a second and VAR controversy and individual errors cost them dearly.
Granit Xhaka’s error in the first-half was perhaps the midfielder’s only misstep all game, but it was a costly one. The basic, almost Sunday League adage of “never go across your own area” seemed to go out the window. On another day, the ball goes out for a goal-kick or misses Chris Wood altogether, however, it’s difficult to play the unlikely game when you see it roll into the net, powerless to keep it out.
As for VAR, Arsenal saw the good and the bad mixed with the ugly. The overturning of the red card was a correct decision and Pieters would have felt hard done by had Andre Marriner sent him off for such a small indiscretion, whereas his blatant handball from Pépé’s initial flick is truly baffling. Not only is Pieters’ arm in an unnatrual position, the ball clearly cannons off his wrist and is about as blatant a handball as you will find.
A frustrating day in Burnley is not what Arsenal needed heading into their European excursions, but they must keep the focus and put Saturday’s frustrations behind them.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 21.) Calum Chambers 23.) David Luiz 22.) Pablo Marí 3.) Kieran Tierney 34.) Granit Xhaka 18.) Thomas Partey (Ceballos 80’) 7.) Bukayo Saka 11.) Martin Ødegaard (Lacazette 63’) 12.) Willian (Pépé 69’) 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
Arsenal subs: 33.) Maty Ryan 16.) Rob Holding 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 2.) Héctor Bellerín 25.) Mohamed Elneny 8.) Dani Ceballos 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 19.) Nicolas Pépé 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Burnley team: 1.) Nick Pope 2.) Matthew Lowton 5.) James Tarkowski 6.) Ben Mee 3.) Charlie Taylor (Pieters 63’) 7.) Jóhann Guðmundsson (Brady 68’) 18.) Ashley Westwood 8.) Josh Brownhill 11.) Dwight McNeil 27.) Matěj Vydra (Rodriguez 86’) 9.) Chris Wood
Burnley subs: 15.) Bailey Peacock-Farrell 23.) Erik Pieters 34.) Jimmy Dunne 28.) Kevin Long 26.) Phil Bardsley 41.) Josh Benson 16.) Dale Stephens 12.) Robbie Brady 19.) James Rodriguez
Following their narrow escape against Benfica in mid-week, Arsenal entered Sunday’s match with Leicester with a mixture of apprehension and tiredness.
Given the close proximity to Thursday’s match, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was forced to make changes to his side, which saw a drastic and somewhat controversial lineup change.
Cédric Soares came in for the out-of-form Héctor Bellerín, Pablo Marí came in for an absent Gabriel Magalhães, Mohamed Elneny replaced the hapless Dani Ceballos, Willian took the place of Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka was switched out in favour of Nicolas Pépé and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was switched out for Alexandre Lacazette.
Given Arsenal’s poor run of results in the Premier League whenever they follow up a European excursion, Arsenal fans were noticeably apprehensive, but the early signs showed that Arsenal looked to be more in control of the game than Leicester, who had had European exploits of their own to contend with.
However, despite Arsenal’s overall dominance in the early minutes, it was, predictably, Leicester who took the lead. A misunderstanding on the halfway line between Granit Xhaka and Willian allowed exciting Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans to grab the ball. The midfielder began to run unimpeded towards the goal. While Pablo Marí tracked back to cover Jamie Vardy, Mohamed Elneny did the same, leaving Tielemans’ path clear, who fired home a difficult shot which gave the home side the lead.
It was the same kind of lackadaisical defending that Arsenal fans have come to expect down the years and it would have served as no surprise to see Leicester wheeling away in celebration.
Arsenal’s fortunes looked as though they may take a swift upsurge after Tielemans was deemed to have brought Nicolas Pépé down in the penalty area, though a VAR check soon ended hopes of an upsurge as the decision was overturned for a free-kick instead.
Despite the VAR overturning the decision, it was a warning sign to Leicester that Arsenal were going to continue to oppose them and sure enough, Arsenal found themselves back on level terms after Willian’s delightful free-kick found the head of former Chelsea teaate David Luiz who headed home the equaliser.
From there, Arsenal began to really dictate play and it was just before half-time that Pépé’s somewhat hopeful shot smashed into the hand of Wilfried Ndidi. There could be no mistake this time and not even the harshest of VAR assistants could have denied Arsenal a penalty here. The decision was upheld and captain-for-the-day Alexandre Lacazette promptly dispatched it into the left-hand corner, sending Kasper Schmeichel the wrong way.
Half-time was a welcome affair for Leicester and also gave Arsenal time to fully prepare Martin Ødegaard who replaced Emile Smith Rowe just before the break.
The second-half was pretty much more of the same from Arsenal, who really began to take the game to Leicester City. Jamie Vardy, so often the torn in Arsenal’s side and so usually active, was regularly beaten to the punch by Pablo Marí, which gave Arsenal heart.
A Leicester corner led to a swift and devastating Arsenal counter-attack. Granit Xhaka fed Pépé who raced forward and picked out Martin Ødegaard, the Norwegian played through Willian who was able to squeeze a pass through for Pépé who tapped home the final go of the game to deal a hammer-blow to Leicester.
The ret of the match passed without incident except for substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot glancing centimetres wide at the end.
The final whistle blew on a glorious afternoon for Arsenal. It was safe to say that they were far from the favourites before the match and given the hapless way that they had fallen behind so early on, it was a remarkable performance from the team to turn things around.
One of the many bright sparks of the team today was Willian. So often the man who endures groans from the fans watching at home and so very rarely turning in a particularly enjoyable performance, Sunday’s performance was a glimpse of the undoubted quality he still posses. He was quick to every pass, eager to win it back, sharp to notice his teammates and his two assists were a great return for a great performance.
Nicolas Pépé shpuld also be commended for his performance. Though it had looked early on that youngster Luke Thomas had potentially pocketed the Ivory Coast winger, Pépé soon began to grow in confidence and his positive play was enough to win Arsenal the initial but eventually overturned penalty. His goal was a an indictment on the performance he turned in, with the intelligence to pick out Ødegaard and then be in the right place at the right time to receive Willian’s pass.
The whole team can be happy with their performance. It can be tough to keep up such a high press, especially after a near calamity in mid-week, but Arsenal stepped up. The team’s high press and their tendency to “hunt in packs” forced Leicester into some costly errors and often gave Arsenal a glimmer of yet more chances.
