Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team Match Reports Uncategorized

Slavia Prague 0-4 Arsenal: Europa League – 15/04/2021

Given the nightmare of their first-leg performance against Slavia Prague, Arsenal entered their second-leg tie with a feeling of foreboding. Thursday night was a must-win game and anything other than a win (or a high-scoring draw) would result in elimination.

This was a particularly daunting task as Slavia Prague had not lost at home since 2019 and have been one of the toughest nuts to crack for most of the teams they’ve played.

This, however, did not seem to unsettle Arsenal as much as one would have thought it would. Arsenal’s mentality in recent months has been under harsh criticism as the team has slumped to defeat to draw to another loss without a second’s thought.

Thursday night, therefore, provided something of a rest-bite from the usual mentality, as Arsenal came flying out of the gate.

Fresh off the back of their 0-3 demolition of Sheffield United, Arsenal attacked with the same gusto that had served them so well on Sunday. Emile Smith Rowe actually had the ball in the back of the net before a lengthy VAR check deemed the goal to be offside.

This did not deter Arsenal though. The team seemed to take the decision as a great personal insult and began to attack Slavia with everything they had.

It didn’t take long for Arsenal to get the game where they wanted it. A mazy run through the defence from Emile Smith Rowe allowed him to play in Nicolas Pépé, who dinked a cute finish over the goalkeeper to grab his second goal of the tie and give Arsenal a deserved lead.

Nicolas Pépé gives Arsenal a deserved lead.

But Arsenal weren’t resting on their laurels, as Smith Rowe picked out Saka in the penalty area, only for the England youngster to be brought down in the box by Jakub Hromada for a penalty, which was promptly dispatched by captain Alexandre Lacazette.

Arsenal looked dangerous with every single attack and whatever hopes Slavia Prague had of saving the tie were quickly extinguished as Arsenal added a third right before half-time, with an excellent run from Saka, who shifted the ball onto his favoured left-foot and smashed it in the bottom corner to put the game beyond doubt.

Much like against Sheffield United, Arsenal hadn’t really wanted half-time to come! The second-half was a bit of a staler affair for both sides. Slavia failed to really put a dent on Arsenal and Arsenal were happy to sit back and enjoy their 0-3 advantage.

However, it didn’t mean that Arsenal wouldn’t attempt to attack where possible, soon enough, Granit Xhaka’s excellent through-ball found Nicolas Pépé, who squared the ball to Lacazette, who had all the time in the world to shift the ball past two defenders and smash the ball into the net with his weaker foot to well and truly kill the game off.

The final-whistle was certainly a welcome affair for Slavia, but for Arsenal, it signified a job well done.

It was a fantastic team performance, but there were a number of individual standouts, not least from Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, the latter of which was unlucky not to find himself with a goal to his name.

The two Hale End graduates were at the heart of everything that was great about Arsenal and their attack. Slavia simply couldn’t handle the blistering pace of the counter attack or their quick feet! Smith Rowe and Saka seem to have developed something of a shorthand in their play, as was also evidenced when Arsenal beat West Brom 0-4. The duo were simply unstoppable and Saka seems to be asking questions of England manager Gareth Southgate as to whether or not he will be on the plane for the EUROs in the summer.

Arsenal celebrate.

It was another brilliant performance from Pablo Marí as well. While Granit Xhaka’s composed performance at left-back, Calum Chambers’ strong performance on the right flank and Rob Holding’s aggressive tackles will likely recieve the plaudits, Marí’s performance was one that will fly under the radar.

Holding seems to thrive on a good-cop-bad-cop dynamic, something that worked excellently when he snuffed out Diego Costa in the 2017 FA Cup final and he seemed to thrive off it with Marí too. Marí was cool, calm and composed and played out from the back with total ease and was happy to clear up his teammate’s messes (not that there were too many of those).

And last, but by no means least, Alexandre Lacazette. It ever there was a captain’s performance from an Arsenal player, it was this one. It was the sort of performance that typified all that is great and all there is to love about Lacazette. The Frenchman was at the heart of the attacking moves Arsenal strung together. He was strong in the tackle and his dogged determinedness to win the ball at all costs was essential to the victory and a nice fix for him after a disastrous first-leg performance. Lacazette’s stance of taking the knee in the face of racism, staring down the opposition without a flicker of fear in his eyes is worth more than a 100 goals.

Next up for Arsenal is Fulham, then Everton and then it’s a trip to the Estadio de la Cerámica, for a match-up against former manager Unai Emery, who will almost certainly be out to prove a point as he looks to win yet another Europa League.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey (Cédric Soares 79’)
  8.) Dani Ceballos
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Martinelli 79’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Smith Rowe 67’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé (Balogun 88’)
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Nketiah 79’)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
45.) James Hillson
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
66.) Miguel Azeez
12.) Willian
24.) Reiss Nelson
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
38.) Folarian Balogun

Slavia Prague team:
  1.) Ondřej Kolář
  5.) Alexander Bah (Višinský 45′)
  3.) Tomáš Holeš
  6.) David Zima
18.) Jan Bořil (c) (Dorley 45′)
  7.) Nicolae Stanciu (Lingr 45′)
25.) Jakub Hromada (Masopust 45′)
17.) Lukáš Provod
23.) Petr Ševčík
16.) Jan Kutcha (Tecl 71′)
  9.) Peter Olayinka

Slavia Prague subs:
13.) Jan Stejskal
31.) Přemsyl Kovář
32.) Ondrej Lingr
27.) Ibrahim Traoré
19.) Oscar Dorley
41.) Denis Višinský
28.) Lukáš Masopust
12.) Abdallah Sima
11.) Stanislav Tecl

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

Sheffield United 0-3 Arsenal: 11/04/2021

Following a disappointing draw in the Europa League, Arsenal are staring down the barrel of yet another season without European football. That coupled with injuries to key players Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Emile Smith Rowe, David Luiz, Kieran Tierney and Martin Ødegaard, Arsenal fans could be excused for thinking that luck is very much against them at the moment.

However, a trip to Sheffield United was a good chance to right the wrongs of Thursday night and to get back to winning ways, given Sheffield United’s position and being on course for one of the worst finishes ever seen in a Premier League relegation scrap.

Arsenal started the game at a thunderous pace. The selection of Gabriel Martinelli seemed to pay dividends early on as Arsenal began to attack with real gusto, the Brazilian coming close on a number of occasions.

The freedom of Bukayo Saka in the middle of the park seemed to really open up Arsenal creatively, who were able to expand the play to the flanks with relative ease.

It was totally unsurprising (which is in itself surprising) to see Arsenal take the lead early on. Excellent work from Saka in the middle of the park, saw him link up well with Thomas Partey and Dani Ceballos, who’s backheeled pass found its way into Alexandre Lacazette’s path, who promptly curled the ball into the far corner to give Arsenal the lead.

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates giving Arsenal a well-deserved lead.

It was a goal with class written all over it and with the sort of creative flair that Arsène Wenger would have been proud of.

It was therefore surprising to see half-time beckon with Arsenal only a goal to the good. Arsenal had been putting Sheffield to the sword all half and were perhaps unlucky not to be two or three up.

The second-half saw a more improved performance from Sheffield United, who began to start creating chances, but they were still far behind Arsenal, who stepped things up a gear.

Before long, Arsenal found themselves two-up, when Nicolas Pépé’s effort was palmed out by Aaron Ramsdale into the path of Gabriel Martinelli, who promptly dispatched a deserved goal for both club and player.

Martinelli had been playing so well all game that to grab a goal was a worthy return for the youngster.

Finally, Arsenal wrapped things up in style. A terrific turn on the halfway line from Thomas Partey and a slide-rule pass saw him dispatch Lacazette once more. Whatever doubts Arsenal fans had about the Frenchman following his disappointing miss against Slavia Prague in midweek were quickly assuaged as the former Lyon man buried the ball in the near corner, sending Ramsdale the wrong way and grabbing his 50th Premier League goal in Arsenal colours.

From there, Arsenal were able to take their foot off the proverbial gas and cruise until the final-whistle.

A deserved goal from an outstanding player. Gabriel Martinelli celebrates Arsenal’s second.

It was an outstanding performance, as unique in its quality as it was typical in its frustration from fans who will no doubt be wondering why Arsenal are so incapable of producing performances akin to this every week.

Mikel Arteta rolled the dice a little with his tactical selections. Given the absence of Kieran Tierney, Arsenal decided to play Granit Xhaka at left-back. Though Xhaka is no stranger to the position, having featured there a few times under Unai Emery, it was a little surprising to see that Bukayo Saka, who deputised in the role for most of last season, was given the chance in the middle of the park instead.

Though Xhaka’s performance was likely helped by Sheffield United’s total unwillingness to attack, the Swiss international should be commended for a composed and assured performance as Arsenal managed to keep their first clean sheet in fourteen games.

The performance of Gabriel Martinelli was also hugely encouraging. In recent months, Arsenal have been perhaps a little goal-shy and scared to take on the shot whenever the situation calls for it, however, Martinelli faced no such qualms, testing keeper Aaron Ramsdale at every opportunity he could and his goal was a worthy return for such a brilliant performance.

Elsewhere, Alexandre Lacazette’s performance in midweek seemed to serve as the catalyst for the striker’s performance in front of goal. His composure, link-up play and dogged determination were essential to Arsenal’s victory and he showed Mikel Arteta that there is still a player here willing to fight, not just for his place, but for the good of the team.

The biggest game of Arsenal’s season so far beckons on Thursday night, with Arsenal in dire need of an away goal or else face elimination, but with a performance like this, Arsenal can go in confident, if nothing else.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey
  8.) Dani Ceballos
19.) Nicolas Pépé
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Willian 69’)
35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Elneny 83’)
  9.) Alexandre Lacazete (c) (Nketiah 89’)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
25.) Mohamed Elneny
66.) Miguel Azeez
12.) Willian
24.) Reiss Nelson
30.) Eddie Nketiah

Sheffield United team:
  1.) Aaron Ramsdale
22.) Ethan Ampadu
12.) John Egan
  3.) Enda Stevens
  2.) George Baldock
  7.) John Lundstram
16.) Ollie Norwood (c)
  4.) John Fleck
23.) Ben Osborn
14.) Ollie Burke (Brewster 64’)
17.) David McGoldrick (McBurnie 64’) (Mousset 83’)

Sheffield United subs:
18.) Wes Foderingham
15.) Phil Jagielka
20.) Jayden Bogle
13.) Max Lowe
29.) Kean Bryan
34.) Iliman Ndiaye
11.) Lys Mousset
  9.) Oli McBurnie
24.) Rhian Brewster

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Arsenal 1-1 Slavia Prague: Europa League – 08/04/2021

Arsenal’s journey in the 2020/21 season has been a fraught and tough ordeal, complete with ups and downs along the way, but the one place that fans have been able to find solace is in the team’s European run. 

Though the team narrowly lost at home to Olympiacos in the Round of 16, Arsenal have come through the competition fairly unscathed and with the quarter-final draw meaning they avoided a visit from their old adversary Manchester United or from former boss Unai Emery, it seems Arsenal got off lightly with their draw with Slavia Prague.

Arsenal started off as well as they could in the match with a few chances created here and there, but it was an ultimately drab and dreary first-half, culminating in the game’s first anti-climax as Bukayo Saka drove his easier-to-score effort past the far post. Though the linesman had raised his flag, VAR would have no-doubt overruled the decision in Saka’s favour had been able to convert the chance.

As half-time came and passed, Arsenal seemed to improve a fair bit. Slavia were, as their manager Jindřich Trpišovský said at full-time, not playing well. They created a fair few opportunities and tested Bernd Leno once or twice, but it was ultimately the home side to home the lion share of chances fell to.

Perhaps the most clearcut chance fell to Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman expertly deposed the defender on the halfway line leaving him the entire half with which to sprint into, bearing down on goal, the former-Lyon man took aim and scoop his shot over the onrushing keeper only for it to…hit the bar.

A frustrating night for Arsenal.

Had their been fans in the stadium they would have no doubt have already started celebrating, but to see the effort rattle off the crossbar was the sort of denial that Michael Haneke would have been proud of.

Eventually, the deadlock was broken. The introduction of Gabriel Martinelli, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pépé provided Arsenal with some much needed firepower and soon Pépé found himself through on goal from Aubameyang’s through ball, only for the Ivorian to dink the ball just over the grounded goalkeeper and into the far corner to give Arsenal the lead. 

It was a well-deserved goal; Arsenal had been much the better side and had totally run the game up to that point and were perhaps unlucky not to have a second or third either side of it. 

But as Arsenal fans know, most Arsenal games do not have easy endings or indeed happy ones and this was very much the latter. A poorly defended corner saw Tomáš Holeš head in the equaliser at the far-post to give his side the all-important away goal and break Arsenal hearts just as the final-whistle blew out.

It was a heartbreaking, albeit entirely predictable outcome for Mikel Arteta’s mentally weak Arsenal side. The lack of composure, the total indifference to the acceptable norms of defending, the total preventability of the goal itself summed up Arsenal this season.

Heartbreak in the dying embers of the match.

The goal had come about because makeshift left-back Cédric Soares, presumably at Arteta’s insistence, decided to play the ball back rather than launch the ball forward, which sold Gabriel Magalhães short and the rest was history.

Arteta’s insistence on playing out from the back when it clearly doesn’t suit the team is both amusing and infuriating and has cost Arsenal many times this season. It’s plain to see that Arsenal are simply not up to playing the tactic Arteta wishes to play and that the team needs some vital changes.

The lateness of the substations in the game did little to aid Arteta’s dwindling stock with the fanbase. Lacazette, Saka and Emile Smith Rowe looked to be struggling as did Thomas Partey, yet Arteta seemed uninterested in looking at the bench to changes the game. 