Mikel Arteta and his side can enjoy a brief break before their next game, an away trip to Burnley, but they will take comfort from their first win at the King Power Stadium since 2015.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 17.) Cédric Soares 23.) David Luiz 22.) Pablo Marí 3.) Kieran Tierney 34.) Granit Xhaka 25.) Mohamed Elneny (Partey 66’) 12.) Willian 32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Ødegaard 42’) 19.) Nicolas Pépé 9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Aubameyang 84’)
Arsenal subs: 33.) Maty Ryan 16.) Rob Holding 2.) Héctor Bellerín 18.) Thomas Partey 8.) Dani Ceballos 11.) Martin Ødegaard 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 7.) Bukayo Saka 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Leicester City subs: 12.) Danny Ward 18.) Daniel Amartey 46.) Vontae Daley-Campbell 28.) Christian Fuchs 24.) Nampalys Mendy 20.) Hamza Choudhury 50.) Sidnei Tavares 11.) Marc Albrighton 19.) Cengiz Ünder
With their current run of Premier League games looking to be a daunting and worrying run, it seems as though Arsenal may be resigned to putting all of their eggs into the Europa League basket.
While last season proved to be a disappointment following the team’s humiliating 1-2 defeat at home to Olympiacos, Mikel Arteta would be hoping for a better un in the competition this season.
Following Rob Holding’s concussion in the defeat to Manchester City, the England defender was unable to make the trip to Athens for the second-leg of Arsenal’s crucial Round of 32 tie against Benfica. So Mikel Arteta made one or two changes, Holding, Pablo Marí, Mohamed Elneny and Nicolas Pépé were all dropped for David Luiz, Gabriel Magalhães, Dani Ceballos and Emile Smith Rowe respectively.
Arsenal entered the match knowing that a scoreless draw would be more than enough to secure them safe passage into the Round of 16, but any Arsenal fan knew that it would be a fool’s errand not to try and score at least one if the North London club were serious about making it through to the next round of the competition.
Arsenal started brightly, with plenty of possession and a lot of chances being created, none more so than by Martin Ødegaard, who drifted through the defensive line easily and was able to pick out a number of sumptuous passes for his teammates.
Despite the Norwegian’s exquisite passing and dribbling, it was Bukayo Saka who found the creative breakthrough from out of nowhere. The talented teen made his way through the middle of the park and then played a delightful, Mesut Özil-esque pass into the path of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who placed the ball into the far corner of the net with a trademark Aubameyang chip.
It was a glorious start and was surely a sign of more to come. How wrong that proved to be.
Struggling to contain one of Benfica’s rare attacks, Dani Ceballos inadvertently gave away a free-kick in an area just promising enough to cause Arsenal some real issues and, sure enough, up stepped Diogo Gonçalves, who fired an absolute screamer of a free-kick into the back of the net to draw the visitors level.
Half-time beckoned in an Arsenal side that seemed stunned by the setback. How could this be? They had been in total control for near enough 45 minutes and Benfica had barely even troubled them and yet, much like the week before, Arsenal found themselves inexplicably on level terms.
The second-half proved to be even more head-scratchingly strange. Arsenal found themselves ahead for five glorious seconds as Ødegaard’s sumptuous ball through found Aubameyang who rattled the back of the net in the same way he had in the first-half with a delicious chip over the grounded goalkeeper, but VAR deemed that Aubameyang had strayed offside.
A corner from Ødegaard was confidently caught by Alexio Leite, who hit a clearance as straight as an arrow down the middle of the pitch which fell fairly easily towards Dani Ceballos who attempted to head the ball behind him to Bernd Leno, only for the midfielder to sell his companion short as the ball trickled into the path of Rafa Silva who bore down on goal, rounded a frustrated Bernd Leno and outstripped the advances of Héctor Bellerín and Kieran Tierney and fired home into an empty net from close range for Arsenal to find themselves a goal down.
In fairness, it didn’t take long for Arsenal to reply, a good run from substitute Willian saw him able to cut back for left-back Kieran Tierney, who steadied himself, took aim and fired an arrow straight into the bottom far corner to get Arsenal back on level terms on the night, although still trialing by the away goals rule.
Arsenal began to dig deep to find a goal, but try as they might, they seemed unable to really test Benfica further until Bukayo Saka’s tricky feet in the box gave him room to aim and he delivered a dream of a cross to the back post for an onrushing Aubameyang to head home from close-range and give Arsenal a well-deserved lead in dramatic fashion.
Even the subsequent VAR check could do little to tarnish the scenes of jubilation from the players and that feeling was only extended when the final whistle blew a few minutes later.
It was a close run thing, Arsenal qualified by the skin of their teeth and it seemed as though Arsenal’s biggest issues once again were their own.
Héctor Bellerín had spoken in the wake of the defeat to Manchester City about how no team is beating Arsenal, but rather that Arsenal are beating themselves, something that seemed to be echoed in the performance on Thursday night.
Benfica never really looked to be at the races, but three individual errors over the course of the two legs gifted them three goals, with Arsenal needing their usual big hitters to bail them out.
It was an outstanding performance however from young Bukayo Saka. The youngster broke into the team last season and now looks to have usurped Aubameyang and Leno as the first name on the teamsheet. The youngster was everywhere and Benfica seemed unable to get the ball from him, it was as though the ball was velcroed to his feet and his two assists seemed to echo the abilities of the now departed Mesut Özil at his very best.
Another strong performance from Kieran Tierney will have certainly helped as well. The Scottish left-back has endured hell with his injury woes at Arsenal, however, his commitment and abilities can never be questioned, even if his appearance stats can. His goal last night had an air of “I’ll do it myself then” about it and the finish was as emphatic as his celebration afterwards.
Arsenal must now focus on the Premier League, with a trip to the King Power Stadium next up.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 2.) Héctor Bellerín (Lacazette 78’) 23.) David Luiz 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 3.) Kieran Tierney 34.) Granit Xhaka 8.) Dani Ceballos (Partey 63’) 32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Willian 63’) 11.) Martin Ødegaard (Elneny 90’) 7.) Bukayo Saka (Chambers 90’) 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
Arsenal subs: 33.) Maty Ryan 44.) Karl Jakob Hein 22.) Pablo Marí 21.) Calum Chambers 17.) Cédric Soares 25.) Mohamed Elneny 18.) Thomas Partey 12.) Willian 19.) Nicolas Pépé 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 30.) Eddie Nketiah 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Despite Arsenal’s recent upsurge in form, it was of no surprise that Arsenal fans still entered their match against Champions-elect Manchester City with a feeling of apprehension.
Given the re-introduction of the Europa League, fatigue has started to creep in and Arsenal and their players seem unlikely to be able to cope with both a Premier League and European run-in at the same time.
It therefore seemed a somewhat bizarre turn of events to see Mikel Arteta name a damn-near full-strength side for the visit of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Kieran Tierney returned to the side after a prelonged period of absence and Mohamed Elneny stepped in alongside Nicolas Pépé.