The decision to not select captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was another baffling decision. Though the tactic had worked well in the 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur, it was perhaps a shade too far in a do-or-die Europa League tie.

Arsenal now have it all to do in Prague before a strip to Sheffield United, but a serious shift in mentality is needed if Arsenal want to be in Europe next season.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (c)
16.) Rob Holding
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey (Elneny 78′)
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Pépé 78′)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Ceballos 88′)
12.) Willian (Martinelli 73′)
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Aubameyang 78′)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
22.) Pablo Marí
49.) Joel López
25.) Mohamed Elneny
66.) Miguel Azeez
  8.) Dani Ceballos
24.) Reiss Nelson
19.) Nicolas Pépé
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah

Slavia Prague team:
  1.) Ondřej Kolář
  5.) Alexander Bah
  3.) Tomáš Holeš
  6.) David Zima
18.) Jan Bořil (c)
  7.) Nicolae Stanciu (Masopust 84′)
25.) Jakub Hromada (Ševčík 45′)
17.) Lukáš Provod
19.) Oscar Dorley (Lingr 69′)
12.) Abdallah Sima (Kutcha 69′)
  9.) Peter Olayinka (Traoré 85′)

Slavia Prague subs:
13.) Jan Stejskal
31.) Přemsyl Kovář
23.) Petr Ševčík
32.) Ondrej Lingr
27.) Ibrahim Traoré
41.) Denis Višinský
28.) Lukáš Masopust
16.) Jan Kutcha
11.) Stanislav Tecl

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

Arsenal 0-3 Liverpool: Premier League – 05/04/2021

Arsenal’s record against Liverpool after Mikel Arteta’s appointment have been remarkably enviable. Though the team failed to win at Anfield earlier in the season, the form of the erstwhile champions would have likely given Mikel Arteta and his side renewed vigour for Saturday’s match.

The absences of David Luiz, Granit Xhaka, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe were unlikely to aid Arsenal though, especially as this required some rather more fringe players to step into the breach.

The first half of the match pretty much dictated the way the game went throughout. Arsenal were utterly woeful in pretty much all areas of the pitch. But for a brief three minute spell when they seemed to display some encouraging attacking football, the rest of the match was played totally at Liverpool’s ease.

Though Liverpool didn’t score in the first-half, it was more of an insult to the visitors than a compliment to the hosts. Arsenal’s press was practically non-existent and the desire to win the ball back wasn’t even present.

Thomas Partey battles with James Milner.

To add insult to injury (literally), Kieran Tierney hobbled off at the close of the first-half with a suspected muscle injury, meaning that Cédric Soares was asked to fill in at left-back.

The second-half picked up where the first left off, with Arsenal only marginally better than they had been in the first-half. The visitors kept plugging and plugging and soon enough they found their opening as Diogo Jota leaped highest out of himself, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding to head home the game’s opener.

Liverpool did not stop there as they continued to put Arsenal to the sword and soon enough the mesmeric Mohamed Salah squeezed in Liverpool’s second at the near-post, with Diogo Jota once again adding to the misery with the team’s third soon after.

It would be fair to say that it was possibly the worst performance Arsenal have given under Mikel Arteta and possibly the worst of the past three years, including the Europa League final in Baku.

While Arteta may have soothed some troubled waters with his post-match apology to the fans, it seems as though Arsenal are staring down the barrel of no European football at all next season.

The team seemed totally at odds with what Arteta wanted and what he had planned. Dani Ceballos was the main culprit in midfield and barring a remarkably small, single-figure price-tag in the summer, it’s tough to see Arsenal keeping the Spaniard given his recent performances.

Diogo Jota out jumps both Calum Chambers and Rob Holding to score the game’s opener.

While players like David Luiz and Granit Xhaka have long been the players that Arsenal fans love to hate, both players’ absences were felt throughout the team. While it likely would not have made too much of a difference to the overall result, David Luiz would likely have handled Jota’s opener better than Holding and Chambers and Xhaka would surely have performed better than Ceballos, who looked totally lost in midfield.

The absences of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe were both felt and worrying. A teamthat is relying on two players barely a year out of the Hale End Academy, while boasting one of the most expensive forward lines in Europe is worrying. Though the absences should not be seen as excuses for Arsenal’s abysmal performance, it should at least give fans a perspective of the mountain there is still to climb.

Arsenal’s next match is a Europa League quarter-final against Slavia Prague and if their performance on Saturday is anything to go by, then the Gunners will have their work cut out for them. They will need to improve if they want to progress and given that a potential semi-final against former coach and Europa League specialist Unai Emery awaits them if they progress, Arsenal really do not look confident of securing another European spot.

Arsenal team: 
  1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers
16.) Rob Holding
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  3.) Kieran Tierney (Cédric Soares 46’)
18.) Thomas Partey
  8.) Dani Ceballos (Elneny 58’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
11.) Martin Ødegaard
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Martinelli 77’)
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
22.) Pablo Marí
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
12.) Willian
24.) Reiss Nelson
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah

Liverpool team:
  1.) Alisson 
66.) Trent Alexander-Arnold
47.) Nathaniel Phillips
19.) Ozan Kabak (Williams 84’)
36.) Andy Robertson (Jota 61’)
  3.) Fabinho
  6.) Thiago Alcântara
  7.) James Milner (c)
11.) Mohamed Salah
  9.) Roberto Firmino (Wijnaldum 78’)
10.) Sadio Mané

Liverpool subs:
13.) Adrián
46.) Rhys Williams
21.) Konstantinos Tsimikas
17.) Curtis Jones
  5.) Georginio Wijnaldum
15.) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
  8.) Naby Keïta
23.) Xherdan Shaqiri
20.) Diogo Jota

Categories
20/21 First Team General

The Diphthong Attacker

Not many players make their debuts at aged fifteen, however, Martin Ødegaard is one of the few who has. Coming on for Strømsgodset’s match against Aalesunds FK, the Norwegian playmaker became the talk of international football fans.

Ødegaard’s debut saw him show off his impressive repertoire of skills, which culminated in a mazy run through the Aalesunds midfield before making his way into the penalty area, only for his run to be interrupted and Thomas Sørum to smash home the loose ball.

Bizarrely enough, that same assist would be replicated only a few months later by none other than the legendary Mesut Özil.

At the time, Arsenal were cutting through Watford like a hot knife through butter. Santi Cazorla’s inch-perfect ball found the German playmaker, who sped into the penalty area and took aim, before being unceremoniously scythed down by Nathan Aké. What would normally have resulted in a penalty led to the ball falling to the feet of the dangerous Alexis Sánchez who finally opened the scoring for Arsenal.

The two assists are eerily similar and show off the undisputed talent that both Özil and Ødegaard have at their disposal and why both players are the perfect fit for the Arsenal of old and the Arsenal of new.


Ødegaard and Özil share more similarities than coincidentally identical assists however. Both players were heralded as the dawn of new creative talent in Norway and Germany alike.

While both were making inroads in their native land, they were both soon offered the chance that all footballers dream of. To play for Los Blancos.

It is true that the opportunity to play for Real Madrid does not come around often, especially when competition for places are so high, and ddispite attractive offers from Arsenal or Bayern Munich, both Ødegaard and Özil decided to make the switch to Madrid.

It is here perhaps, that the similarities between the two deviate. Özil was a mainstay of a Real Madrid side that won a La Liga, a Supercopa de España and a Copa del Rey, which saw him strike up a terrifying partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, given Real Madrid’s interest in Gareth Bale and Özil’s reluctance to accept a mere bench role at the Bernabéu, saw Özil make the switch to North London and the rest is controversial history.

Ødegaard, on the other hand, did not feature for Real Madrid for a while. Given his age and relative inexperience, it seemed unfair to throw him into first-team action, so Ødegaard instead turned out for Real Madrid Castilla, the youth side.

From there, Ødegaard’s journey has been a somewhat meandering journey that has seen him loaned to SC Heerenveen and Vitesse in the Dutch Eredivisie and Real Sociedad in La Liga.

Though Ødegaard has impressed with these loans, there has been a feeling among many at the Bernabéu that the youngster was still not fully prepared for life in Spain.

Though Ødegaard played a much larger role at the Bernabéu this season, there were still signs of frustration as Ødegaard was continually reduced to sub appearances or being left out entirely.

Meanwhile, in North London, Arsenal’s season was taking a nosedive despite a promising start. A resolute 0-1 win at Old Trafford, was followed by a run of seven successive Premier League games without a win.

While many pointed towards the patchy form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pépé, Willian and Alexandre Lacazette, the team’s real issue was a distinct lack of creativity.

Özil was at this point coming to the end of his time at Arsenal. He, along with teammate Sokratis Papastathopoulos, were left unregistered for Arsenal’s Premier League squad and there was no sign that either would be re-registered for Arsenal’s squad in January.

Despite the rather explosive form of Emile Smith Rowe, Arsenal knew in their heart of hearts that a playmaker would be needed in January.

When January rolled around, Ødegaard was in the midst of negotiating a return to Real Sociedad before deciding to make the switch to Arsenal, inheriting Özil’s first number 11 in the process.

At this point, Özil had made the switch to Fenerbahçe and Arsenal were in dire need of creativity, even with Smith Rowe’s impressive performances.


Since making the switch to North London, Ødegaard seems to show where the underlying similarities and differences between himself and Özil lie.

In terms of similarities, Ødegaard and Özil both have the in-ate brilliance to turn a game on its head. Both Ødegaard and Özil have the technical ability to drift between the defensive lines and open up play for the attackers.

Given both player’s brilliance, defenders tend to stick either like glue, which can often be a useful foil to draw defenders out of position and create space for the attackers.

Özil is often spoken of in awed terms because of his ability to pick a pass. Indeed, his vision allowed him to pick out the marauding run of Sead Kolašinac against Burnley that no one in the ground seemed to have noticed. However, it wasn’t just Özil’s ability to pick a pass, it was also knowing when to release the ball.

Under Mikel Arteta, Arsenal tend to release the ball to a teammate as late as possible, so as to commit an opposition player and effectively take them out of the game with a well-placed pass.

Though Özil has shown his ability to do this on countless occasions, Özil seemed to have a timing that no other player had. While Arteta may want his players to wait until the last possible moment to release the ball, Özil would often spring the trap a few seconds earlier, so as to give an attacker time to run onto the ball.

This seems to be the case with Ødegaard too. At the moment, most of Arsenal’s main attacks are funnelled down the left-hand channel. Given the importance of Kieran Tierney and the tricky abilities of Emile Smith Rowe, it makes sense for Arsenal to focus their attacks down this channel.

Ødegaard, like Özil before him, likes the ability to drift where he sees fit. Invariably, this is in the thick of the action, where the ball goes, they go.

A criticism that has been levelled at Ødegaard since joining Arsenal, is his penchant for dropping deep to collect the ball. It can be difficult to see an attacking player collecting the ball on the halfway line, but this was a habit of Özil’s as well.

This allows either player to dictate play from deep. This somewhat elevated position allows Ødegaard and Özil to see what is in front of them, assess their options, work the space and occasionally spring a Hollywood ball across the pitch.

When Arsenal were chasing the game against Aston Villa, this wasn’t really a strategy that was conducive to Arsenal scoring an equaliser. Aston Villa sat far too deep, which meant that Ødegaard’s ability to pick a pass would be far less useful than if he were to drop further up the field and commit a man.

However, when Arsenal entertained Tottenham last Sunday, Ødegaard was in the thick of the action once more. While his deflected effort will obviously be the thing that everyone mentions, his tendency to remain further up the field caused real issues for Tottenham.

Granted, a midfield of Pierre-Emile Højberg and Tanguy Ndombele doesn’t exactly scream defensive discipline, but Ødegaard was too much for both to handle.

Arteta seemed to know that Ndombele would be pushed too far upfield trying to create and would likely contribute very little defensively, leaving Højberg exposed, having to cope with Ødegaard on his own.

At this point, the full range of flanks were open to Ødegaard’s vision. Bukayo Saka on the right-hand side is always a threat, as is Cédric Soares, whereas Kieran Tierney and Emile Smith Rowe were reaking havoc on the lonely Matt Doherty.

This meant that Ødegaard did not need to drift out wide to dictate play and was able to remain central, while his passing, dribbles and runs led Højberg out wide to cover.

For Ødegaard’s goal, both Lucas Moura and Højberg were left totally exposed in midfield and both noticed, too late, that Ødegaard was free in the middle, by which point Tierney’s pass had already reached the Norwegian.

Another important aspect to Ødegaard’s play is his workrate. In a high-pressing team, workrate is important, as is stamina and Ødegaard seems to have both in abundance.

One of the main criticisms levelled at Özil in his time with Arsenal was his work-rate, or lacklustre sentiments. Özil’s languid style of play and artistic temperament was a luxury Arsenal could often ill-afford when they were chasing games or when trying to defend a precarious lead.

This is perhaps where Özil and Ødegaard differ the most. Ødegaard’s workrate is too much to handle for the opposition, who are usually seen having to double up on Ødegaard in order to contain him.

When the ball is lost in attack, Ødegaard is often leading the charge to win it back and start again. Given that Arsenal like to press high up the pitch, Ødegaard’s tendency to push up and run until the final whistle goes is an invaluable asset to Arsenal.

This summer looks to be an important one for Mikel Arteta. Other postions need stocking up or straight up replacing, but Arteta faces a real dilemma with Ødegaard.

Madrid are unlikely to be too willing to let the talented youngster leave, but with two years remaining on his contract, they may have no choice. It is also an undeniable fact that there needs to be a willingness on Ødegaard’s part to join Arsenal permanently himself.