Arsenal could not have gotten off to a worse start. No sooner had the whistle blown to kick the game off that Manchester City began to attack with gusto and it was no surprise that after two minutes, City found themselves ahead through a Raheem Sterling header.
It was a hammer-blow for Mikel Arteta and his side. Not only were they coming up against arguably the best attacking outfit in the land, but also one of the sturdiest defences in the league as well.
However, Sterling’s goal had looked like a premature opening of the floodgates for a cavalcade of City attacks, an onslaught that would leave Arsenal begging for the final whistle before half-time, but it proved to be nothing more than a signifier of an anti-climax.
Barely either team created much throughout the game, though Arsenal found themselves in some fairly advanced positions, with Nicolas Pépé rattling the side-netting.
When the final-whistle blew, it seemed to be a disappointing result for both managers. Guardiola will feel that he could have easily had three or four in the opening fifteen minutes alone and Arteta will be questioning how Arsenal failed to pull one. back, especially given that City seemed to regularly secede possession to Arsenal so often.
Despite the defeat, Arsenal couldn’t be too upset with what they had seen. It was always a tall ask to beat Manchester City, especially a Manchester City team as good as this one. The return of Rob Holding had looked to be a poor decision on Arteta’s part in the beginning when he failed to beat the tiny figure of Raheem Sterling in the air, but the defender recovered well from the goal and turned in a fairly impressive performance alongside Pablo Marí.
The performance of Bukayo Saka is so often a high point for Arsenal regardless of the result, and Sunday was no exception. The youngster gave it his all and looked to cause City some real issues, creating chances, attacking with intent and opening up space for Kieran Tierney on the left-hand side.
Arsenal will take some comforts from the defeat and will hope that their performance in Athens on Thursday against Benfica is a more profitable return.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 2.) Héctor Bellerín 16.) Rob Holding (concussion: David Luiz 82′) 22.) Pablo Marí 3.) Kieran Tierney 25.) Mohamed Elneny (Ceballos 86′) 34.) Granit Xhaka 19.) Nicolas Pépé 11.) Martin Ødegaard (Lacazette 73′) 7.) Bukayo Saka 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
Arsenal subs: 33.) Maty Ryan 23.) David Luiz 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 17.) Cédric Soares 8.) Dani Ceballos 12.) Willian 32.) Emile Smith Rowe 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Manchester City team: 33.) Ederson 27.) João Cancelo 3.) Rúben Dias 5.) John Stones 11.) Oleksandr Zinchenko 25.) Fernandinho 8.) İlkay Gündoğan (c) 20.) Bernardo Silva 26.) Riyad Mahrez 17.) Kevin De Bruyne (Gabriel Jesus 63′) 7.) Raheem Sterling
Manchester City subs: 13.) Zack Steffen 14.) America Laporte 2.) Kyle Walker 22.) Benjamin Mendy 16.) Rodri 47.) Phil Foden 21.) Ferran Torres 9.) Gabriel Jesus 10.) Sergio Agüero
Arsenal enjoyed a fairly good January transfer window. Though the club may not have made any money from transfer fees, they managed to shift a lot of proverbial dead wood from the squad and managed to take a huge chunk out of their wage budget at the same time, not least thanks to the sale of Mesut Özil, which cleared a cool £350,000-a-week from the bill and managed to find a temporary solution to their back-up goalkeeper woes with Maty Ryan and solve their creativity issues with the loan of Martin Ødegaard.
But with the summer window approaching, it’s fair to say that there is still plenty of work to be done. Though the most pressing cases such as Özil, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis have been dealt with, there is still a bit more fat to be trimmed.
Some players are out on loan, others out in the cold and others with a seemingly impossible route back into the side.
Name: Calum Chambers Potential fee: £15m Calum Chambers seems to have lived something of a charmed life since joining the club. Signed for £16m from Southampton in 2014, Chambers has played in a variety of positions, namely right-back and central defence, though a promising show at Fulham suggested the possibility of a move to central midfield as well.
Though Chambers has been unlucky with a long-term knee injury, it seems unlikely that the defender will be able to find an easy route back into the team.
Arsenal desperately need some form of cover or competition for Héctor Bellerín, however Chambers has never really suited the position all that well and his path towards starting regularly at centre back is blocked by others as well.
David Luiz and Rob Holding seem to be the preferred candidates on the right side of defence and once William Saliba returns from his loan at Nice, it seems likely that there will be yet another obstacle in Chambers’ way; meanwhile, the left-hand side of defence is usually occupied by summer signing Gabriel Magalhães or by Pablo Marí and Mikel Arteta seems unwilling to play a right-footed player in the position.
Chambers was subject to a £28m bid from Leicester a few seasons ago, but Arsenal resisted the impulse to sell the defender, they may now look to cash in however, unless Chambers is happy to have a back-up role in the squad.
Name: Reiss Nelson Potential fee: £16m The fall of Reiss Nelson in recent months has been a somewhat pitying sight to behold. Once thought to be Arsenal’s homegrown answer to Riyad Mahrez, Nelson’s stock has fallen rather considerably in recent months.
A torrid time under Unai Emery was not aided by the appearance of Nicolas Pépé, who joined in a club-record £72m fee and the emergence of Bukayo Saka, who’s tactical and positional versatility seems to be more in the style of what Arsenal needs right now.
In recent months, Nelson has struggled with several injuries and has also been a victim of a very stacked pecking order. While Pépé’s form has greatly improved, the added complication Emile Smith Rowe being able to play out wide as well have further complicated matters for Nelson.
Though a brilliant and tricky player on his day, his yo-yoing form makes him a likely candidate for a trim in the upcoming summer cuts.
Name: Eddie Nketiah Potential fee: £20m The astonishing thing about Eddie Nketiah, is that he could very easily do a job for a lot of teams in the Premier League, just not for Arsenal.
Nketiah’s main strengths are usually best seen in his ability to press high up the field and for his dogged attitude to chase loose passes, close players down and to scramble for every ball no matter how dead or lost it may look. In fact, this remarkably hardworking attitude has earned him a spot in Mikel Arteta’s good graces and it’s a surprise that he was not considered to be a more valuable asset to Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds when he was on loan there.
Nketiah’s poacher reputation is another key asset for the youngster, but for a team like Arsenal, that already has a potent poacher and goal-threat in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the idea of another is unfeasible.
Indeed, Nketiah’s rather small build and lack of overall body strength makes him an easy target for the burlier Premier League defenders and Nketiah is often buffeted from side-to-side by defenders that are quick to notice his strengths and weaknesses.
Many teams, like Sheffield United or Everton or Championship side Brentford, would do well to sign Nketiah up and Arsenal could likely command a higher fee than normal as he is both homegrown and an academy graduate.
Name: Lucas Torreira Potential fee: £27m The prince that was promised when he made the switch from Sampdoria to North London nearly three years ago. Signed by former Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat in a £26m deal, Lucas Torreira has endured a bit of a hit and miss time with the club.
Though Torreira is strong in the tackle, eager to do the dirty work and has a bit of a meaner shot on him than one might have thought, he has been undone on a number of occasions by mismanagement under Unai Emery, injuries and a passing ability that doesn’t quite inspire the confidence that fans might have had when watching a prime Santi Cazorla strut his stuff.
Torreira has spent this season on loan at Atlético Madrid, who would have preferred to have partnered him with Thomas Partey, however, the latter’s departure in the summer seemingly halted plans. Since then, Torreira has been on the fringes of the side and seems unlikely to displace any of the current midfield.
Rumours swirled in January of offers from Monaco and the summer saw a vested interest in him from Italian side Torino, which would have seen him reunited with former Sampdoria manager Marco Giampaolo, however, since Giampaolo’s sacking, a move there seems unlikely.
Torreira and his agent have been quoted in the press speaking about homesickness and a dislike of the English weather, something that has proved an obstacle for a while now and it would not be surprising if the player were to look to move away in the summer.
Though the idea of him lining up alongside Partey seems like a mouth-watering concept in terms of defensive rigidity, it seems unlikely that Arsenal would opt for such a plan, especially given the current form of Granit Xhaka.
Torreria does not seem to be in Arteta’s plans for the time being and it seems as though Arsenal would rather cut their losses and look elsewhere.
Name: Alexandre Lacazette Potential fee: £10m It has long been known that Alexandre Lacazette was at the top of the Arsenal scouting list for nearly ten years before his purchase in 2017 for £46.5m (then a club record), however, Lacazette has never fully delivered the kind of stats he was averaging at his previous club, Lyon.
Though Lacazette has clearly been a victim of a rather underperforming Arsenal side that is totally shot of confidence, he has also been guilty of a fair amount of poor performances himself.
With Folarian Balogun’s contract the talk of the proverbial town at London Colney, it seems as though Arsenal would prefer to see the youngster remain at the club, but with Lacazette in his way, it may be that Balogun looks elsewhere, which would complicate things for Arsenal.
Though Arteta has spoken often about his willingness to keep Lacazette for a while longer, little to no movement from either side with regards to striking up a conversation about it.
In a normal market, Arsenal would likely be able to command around £30m for Lacazette, however, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that Lacazette is entering the final year or so of his contract, Arsenal may struggle to get more than £10m.
Name: Mattéo Guendouzi Potential fee: £25m Another of Sven Mislintat’s Scoutpanel gems saw Arsenal fans draw a wry smile as it looked a match made in heaven. Mislintat’s penchant for discovering young and unearthed gems, coupled with Arsenal’s enviable history of turning youngsters into superstars, it seemed as though the sky was the limit for Mattéo Guendouzi.
However, it now looks as though Guendouzi’s time at the club is pretty much over. Though the Frenchman displays a remarkable talent, his attitude and behavioural issues both on and off the field have so far proved to be impossible to look past for Mikel Arteta.
Under Unai Emery, Guendouzi was given a huge amount of responsibility and seemed to thrive off the Spaniard’s trust, often partnering Granit Xhaka or Lucas Torreira in midfield. However, a litany of on-field incidents and a number of off-field excursions has seen Guendouzi become a figure many cannot wait to see the back of.
Mikel Arteta’s zero-tolerance policy has seen Guendouzi utterly frozen out and given Arteta’s stance of cutting his nose to spite his face, it came as no surprise to see that Guendouzi was hastily loaned out to Hertha Berlin.
The signs of Guendouzi on loan have been mixed, much like his time at Arsenal and though Mikel Arteta has spoken openly of wanting to welcome Guendouzi back into the fold, it would not be a surprise to see the French midfielder leave in the summer.
Name: Joe Willock Potential fee: £18m If you had suggested six months or so ago, the idea of Joe Willock departing the club, most would have called you mad, and indeed, who can argue with his output? In Arsenal’s Europa League campaign, Willock was on fire with three goals and three assists in the competition.
However, the youngster has failed to make much of an impact in the league. With Mohamed Elneny & Dani Ceballos’ yo-yoing form, Thomas Partey’s injury woes and Granit Xhaka’s disappointing earlier campaign form, it seemed as though it would only be a matter of time before Willock was given his chance to impress.
However, Willock has not since delivered in the league, where the competition is notably higher than in the Europa League. Willock has largely been reduced to substitute appearances and though it’s always special to see an academy graduate represent the club at senior level, there is something of a glum resignation that very little will happen when Willock is introduced, a feeling replicated with teammate Willian as well.
Willock is currently on loan at Newcastle United, where he had an instant impact, scoring on his debut, however, it looks unlikely that Willock will make the mark at Arsenal. Talented though he clearly is, it is clear that he, like Nketiah, lacks the physicality required to make it at a top Premier League club and with Arsenal keen to strengthen their creative outlets in the summer, Willock could be a casuality.
Name: Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson Potential fee: Loan or £5m It is unlikely that Arsenal are prepared to cut their losses entirely on Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson, who joined the club from Dijon in the summer.
Rúnarsson was always seen as a third-choice goalkeeper as the club chased Brentford’s David Raya, however, after their pursuit of Raya failed, Rúnarsson was the only keeper brought in in the wake of Emiliano Martínez’s departure to Aston Villa.
Some rather forgettable performances have been enough to outshine the one or two promising games he has had along the way and it is clear that Rúnarsson needs more game time if he is to improve.
It is more likely that Arsenal would look to secure a loan deal for Rúnarsson in the summer rather than to outright sell him, however, if an offer of around £5m were to come in, Arsenal could be sorely tempted, especially if their pursuit of David Raya comes off in the summer.
Name: Konstantinos Mavropanos Potential fee: £6m Konstantinos Mavropanos was the first signing the club made with Sven Mislintat at the helm. Signed from Greek side PAS PAS Giannina, Mavropanos managed to break into Arsène Wenger’s first-team plans fairly quickly, however, since then, it seems as though Mavropanos has been reduced to an afterthought by the club.
With William Saliba returning from loan at Nice in the summer and the standout performances of Rob Holding, it’s difficult to see where, if at all, Mavropanos would fit in.
Arsenal are keen to add another central defender to their ranks in the summer, which would further complicate matters for Mavropanos, who has not set the world on fire on his disrupted loans in Germany.
Mikel Arteta has had very little to say about Mavropanos in his time at Arsenal, it seems as though Arsenal may be tempted to cut their losses and bring a more experienced central defender in instead.