While Dani Ceballos has flattered to deceive in his second season in Islington, Ødegaard would likely be the catalyst the Arsenal team needs to mount a genuine top four tilt next season.

Whether or not Ødegaard does indeed join Arsenal permanently is up in the air at the moment, however, Ødegaard seems to have made an impact on the Arsenal side in the same way that Mesut Özil did when he joined Arsène Wenger’s side, the question is, can Arsenal avoid an Özil-esque fallout in the future if he stays?

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

West Ham United 3-3 Arsenal: Premier League – 21/03/2021

Arsenal’s record on Sundays following a Thursday night Europa League excursion isn’t exactly the most enviable of all records, though this didn’t stop Arsenal celebrating a win in the recent North London Derby.

But while their shock home loss to Olympiacos will have certainly knocked the wind from their sails, Arsenal can be happy with their lot so far. Quarter-finals of the Europa League and a decent bit of league form brewing, Arsenal headed into yet another London derby with optimism.

A few changes in the lineup saw Calum Chambers start, Pablo Marí brought back in and both Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette restored to the team.

However, whatever optimism Arsenal entered Sunday’s match quickly dissipated. West Ham were comfortably on the front foot for most of the first-half. Arsenal were sloppy in possession and looked tired and lethargic, so it came as no surprise to see West Ham take the lead in the fifteenth minute.

Michail Antonio’s quick work down the left-hand side saw him able to play the ball into Jesse Lingard, who controlled the ball and fired an absolute rocket past Bernd Leno.

But the worst was yet to come from Arsenal. Barely even a minute later, Arsenal were caught napping on a free-kick, which allowed Lingard to take the set-piece quickly, releasing Jarrod Bowen, who walked into the Arsenal penalty area totally unmarked and fire in from close-range. Questions will undoubtedly be asked of Bernd Leno and how he allowed the shot to creep in at the near-post, but there are further questions for Arsenal’s defence.

Martin Ødegaard and Calum Chambers, two of Arsenal’s standout performers.

But the humiliation was not yet complete, soon West Ham saw themselves 3-0 up when Michail Antonio’s header deflected off teammate Tomáš Souček to utterly crush Arsenal hopes.

Some dignity was soon restored, however. Quick work from the in-form Martin Ødegaard allowed the Norwegian playmaker to feed Calum Chambers, whose cross found Alexandre Lacazette, who turned and fired a ferocious effort past former-Gunner Łukasz Fabiański, although replays did show a fairly wicked deflection off Tomáš Souček.

Arsenal could have had a second just before half-time when Lacazette’s ball through the middle was latched onto by Bukayo Saka, but the talented youngster barely tested Fabiański.

It was inarguably one of the worst halves of football that Arsenal have ever produced under Mikel Arteta. Arsenal looked absolutely destroyed before West Ham scored and didn’t look too pleased when half-time rolled around.

However, the change in the second-half was staggering. Arsenal looked like a team with a new lease on life as they began to attack with real gusto.

Martin Ødegaard, so often at the heart of everything was virtually unplayable for West Ham, as was Lacazette, who was unfortunate enough to have his looped effort kept off the goal line.

It didn’t take long for Arsenal to have a second though. Calum Chambers’ whipped ball into the box caused West Ham all sorts of problems and was fired home by the unfortunate Craig Dawson. The ball across was too good and better players than Dawson would have struggled to do any more.

West Ham came close to finishing the game off completely however when Michail Antonio somehow managed to miss from a yard out from Saïd Benrahma’s cross.

However, the introduction of Nicolas Pépé really seemed to turn the game around for Arsenal. The Ivorian linked up well with Chambers and Ødegaard and soon the £72m man had whipped in a cross with his weaker right foot to the back-post for Lacazette who made no mistake and completed an extraordinary comeback for Arsenal.

Arsenal will be disappointed that they did not grab a fourth, but for all intents and purposes, Arsenal were lucky to get anything at all from the game.

Alexandre Lacazette jumps highest to draw Arsenal level.

It was pretty much Arsenal in a nutshell. Poor defending and a lack of concentration at the back one half and then scintillating attacking football of the highest order in the second, it simply wasn’t good enough.

The performance of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was a very real concern for Arsenal fans. Though Arteta’s tactic of switching him to the right hardly helped matters, Aubameyang’s presence was barely even noticeable and the captain looked like someone who had been off the boil for a while now and his substitution for Gabriel Martinelli was surprising only in that it hadn’t happened sooner.

Elsewhere, there were only two or three players who could really hold their heads high. Alexandre Lacazette turned in one of his best Arsenal performances and showed exactly why the Frenchman is so important to this Arsenal side and just what he can potentially bring to the team. He was a constant threat and his smart inter-play was exactly what made the team tick.

It was also a good performance from Calum Chambers. Though he struggled a bit defensively, the England man was brilliant in attacking areas and was unlucky to not be credited with an assist on the day. It was no wonder that Arsenal were channeling the majority of their attacks through his side.

And last, but by no means least, Martin Ødegaard. The Real Madrid man looks like someone who has been playing at Arsenal all his life. Ødegaard was simply unplayable for West Ham, who couldn’t get near him. The Norwegian’s dribbles and passes utterly bamboozled the West Ham defence and was perhaps more deserving of the Man of the Match award on Sky Sports than Jamie Carragher let on.

It was an unacceptable overall performance from Arsenal and they will need to be much better once they return from the international break and have to contend with Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool and a Europa League quarter-final against Slavia Praha.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers
23.) David Luiz
22.) Pablo Marí
  3.) Kieran Tierney
18.) Thomas Partey
34.) Granit Xhaka (Smith Rowe 74’)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Martinelli 81’)
11.) Martin Ødegaard
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Pépé 74’)
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
16.) Rob Holding
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
  8.) Dani Ceballos
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli

West Ham United team:
  1.) Łukasz Fabiański
  5.) Vladimír Coufal
15.) Craig Dawson
23.) Issa Diop
  3.) Aaron Cresswell
28.) Tomáš Souček
41.) Declan Rice
20.) Jarrod Bowen (Noble 74’)
11.) Jesse Lingard
  9.) Saïd Benrahma (Fredericks 79’)
30.) Michail Antonio

West Ham United subs:
25.) David Martin
34.) Nathan Trott
14.) Frederik Alves
  4.) Fabián Balbuena
24.) Ryan Fredericks
31.) Ben Johnson
16.) Mark Noble
10.) Manuel Lanzini
45.) Mipo Odubeko

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Arsenal 0-1 Olympiacos: Europa League – 18/03/2021

It seems as though neither Olympiacos or Arsenal ever really seem to have the home advantage over the other one.

Following on from their emphatic 1-3 win last Thursday and a fantastic 2-1 win in the North London Derby, Arsenal entered their second-leg tie with Olympiacos in the driver’s seat and full of confidence.

Following captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s benching against Tottenham, the Gabon striker was recalled to the starting XI along with Mohamed Elneny, Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pépé.

Arsenal started well, controlling the game and dictating possession, but try as they might, they just didn’t seem capable of scoring.