There will likely be other players that will be in the club’s thoughts when the summer window rolls around, but these seem to be the most likely candidates to leave should the opportunity arise in the summer.
With the merciless ways that Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Özil, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have all left the club, it would be a foolish person who would think that trimming the fat at a potential loss is above Arsenal, especially with Technical Director Edu, under increasing pressure to deliver quality reinforcements for Mikel Arteta for next season.
If that attitude was hinted at with his selection, it was reflected too in the performance of the team.
Arsenal started well, creating chances and keeping Benfica at bay. Benfica struggled to contain the midfield, which allowed Arsenal to push forward more often. Following his side’s defeat on Sunday, Marcelo Bielsa simply stated that his team failed to keep Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos quiet, something Benfica failed to do as well.
Xhaka was not the main man that Benfica needed to worry about, it was Ceballos, who was carving open the Portuguese side with indifferent ease, his passes reaching Héctor Bellerín and Bukayo Saka far too easily and it was from these positions that Arsenal were at their most dangerous.
Arsenal were carving open Benfica with relative ease and it seemed certain that they would take a well-deserved lead, when Bellerín laid a beautiful cross along the floor of the six-yard area to fall to the feet of the in-form Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, fresh off his first-ever Premier League hat-trick, only for the talismanic striker to miss. It seemed a cert that he would score and it also seemed easier to score it than miss it.
Arsenal had plenty of other chances, but the main issue seemed to rise from the forward line’s seeming inability to remain onside. Bukayo Saka, Aubameyang and Emile Smith Rowe were the guilty parties more often than most and while seemed a little bit harsh, it killed a lot of the momentum going forward against a somewhat hapless Benfica defence.
It was remarkable that Arsenal reached half-time at 0-0 and it seemed as though Benfica had been hoping for such an event, as they implemented the attacking part of their gameplan in the second-half. Though Benfica rarely troubled Arsenal beyond a decent save from Bernd Leno, they inadvertently found themselves on the receiving end of a very harsh penalty decision.
Emile Smith Rowe’s handball in the box was verified by VAR, but the decision seemed to penalise Smith Rowe for something he had little-to-no control over. A stray ricochet from his chest onto his arm meant that Benfica were given the chance to take the lead, which they dutifully did as Pizzi’s effort creeped past Leno to give Benfica an early advantage.
It didn’t take long for Arsenal to respond however. Though not a terrific sign that Arsenal only really clicked into gear in the final-third when they had conceded, it was a very well worked goal.
A brilliant pass from the excellent Martin Ødegaard found Cédric Soares unmarked in the box, who squared it for Saka, who promptly finished to give Arsenal an equaliser and an all-important away goal.
From there, Arsenal had one or two other chances, but otherwise failed to create much more and it was with a dissapointing air that the final whistle sounded.
Despite conceding a penalty, it was a sound defensive performance from Arsenal, especially from Brazilian duo David Luiz and Gabriel Magalhães, who managed to keep most of Benfica’s main attempts at bay fairly easily. Their long balls over the top were often the main source of creativity in the team for a while, allowing Smith Rowe and Saka to build up on the flanks, while Ødegaard and Aubameyang crowded the box.
The performance of Martin Ødegaard will surely turn some heads too. The Norwegian youngster was unlucky not to impact the game more, as Arsenal seemed to usurp him whenever they were going forward, not least in the form of Bellerín, who seemed unwilling to pass to the midfielder, despite the acres of space for him to run into and the excellent runs he had made.
Nevertheless, when he was on the ball, he looked every bit the exciting creative talisman that Arsenal have so craved. His passes were deftly woven, perfectly weighted and easy for the attacker to take in their stride and he seemed totally at ease when dribbling at Benfica’s rather error-prone defence. Though it will likely be said until everyone is sick of it, there was a touch of Mesut Özil about Ødegaard and the comparisons between the two are far beyond the fact that they share the same initials and both came to Arsenal from a Real Madrid side that considered them surplus to requirements.
A lack of sharpness in the final-third (not least from Aubameyang), is all that stood between Arsenal and a potential thrashing, but an away goal is certainly an important take-home as Arsenal leave their COVID-enforced away leg in Rome, to take on Manchester City on Sunday, followed by the return leg in Athens; Mikel Arteta will be hoping for a more exciting attacking display from his side in both matches.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 2.) Héctor Bellerín 23.) David Luiz 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 17.) Cédric Soares (Tierney 64’) 34.) Granit Xhaka 8.) Dani Ceballos (Elneny 90’) 32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Martinelli 77’) 11.) Martin Ødegaard (Willian 90’) 7.) Bukayo Saka 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Pépé 77’)
Arsenal subs: 33.) Maty Ryan 44.) Karl Jakob Hein 16.) Rob Holding 22.) Pablo Marí 21.) Calum Chambers 3.) Kieran Tierney 25.) Mohamed Elneny 12.) Willian 19.) Nicolas Pépé 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 30.) Eddie Nketiah 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
While Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff will be focusing all their efforts on the forthcoming tie with Benfica and trying to manage their rather turbulent run of fixtures, behind the scenes, Technical Director Edu will be looking to the recruitment side of things.
While Arsenal have managed to shift an impressive £700,000-a-week off their wage bill, there will still likely be departures from the senior squad to accommodate some new blood.
But what exactly do Arsenal need in the upcoming summer window?
Back-up goalkeeper Arsenal spent most of the 2020 summer transfer window chasing Brentford goalkeeper David Raya, however, Brentford’s unwillingness to sell forced Arsenal to look elsewhere.
The Iceland international’s time at Arsenal has not been the calamity that many on social media have professed it to be, however, it has not been a roaring success either. Some decent showings in the Europa League have been usurped by a calamitous performance at home to Manchester City in the League Cup, in which the goalkeeper looked increasingly frail with each shot on target the visitors had.
It seems as though Rúnarsson was always preferred as a third-choice goalkeeper, specifically to take over the mantle from Matt Macey, who looks unlikely to remain at Arsenal much longer.
It seems as though Raya will continue to be Arsenal’s long-term target (another recommendation from Pavón), however, Brentford are unlikely to entertain offers before the summer, especially given their promotion push.
It is unlikely that Raya is Arsenal’s only target, however, other targets have not been mentioned in the press, though this seems to be a position fairly low down on Arsenal’s priority list.
It is possible that Arsenal will look to make Maty Ryan’s loan move from Brighton a permanent deal, but it depends on the Australian’s cost and his performances for the club before the end of the season.
Right-back cover Héctor Bellerín seems undroppable under Arteta thus far, regardless of his form and though the recent resurgence in form of Cédric Soares has given Arteta something of a selection headache, it seems unlikely that Cédric is seen as the ideal right-back cover for the long-term, despite his whopping four-year deal.