The Gunners’ first chance came in the form of Nicolas Pépé, who skipped around José Sá and rather than squaring the ball to the completley unmarked Aubameyang, Pépé instead went for goal and his deflected effort rolled out disappointingly for a corner.

Héctor Bellerín controls the ball.

Another chance went begging not long after when Aubameyang, fed by Dani Ceballos, managed to squeeze past former Gunner Sokratis Papastathopoulos, only to blaze his effort over from six-yards.

Half-time came and went and Arsenal seemed to take their foot off the proverbial gas. Dani Ceballos ran himself into a blind alley and was soon dispossessed, this left Giorgos Masouras to run unencumbered through midfield and feed Youssef El-Arabi, who is so often the thorn in the side of the Arsenal team whenever the two sides meet and the Moroccan took aim in the penalty area and his effort smashed off Gabriel Magalhães into the back of the net.

It was a poor bot of defending from Arsenal. Both Elneny and Ceballos had committed themselves unnecessarily forward and left Granit Xhaka totally exposed with no help around him. The deflection may have been lucky but Arsenal’s defending seemed to deserve it.

Another chance went begging for Arsenal in the second-half when Aubameyang had the entire pitch to himself, running forward with no defender capable of catching him, Aubameyang used his trademark dink over the goalkeeper, only for it too drift far wide. It was a disappointing effort from a striker capable of so much more.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang enjoyed a torrid time in front of goal last night.

The final-whistle blew on a very tepid Arsenal performance. Though Arsenal are safely through to the next round of the Europa League, it was nevertheless an unacceptable performance.

There were bright sparks however. Gabriel Martinelli was finally given the chance to shine and the Brazilian seemed to take it. Though he failed to score, his energy was infectious and seemed to elevate the players around him. He also laid off another chance for Aubameyang who squandered it.

For Aubameyang, Arsenal fans will hope that their captain was merely struggling from routine rustiness following his stint on the bench on Sunday, however, that doesn’t make it easier to watch him squander a hat-trick of chances.

Arsenal are into the Quarter-Finals now, and are perhaps spared their blushes by Tottenham’s humiliating exit, but they will need to perform at a much higher standard than they did last night if they want to go all the way and win the competition.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (Chambers 82′)
23.) David Luiz
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  3.) Kieran Tierney
25.) Mohamed Elneny (Partey 57′)
34.) Granit Xhaka
  8.) Dani Ceballos (Ødegaard 57′)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Martinelli 81′)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
53.) Arthur Okonkwo
16.) Rob Holding
21.) Calum Chambera
22.) Pablo Marí
17.) Cédric Soares
18.) Thomas Partey
11.) Martin Ødegaard
24.) Reiss Nelson
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Olympiacos team:
  1.) José Sá
24.) Ousseynou Ba 🔴
15.) Sokratis Papastathopoulos
25.) José Holebas
14.) Thanasis Androutsos (Randjelović 62′)
  6.) Yann M’Vila
  4.) Mady Camara
45.) Oleg Reabciuk (Lala 84′)
19.) Giorgos Masouras (Bruma 63′)
11.) Youssef El-Arabi
  7.) Kostas Fortounis (c) (Bouchalakis 84′)

Olympiacos subs:
88.) Konstantinos Tzolakis
44.) Ilias Karargyris
21.) Mohamed Dräger
  5.) Andreas Bouchalakis
17.) Marios Vrousai
97.) Lazar Randjelović
90.) Vasilis Sourlis
27.) Bruma
72.) Kenny Lala

Categories
20/21 First Team General

Kieran Tierney: The One Man Barmy Army

For Arsenal fans, the days of Ashley Cole bombing up and down the wing are long gone. The tenacious English left-back was one of the many Arsène Wenger success stories and while the erstwhile full-back’s name may now be mud with the fanbase that once cheered his names from the terraces, it’s fair to say that Arsenal have simply not had a player like him since his controversial departure for Chelsea in 2006.

Since Cole made the switch from North London to South London, Arsenal have had a number of players fill Cole’s rather larger boots, such as Gaël Clichy, Armand Traoré, Kieran Gibbs, Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolašinac; while only Monreal and possibly Gibbs are the players Arsenal fans are likely to remember the most, it seems that Arsenal may have found a new heir to the throne of Ashley Cole in Kieran Tierney.


Kieran Tierney had been on the Arsenal recruitment team’s list of potential signings for a number of years before he joined the club. Impressed with his willingness to defend as well as attack, Arsenal knew that they would need to act fast if they were to sign the Scottish left-back.

It was as early as 2016 when Arsenal made their interest in Tierney known and had been tracking him for 18 months prior to their initial bid.

Arsenal had just come off the back of a disappointing campaign which saw them lose the title to Leicester City coupled with early exits in the League Cup, FA Cup and the Champions League, Arsène Wenger knew that Arsenal needed to spend big if they were to mount a title challenge next season. That summer proved to be an expensive one for Arsenal, with Granit Xhaka, Takuma Asano, Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Pérez all joining in a near £100m summer.

Wenger saw the defensive issues plaguing the squad at the time. Nacho Monreal had been reliable to a point, but his positional awareness and penchant for clumsy tackles in the box and Kieran Gibbs’ somewhat iffy injury record, meant that the Gunners’ boss began to look elsewhere.

That summer is perhaps not looked back on particularly fondly given how most of the aforementioned players worked out and given that Arsenal had also failed in bids for Álvaro Morata, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Jamie Vardy, so the news that Wenger was unsuccessful in his attempt to bring Tierney to Arsenal will do little to change their views on that summer window.

Nevertheless, though Tierney opted to remain in Glasgow with new boss Brendan Rodgers, Tierney was still very much in the club’s thinking moving forward.

However, it was not until the summer of 2019 that Arsenal finally made their move again. This again, was not the most straightforward deal Arsenal have ever done, with numerous bids for Tierney rejected by Celtic before Arsenal finally managed to capture his signature for a Scottish transfer record of £25m.

Tierney’s initial start to life in London was later than Arsenal fans might have hoped. Tierney joined Arsenal, having undergone a nasty double hernia operation a few months prior to joining the club, and made his debut in Arsenal’s League Cup rout of Nottingham Forest.

Tierney was absent for a lot of his first season at Arsenal.

Tierney’s first season was a somewhat hit or miss affair in terms of apperances. Fit one week and then injured the next, it seemed as though Unai Emery, who was already struggling with left-back depth at the club in the wake of Nacho Monreal’s departure to Real Sociedad, was going to have to be patient with Tierney.

Unfortunately, as Arsenal’s form under Emery took a nosedive, Tierney’s impressive performances took a backseat as Emery’s tactics were still exploited week after week. Tierney himself took issue with some of Emery’s tactics, even telling the Spaniard to “calm down” during a disastrous game at home to Wolves, where Emery seemed to be talking the Scotsman through how to correctly tackle.

His season worsened further when he was injured away to West Ham United in Freddie Ljungberg’s antepenultimate game as Arsenal manager.