Arsenal do have the exciting Jordi Osei-Tutu (currently on loan at Cardiff City) to consider for the position, however, given that he has yet to make a single appearance for the senior side, it seems Arsenal may look elsewhere.
In terms of internal solutions, both Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Calum Chambers look unlikely to survive the prophesied harrying of the Arsenal squad this summer. Chambers has yet to make an appearance for the club since returning from his most recent injury and Maitland-Niles seems to see his future in the middle of the park, rather than in defence, something that proved to be a point of contention with both Arsène Wenger and Unai Emery as well.
Again, potential targets have been scarce, but there are plenty of youngsters in and around Europe who are likely to catch the eye of the Arsenal recruitment team.
Emerson at Real Betis has impressed so far this season, as has Celtic’s Jeremie Frimpong, while Barcelona’s Sergiño Dest is also likely to have a number of suitors, especially given the Spanish club’s precarious financial position. Another option could present itself in the form of Tariq Lamptey at Brighton & Hove Albion, who seem resigned to lose the talented youngster, amid interest from abroad and domestically and Lamptey seemingly keen on a potential move.
It has also been noted of Arsenal’s interest in Achraf Hakimi, at Inter Milan, with Arsenal seemingly interested in a potential £40m deal for the defender in the summer, however, the payment structure caused significant issues with Arsenal’s COVID-affected budget and the player moved to Inter; despite this, Arsenal still hold him in high regard.
Left-back cover The recent performances of Kieran Tierney have certainly paid credence to the idea that Arsenal have arguably one of, if not the best left-back in the Premier League, however, despite the Scotland international’s spectacular form, Arsenal are in dire need of cover.
Targets for the position will likely be high-priority in the summer, with Arsenal keen to rectify the issue in the January window, though no moves materialised. Though Crystal Palace’s Patrick van Aanholt and Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand were discussed as temporary solutions in the aforementioned January window, neither were ever under serious consideration.
Several other names have been mentioned in the press since the January window closed, with Hibernian’s Josh Doig and Genoa’s Luca Pellegrini both reportedly of interest to the scouting team. Other potential targets include Bologna’s Aaron Hickey, who has impressed most of Europe and Norwich’s Max Aarons, who was very close to joining Liverpool in the summer.
Creative midfielder A creative midfielder has been on the agenda at Arsenal for a while, with the summer window seeing Arsenal come within a hair’s breadth of signing Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar, however, Lyon were unwilling to play ball and Arsenal were unwilling to match the French club’s £60m price tag.
Since then, a number of names have been mentioned in the press, such as Julian Brandt, Emiliano Buendía, Dominik Szoboszlai and Christian Eriksen, though it seems as though Arsenal are scouting other targets besides these.
Following the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe into the starting eleven in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Chelsea, it seems as though Arsenal do have a ready-made creative midfielder to come in and inject some much needed creativity. He along with Bukayo Saka, have not only introduced some much needed flair and creativity but also served as a testament to the amazing work that Per Mertesacker is currently doing with the Hale End academy.
Ødegaard’s potential mesmeric form notwithstanding, Arsenal will likely still look to add a creative midfielder to their ranks in the summer window alongside him. It seems that Arsenal have cooled their interest in Aouar and a move for Brandt seems unlikely, though a move Buendía could be in the offing, with Arsenal long-term admirers of the Argentinian’s profile.
Striker The future of Alexandre Lacazette remains uncertain. While Mikel Arteta has intermitted that he would like to keep the Frenchman at the club in the long-run, it seems that many behind the scenes are not as convinced that Lacazette cannot fulfil the role that Arteta has ear-marked for him.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has struggled for form this season, but given Aubameyang’s history and excellent returns, not to mention his captain status, make it unlikely that Arsenal will look to replace him anytime soon.
As for Eddie Nketiah, its a struggle to see just where the England striker fits in at the club at the moment. Neither Lacazette or Aubameyang seem to be squandering the chances that they are given by Arteta at the moment and the youngster seems to lack the physicality needed for the Premier League.
The future of Folarian Balogun is still a very touchy subject around London Colney, with the youngster still yet to put pen to paper on a brand new deal, but the youngster could find first-team opportunities easier to come by next season, if his long-term future is tied down.
As for potential incomings, it has long been rumoured that Arsenal hold a vested interest in Celtic forward Odsonne Édouard, as well as Lille striker Jonathan David, both of which seem to fit the bill of a pressing forward and would likely be available for a reasonable sum.
Top quality strikers maybe difficult for Arsenal to come across in the long-run, especially since most of Europe’s most coveted strikers are tied down to long-term deals. Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Håland has a release clause in his contract that will activate soon, but more attractive clubs are circling the in-form striker. Meanwhile, Rodrygo at Real Madrid and Francisco Trincão at Barcelona could prove to be useful back-ups.
It remains to be seen as to what Arsenal’s summer business will look like. Since the departure of Arsène Wenger, the issue of attracting top players has seemed like something of a non-issue, especially since the club have managed to convince Nicolas Pépé, Gabriel Magalhães, Willian, Gabriel Martinelli and Thomas Partey to join the club despite better offers from elsewhere.
Whether it is a marquee signing or a more financially-efficient solution also remains to be seen, but whomever Arsenal pick, needs to pick Arteta’s dream of a fluid 4-3-3 and must be used to a high pressing game, given how far up the field Arsenal like to press.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds have one of the most popular teams to watch in the Premier League this season. The games are usually high-scoring, the scoreline’s enthralling and football dazzling. Despite this, Arsenal showed no signs of trepidation as they entered Sunday evening’s match.
With injuries to Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney, Dani Ceballos and Cédric Soares were brought in to cover, meanwhile Bernd Leno and David Luiz returned to the side following their red cards in the defeat to Wolves.
It can be difficult for managers figuring out how to defeat Leeds. While their defence leaves a lot to be desired, last year’s Championship winners have more than enough quality in their attack to punish any team that dare commit too many men forward.
Despite this, Arsenal came out of the blocks all guns blazing. The creativity overload of Martin Ødegaard and Emile Smith Rowe definitely aided Arsenal’s attack, with the supplementary silkiness of Bukayo Saka.
It didn’t take long for Arsenal’s hard-work to pay off. The runs of Ødegaard and Smith Rowe created space for Granit Xhaka’s slide-rule pass into the feet of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who’s silky step-overs and body-feints were enough to bamboozle former-Gunner Luke Ayling and the former Borussia Dortmund hitman rattled the back of the net in emphatic fashion to give the Gunners a well-deserved lead.