When Mikel Arteta was brought in, Arteta was quick to marvel at how impressive Tierney appeared in Arsenal’s mid-season training camp. Tierney was still injured at the time, but was still working extensively with Arteta and was impressed by Arteta’s tactical understanding and couldn’t wait to return to action.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Tierney soon found himself back in the team and featured regularly for the side, eventually taking part in Arsenal’s FA Cup victory over Chelsea.

However, it is this season that Arsenal fans have seen the real Kieran Tierney and just what he is capable of.

Though injury issues have still plagued his season, Tierney has become the focal point of the Arsenal defence and the arme secrète of the attack.

Tierney’s performance against Benfica inspired a dramatic comeback.

His performance in Arsenal’s 0-4 rout of West Bromwich Albion earlier in the season was perhaps the best example of what he could offer in attack, grabbing an assist for Alexandre Lacazette’s goal and opening the scoring himself with a superb cut inside, before firing an effort into the back of the net.

In Sunday’s North London Derby win over Tottenham, Tierney was again exemplary. Though José Mourinho’s somewhat bizarre tactic of leaving Matt Doherty totally unsupported didn’t help Tottenham on the day, Tierney was still an explosive force.

Tierney contended well with Gareth Bale, who barely had a sniff and was constantly supporting Emile Smith Rowe down the left-hand side. It came as no surprise to see him grab an assist for Mattin Ødegaard’s equaliser.

Today, Arsenal released footage of Tierney’s performance, mic’d up. Though some of the more…err…colourful language was likely kept out of the mix, the club still couldn’t resist a cheeky shot of Tierney screaming “Boys, we need to score! How many fucking chances?”

The video is an eyeopener for Arsenal fans, not least because the video gives a fascinating insight into the general conduct of a footballer on the pitch, but to see just what Tierney brings to the fold.

Tierney can be seen shouting to Gabriel Magalhães to move quicker, telling David Luiz to cover and instructing Emile Smith Rowe how to move going forward.

Tierney was a handful for Matt Doherty on Sunday.

His conduct on the field would have you thinking that he had been playing North London Derbies for 20 years. His instructions to Smith Rowe were clear and concise and he chased every ball.

The issue for the remainder of the season is whether or not Arsenal can keep him fit. On his day, Tierney is one of, if not the best left-back in the Premier League. Though many will point to the resurgence of form from Luke Shaw or the enduring quality of performances from Andy Robertson over the past three years, there can be no doubt that Tierney is slowly but surely earning his reputation as one to keep an eye on.

With a very important summer approaching, it seems as though Mikel Arteta is looking to build a team for the future as well as the here and now and that Tierney clearly fits into those plans. Based on recent performances, it feels as though Tierney should be occupying the role of captain instead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, though Aubameyang’s seniority and popularity in the squad is unlikely to result in his being dropped from the role, despite his disciplinary issues on Sunday.

Tierney’s performances have been impeccable this season and Arsenal will surely be looking to tie him down to a longer contract, however, no matter what the future holds for Kieran Tierney and Arsenal, £25m looks like a real steal.

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

Arsenal 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur: Premier League – 14/03/2021

Arsenal’s record against José Mourinho is pretty abysmal even at the best of times. The Gunners have only managed two wins against the former Chelsea and Manchester United manager, one of which was a Community Shield match and have failed to win against the Portuguese maestro since Arsène Wenger departed.

Given the historic loathing of Mourinho from Arsenal fans and Mourinho’s general antipathy towards Arsenal, his being the manager of Tottenham certainly adds a certain spice to a fixture already bursting with flavour.

Though while the Arsenal/Tottenham rivalry is a “no additional flavours or preservatives” kind of recipe, Arsenal already entered the match with an extra bit of spice, by deciding to leave captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench. The Gabonese forward was left out of the starting eleven owing to “disciplinary issues” which seemed to hand the advantage to the visitors already.

However, nothing could have been further from the truth. Right from the off, Arsenal attacked relentlessly and Tottenhams imply couldn’t contain them. Youngster Emile Smith Rowe had the game’s best chance up to that point with a shot which cannoned off the crossbar, Arsenal were getting close.

However, as is often par-for-the-course when playing a José Mourinho side, Arsenal dominated possession, however, it was Tottenham who took the lead. A cross from Gareth Bale over to former-Real Madrid teammate Sergio Reguilón allowed Tottenham to finally get the ball into the Arsenal penalty area. Squeezed into Lucas Moura, the Brazilian was able to thread the ball over to Érik Lamela, who’s cheeky rabona found its way into the back of the net.

Martin Ødegaard celebrates his equaliser with Bukayo Saka.

It has to be said, however begrudgingly, that it was easily one of the best goals ever scored in a North London Derby, the sheer cheek and impudence of the finish was worthy of any lead.

However, Arsenal were not going to take that lying down and continued to create chances, Cédric Soares even rattling the post not long after.

Then, just before the stroke of half-time, Emile Smith Rowe found himself free as a bird down the Tottenham right-hand channel and was able to cross the ball to Martin Ødegaard, fresh off his spectacular finish against Olympiacos on Thursday, who’s deflected shot bounced into the net and drew Arsenal level. No more, no less than they merited.

Half-time was a chance for everyone to recharge their batteries and to tweak the strategy a little bit; this led to Bukayo Saka being replaced by Nicolas Pépé and the change made the difference Arsenal needed.

Though Pépé’s early involvements were fairly minimal, the Ivorian soon pounced on a loose ball from Hugo Lloris and threaded through an inch-perfect ball to Alexandre Lacazette, who controlled the ball perfectly, wildly missed his kick and was brought down by Davinson Sánchez for a penalty.

For many, the penalty seemed harsh, especially since the ball had already gone, however, Sánchez had clattered Lacazette in the most clumsy manner possible and VAR rightly did not overturn the decision.

Lacazette stepped up and calmly slotted the ball to give Arsenal a well-deserved lead, showing that he can so often be counted on as a player for the big occasions.

But the controversy was far from over. Goalscorer Érik Lamela, already on a yellow card, brought his arm up when running and hit Kieran Tierney in the face, which gave Michael Oliver no choice but to dismiss the Argentine.

The game shifted from this point on. Despite Tottenham having Lamela dismissed, it was Arsenal who looked that they had the man disadvantage and they struggled to contain Tottenham further. Harry Kane, so often the thorn in the side of Arsenal, had the ball in the back of the net following an unnecessary free-kick, however, the Tottenham captain was offside. Kane popped up later with a superb free-kick which rattled the post, which prompted Gabriel Magalhães to spectacularly head out Davinson Sánchez’ scuffed shot.

The final-whistle blew and Arsenal seemed to be the more grateful of the two sides, given how tough Tottenham had made the final fifteen minutes.

Alexandre Lacazette’s trademark celebration after his winning penalty.

It was a fantastic performance from Arsenal nevertheless. Though Mourinho’s tactics did little to help Tottenham and seemed to give Arsenal a lot more time and space than was necessary, Arsenal still dominated very well.