It wouldn’t be an Arsenal game if there wasn’t some kind of controversy however and sure enough VAR supplied some. After Liam Cooper brought down Saka in the penalty area, Stuart Atwell immediately pointed to the spot without a second’s hesitation, however, VAR assistant Andre Marriner told the referee to check the incident out on the VAR screen. The decision was remarkably overturned. Given David Luiz’s incident only two weeks previously, it seemed an unnecessarily harsh decision on Saka.
Arsenal didn’t have to wait long to get their penalty however. Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier failed to clear his lines and in a desperate attempt to keep the ball away from the high-pressing Saka, brought the youngster down in the penalty area and this time, there was no mistake at all and Aubameyang dutifully dispatched from twelve-yards to double the home side’s lead.
Arsenal continued to attack before the half was out and after some silky footwork in the penalty area from Dani Ceballos, the Spaniard was able to dink the ball throigh the legs of the defender for Héctor Bellerín, who took a touch seemingly too far outwide, only for the right-back to thump home Arsenal’s third.
Half-time was a welcome occurrence for Leeds as displayed in their two changes at half-time, but for Arsenal, it was an unnecessary distraction.
Not that their performance stuttered, barely two minutes after the interval, Aubameyang rounded off his hat-trick when Emile Smith Rowe’s shot-cum-cross found Aubameyang at the far-post who headed home in style.
From then on, Leeds soon found their way back into the game. A thumping header from Pascal Struijk from a corner and a beautifully worked finish from substitute Hélder Costa where enough to invoke ripples of fear from a fanbase that has seen Arsenal throw away similar leads to this one before, but the final whistle blew on a 4-2 victory for Arsenal.
It was a superb performance from Arsenal, despite conceding two goals. A hat-trick for a talismanic captain who has been in need of some form for a while now is always a welcome addition, but the defensive solidity of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos aided matters a lot too.
Mikel Arteta seemed to take a leaf from Pep Guardiola’s book as well; Arsenal seemed to play with a false-nine, but with them rotating. One minute it was Aubameyang, the next Saka and the next it was Smith Rowe or Ødegaard and Leeds seemingly had no way to block it.
The movement of the Arsenal forward-line was backed-up by the remarkably press-resistant midfield pivot of Ceballos and Xhaka. Though the two have come under fire for their lackadaisical passing or inability to beat the press of anyone who comes near them, they coped with Leeds remarkably well.
Many have put Xhaka’s recent resurgence in form down to the added cover of Thomas Partey, however, with the Ghanian missing against Leeds, he seemed to cope just fine.
It seems strange to have too many negative critiques from a game in which Arsenal won fairly comfortably, but the performance of substitute Willian was fairly close to taking the sheen off of a fairly immaculate performance.
The Brazilian seems to be on a completely different page to his teammates and his inability to track back or to dribble with the ball begs the question as to why Arteta insists on introducing him every game.
Willian seems to be on another planet entirely and though his lovely ball through for Saka in the second-half showed the vision he has, it’s worrying that he doesn’t use it more. Outside of that one incident, the former Chelsea man lost the ball the same amount in just under half an hour of play than Emile Smith Rowe (the man he replaced) managed in 62 minutes, a truly worrying statistic and seemingly emblematic of the poor performances Willian seems to churn out every week.
The attention now turns to the return of the Europa League, as Arsenal face-off against Benfica in their Round of 32 first-leg.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 2.) Héctor Bellerín 23.) David Luis 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 17.) Cédric Soares 34.) Granit Xhaka 8.) Dani Ceballos (Holding 89’) 32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Willian 62’) 11.) Martin Ødegaard (Elneny 78’) 7.) Bukayo Saka 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
Arsenal subs: 33.) Maty Ryan 16.) Rob Holding 22.) Pablo Marí 21.) Calum Chambers 25.) Mohamed Elneny 12.) Willian 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 19.) Nicolas Pépé 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Leeds United team: 1.) Ilan Meslier 46.) Jamie Shackleton 2.) Luke Ayling 6.) Liam Cooper (c) 10.) Ezgjan Alioski (Huggins 53’) 21.) Pascal Struijk 18.) Raphina 15.) Stuart Dallas 43.) Mateusz Klich (Roberts 45’) 22.) Jack Harrison (Hélder Costa 45’) 9.) Patrick Bamford
Leeds United subs: 13.) Kiko Casilla 24.) Leif Davis 35.) Charlie Cresswell 52.) Niall Huggins 47.) Jack Jenkins 17.) Hélder Costa 19.) Pablo Hernández 30.) Joe Gelhardt 11.) Tyler Roberts
An embarrassing performance at the Emirates Stadium back in November gave Aston Villa a well deserved victory, but given Arsenal’s recent run of form (their game against Wolverhampton Wanderers notwithstanding), Arsenal had every right to be confident about securing revenge against the boys from Birmingham.
Following the unceremonious dismissals of David Luiz and Bernd Leno respectively against Wolves, Maty Ryan was called into make his Arsenal debut and Gabriel Magalhães was recalled to the side alongside him.
The game did not start well. Within the opening two minutes Aston Villa found themselves in front. A bit of dawdling on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area from left-back fill-in Cédric Soares allowed Bertrand Traoré loose and the winger square the ball for Ollie Watkins, whose shot took a deflection off Rob Holding to take it away from Maty Ryan and bounced into the back of the Arsenal net.
It was a hammer blow. Going 1-0 down can be a tough pill to swallow even at the best of times, but going 1-0 down away to a side in the form Aston Villa are in within two minutes os damn near suicide.
Arsenal created a few avenues to exploit Villa, but the final ball was all that was lacking. Aston Villa soon seemed to realise that Bukayo Saka would likely be Arsenal’s main danger man and so targeted him so as to break up Arsenal’s play.
For the most part, this tactic seemed to work. Saka is something of a pacemaker in the Arsenal side and the constant breaking up of fouls broke the team’s rhythm. The tactic almost backfired hiwever when Granit Xhaka’s superb free-kick was expertly kept out by former-Gunner, Emiliano Martínez.
The second half was a far more creative showing from both sides. Villa had sat back after their goal, but in the second-half they seemed more willing to attack, forcing Maty Ryan into some superb saves.
From Arsenal’s perspective, there were a few opportunities to draw level, mainly through the high number of chances the team created. A possible penalty incident that was missed by VAR in which Alexandre Lacazette was tugged down by Martínez summed up Arsenal’s afternoon however, and the final whistle blowing brought an end to a cruel afternoon for the North Londoners.
Despite the result on the board, the performance was something far more impressive than Arsenal fans are used to seeing from the team. Despite going 1-0 down, Arsenal did not let their heads go down, but instead strived to be better and create openings for a route back into the game.
The introduction of Martin Ødegaard seemed to bolster Arsenal’s attacking credentials. A guilt-edged miss at the end of the game will likely play on his mind for a while, but his performance elevated the team around him, even Emile Smith Rowe, who was himself already experiencing a very good game of his own.
The tactical switch-up following Ødegaard’s introduction was a fascinating sight to behold as Emile Smith Rowe moved out to the wing and Granit Xhaka, Bukayo Saka and Willian all seemed to occupy the left-hand side, with Ødegaard given the license to drift out wide where needed.
All in all, it was a dissapointing result for Arsenal, but they can take comfort from the performance, which was definitely a step in the right direction.
Arsenal team: 33.) Maty Ryan 2.) Héctor Bellerín (c) 16.) Rob Holding 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 17.) Cédric Soares (Ødegaard 65’) 34.) Granit Xhaka 18.) Thomas Partey (Willian 74’) 19.) Nicolas Pépé 7.) Bukayo Saka 32.) Emile Smith Rowe 9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Aubameyang 59’)
Arsenal subs: 13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson 21.) Calum Chambers 22.) Pablo Marí 25.) Mohamed Elneny 8.) Dani Ceballos 12.) Willian 11.) Martin Ødegaard 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Aston Villa team: 26.) Emiliano Martínez 2.) Matty Cash 4.) Ezri Konsa 5.) Tyrone Mings 18.) Matthew Targett 7.) John McGinn 19.) Marvelous Nakamba 15.) Bertrand Traoré 20.) Ross Barkley 10.) Jack Grealish (c) 11.) Ollie Watkins
Aston Villa subs: 1.) Tom Heaton 27.) Ahmed Elmohamady 22.) Björn Engles 6.) Douglas Luiz 21.) Anwar El Ghazi 17.) Trézéguet 41.) Jacob Ramsey 25.) Morgan Sanson 39.) Keinan Davies
With recent results starting to look ever more promising for Arsenal, it is not entirely unsurprising to see Arsenal fans walk with a spring in their step recently.
Wins over Brighton & Hove Albion, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United and Southampton and a draw against Manchester United, seem to have given the team a new lease on life, not least because of the continued rise of young Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka.
It therefore came as no surprise to see Arsenal taking their match against Wolves by the scruff of the neck right from the off. A fabulous through-ball from Thomas Partey to Bukayo Saka gave everyone an indication of how Arsenal intended to play, attacking with style. Though Saka’s effort rattled off the post, it was one of many danger signs for the home side.
Saka was one of Arsenal’s most lethal attackers and even had the ball in the back of the net, only for it to be ruled out due to VAR. From there, Arsenal continued to dominate Wolves.
Eventually, the deadlock was broken. Wonderful footwork from the resurged Nicolas Pépé saw him break into the Wolves box only to then lash a stunning shot into the far corner with his weaker right foot to give the away side the lead.
From there, it was one-way traffic until…disaster struck. Right on the stroke of half-time, David Luiz brought down Willian José in the penalty area and was immediately dismissed. It was a huge blow to the team, not least because they were now facing the prospect of heading into half-time all-square.
The penalty decision itself looked very harsh and Luiz’s dismissal was particularly unfair, given that the Brazilian had not even attempted to tackle the striker. It was therefore no surprise whatsoever to see Rúben Neves rifile home the equaliser as the half-time whistle blew.
The second-half saw Arsenal forced into a defensive change as Alexandre Lacazette was replaced by Gabriel Magalhães to cover Luiz’s absence. Arsenal struggled to gain much more of a foothold and, inevitably, Wolves took the lead, this time throigh an absolute screamer from João Moutinho. Five goalkeepers wouldn’t have kept it out, but it was pretty much the final nail in the coffin for Arsenal, who looked distinctly unlikely to score now.
However, if Arsenal fans thought that that was the end of the misery, they were sadly mistaken. A moment of madness from the usually reliable and heroic Bernd Leno saw the German goalkeeper leave his penalty area and attempt to head the ball out of play, only for the ball to hit his hand. An instant dismissal and Mikel Arteta saw his team go down to nine men and was forced into the substitution of Thomas Partey being withdrawn for Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson.
Thankfully, the final whistle blew without Arsenal conceding anymore, but with a sour taste in the mouth.
It was a particularly frustrating result to take for Arsenal fans. The first-half had been a display of rich attacking football, with intricate passing play, players playing with full confidence and a team that looked capable of replicating a similar scoreline to Manchester United’s recent 9-0 hammering of Southampton. The first red card killed the momentum, the second killed the game.
The first red card still seems an insanely harsh decision, not least because no foul had been committed. Willian José seemed to have hit his own foot into David Luiz’s knee and was given a penalty for it. Though the penalty decision itself seemed a little harsh, it was at least understandable, however, the subsequent red card was distinctly unfair. It is therefore no surprise that Mikel Arteta and his staff will be appealing the decision.
The second red card was a moment of pure insanity from Leno. Its clear that the former Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper had not intended to use his hand or to commit any sort of foul, however, a mis-timed header in the pouring rain is always a dangerous combination and the goalkeeper paid the price for it.
However, the continued good form of Nicolas Pépé will certainly be a glimmer of hope with which to cling onto. The Ivorian winger was keen to do the defensive dirty-work as much as the attacking and though Pépé was substituted in the 61st minute, it was more down to Arsenal’s one-man disadvantage than anything else.
Despite the glimmers of hope in Pépé or Partey or Saka or Smith Rowe or even Rob Holding, Arsenal fans will likely want to try and forget this game as soon as possible and honestly, who can blame them?
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 🔴 2.) Héctor Bellerín (c) 16.) Rob Holding 23.) David Luiz 🔴 17.) Cédric Soares 34.) Granit Xhaka 18.) Thomas Partey (Rúnarsson 74’) 19.) Nicolas Pépé (Aubameyang 61’) 7.) Bukayo Saka 32.) Emile Smith Rowe 9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Gabriel Magalhães 45’)
Arsenal subs: 13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 21.) Calum Chambers 25.) Mohamed Elneny 8.) Dani Ceballos 12.) Willian 11.) Martin Ødegaard 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Wolverhampton Wanderers team: 11.) Rui Patricío 22.) Nélson Semedo 16.) Conor Coady (c) 15.) Wilfried Boly 49.) Max Kilman 8.) Rúben Neves (Dendoncker 74’) 28.) João Moutinho 37.) Adama Traoré 10.) Daniel Podence (Vitinha 62’) 7.) Pedro Neto 12.) Willian José (Fábio Silva 91’)
Wolverhampton Wanderers subs: 21.) John Ruddy 2.) Ki-Jana Hoever 42.) Lewis Richards 54.) Owen Otasowie 32.) Leander Dendoncker 18.) Morgan Gibbs-White 20.) Vitinha 17.) Fábio Silva