Arsenal’s left-hand side was utterly unstoppable on the day. Gareth Bale’s reticence to track back, coupled with Matt Doherty’s seeming ill-fit for a back-four, granted Kieran Tierney and Emile Smith Rowe free reign to cause havoc.

Tierney in particular had a spectacular game, keeping Bale out of the match at all times and stopping Doherty from getting too close either. Smith Rowe seemed to benefit from Tierney’s defensive and attacking resilience and was given the chance to create easily.

It was yet another great performance from Martin Ødegaard as well. The Norwegian showed his quality with the number of chances he created and the space he opened up, however, it was his workrate that impressed most. There was not a single ball on the pitch that Ødegaard was not running for and if he missed it, he would simply chase the next one. His performance was truly the catalyst Arsenal needed.

It was another good performance from Gabriel Magalhães as well. The Brazilian struggled in Arsenal’s early season defeat to Tottenham in December, but seemed to recover well today, especially with his goal-line clearance.

The absence of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is sure to grab the headlines, but Arteta will feel vindicated in his decision to drop the striker. No player is above the club and Arteta knew that a win would only strengthen his stock that it was the correct call. No doubt Aubameyang will feel aggrieved at missing such a crucial match and will likely be back in the starting eleven for the next match, but Arteta seemed to be the one in the right on the day.

Arsenal now face a return leg fixture against Olympiacos before a trip to the London Stadium to face-off against West Ham, but a win over Tottenham in the North London Derby and a win over José Mourinho will have made it a much nicer prospect.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
17.) Cédric Soares
23.) David Luiz
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Pépé 45’)
11.) Martin Ødegaard
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Willian 77’)
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Elneny 88’)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
16.) Rob Holding
21.) Calum Chambers
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
25.) Mohamed Elneny
  8.) Dani Ceballos
12.) Willian
19.) Nicolas Pépé
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Tottenham Hotspur team:
  1.) Hugo Lloris
  2.) Matt Doherty
  6.) Davinson Sánchez
  4.) Toby Alderweireld
  3.) Sergio Reguillón
  5.) Pierre-Emile Højberg
28.) Tanguy Ndombele (Alli 62’)
27.) Lucas Moura
  9.) Gareth Bale (Sissoko 57’)
  7.) Heung-Min Son (Lamela 19’ 🔴)
10.) Harry Kane (c)

Tottenham Hotspur subs:
12.) Joe Hart
15.) Eric Dier
24.) Serge Aurier
33.) Ben Davies
17.) Moussa Sissoko
  8.) Harry Winks
20.) Dele Alli
11.) Érik Lamela
45.) Carlos Vinícius

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Olympiacos 1-3 Arsenal: Europa League – 11/03/2022

Death, taxes and Arsenal drawing one of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Olympiacos in a European competition. Last season was the same and proved to be the catalyst for the closure of English football after Mikel Arteta’s brush with the Olympiacos backroom staff result in the Spaniard testing positive for COVID-19 and English football being suspended.

Playing away in Greece ahead of a crunch North London Derby match with José Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur may not be ideal, but as Mikel Arteta said in his press conference, Arsenal needed to play the hand they were dealt.

In fact, Olympiacos’ Karaiskakis Stadium seems to have become a European home away from home after Arsenal played both the first leg and second leg of their European Round of 32 tie with Benfica owing to COVID restrictions for the return legs.

Arsenal started off their Round of 16 tie well, creating plenty of chances early on, with Martin Ødegaard sliding his early chance wide. It was a guilt-edged chance that the Norwegian will feel he should have converted.

Martin Ødegaard opens his Arsenal account in stunning fashion.

The pressure continued from there, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s header cannoning off the crossbar a few minutes later.

However, it took until the 34th minute for Arsenal to break the deadlock. A high press from Bukayo Saka and Héctor Bellerín forced Olympiacos into a sloppy error, which allowed Thomas Partey to give the ball to Ødegaard, who took aim and fired an absolute screamer into the back of the net from a good thirty-five yards. Questions will be asked of the goalkeeper and his positioning, but take nothing away from Ødegaard’s effort, which flew into the back of the net.

As with pretty much every game so far this season, none more so than lat Saturday’s draw with Burnley, Arsenal’s biggest threat is Arsenal. The team’s insistence on playing out from the back was highlighted once again as Bernd Leno fed the ball into Dani Ceballos’ feet who failed to trap the ball properly and Youssef El-Arabi was released and the striker fired Olympiacos level with a well-placed shot.

Despite this most recent of self-inflicted setbacks, Arsenal showed a lot of resilience and soon found themselves back in the lead again as Willian’s whipped ball into the box found the head of Gabriel Magalhães who’s cannon ball of a header looped into the back of the net.

But Arsenal weren’t done there, soon enough Mohamed Elneny found himself free as a bird in the centre of midfield and the Egyptian fired off an absolute rocket which flew past goalkeeper José Sá and gave Arsenal a comfortable lead and three away goals.

Mohamed Elneny caps off another impressive Arsenal victory.

It was a fairly impressive performance from Arsenal, not least because of the quality of the three goals scored, but also for the amount of chances Arsenal managed to create.

Martin Ødegaard will be happy with the fact that he has opened his Arsenal account, but the main source of creativity on the night seemed to have come from a somewhat revamped Willian. The Brazilian’s wing-play with Kieran Tierney produced some of the game’s most incisive attacks and it was no surprise that he was the one who laid the assist off for Gabriel Magalhães’ header.

Another key performance was the performance Gabriel Magalhães. His goal will be what sweeps the headlines, but his game overall was second-to-none and seemed to be a resurgence of his earlier season form, where he was a rock at the back for Arsenal.

Arsenal can go into their second leg with more of a happier heart than many would have thought likely, but for now, their focuses turns to Tottenham.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
23.) David Luiz
   6.) Gabriel Magalhães
   3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhala
18.) Thomas Partey (Ceballos 55′)
12.) Willian (Elneny 82′)
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Smith Rowe 82′)
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Pépé 82′)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Lacazette 88′)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
21.) Calum Chambers
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
  8.) Dani Ceballos
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Olympiacos team:
  1.) José Sá
72.) Kenny Lala
15.) Sokratis Papastathopoulos
  6.) Yann M’Vila
45.) Oleg Reabciuk (Holebas 45′)
27.) Bruma
  5.) Andreas Bouchalakis (c)
  4.) Mady Camara
19.) Giorgos Masouras (Androutsosat 86′)
28.) Mathieu Valbuena (Fortounis 45′)
11.) Youssef El-Arabi (Hassan 77′)

Olympiacos subs:
88.) Konstantinos Tzolakis
44.) Ilias Karargyris
21.) Mohamed Dräger
25.) José Holebas
  7.) Kostas Fourtounis
90.) Vasilis Sourlis
14.) Thanasis Androuts
97.) Lazar Randjelović
  9.) Ahmed Hassan