The return of the prodigal son Patrick Vieira may well have been what dominated the headlines in the build-up to the match, but Arsenal knew heading into their match against Crystal Palace that they would need to right the wrongs of their 0-0 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion a fortnight ago.
The only absentee from the Arsenal side was Granit Xhaka, who likely won’t feature for the club again until the new year, which allowed Nicolas Pépé to drop into the team as Arsenal opted for a 4-3-3 formation.
For the most part, this seemed a good strategy. Arsenal found themselves a goal to the good inside of 8 minutes, courtesy of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s back post rebound after Pépé’s initial shot was acrobatically saved by Vincente Guaita.
But, in true Arsenal fashion, the team took their foot off the proverbial gas and allowed Crystal Palace to gradually worm their way back into the game.
A controversial incident saw James McArthur lucky to escape a red card after (accidentally it has to be said) booting Bukayo Saka’s standing leg after the whistle had gone, forcing the youngster off at half-time.
After that, the Arsenal everyone has come to know of the past 8 years or so began to creep back in. Thomas Partey’s total lack of positional awareness allowed him to be easily closed down, leaving Arsenal’s defence totally exposed and despite Kieran Tierney’s best efforts, Christian Benteke was their to slot it home to bring the visitors level.
But it wasn’t over yet, Albert Sambi Lokonga was caught out in exactly the same way as Partey, which allowed Palace to break through, culminating in Odsonne Édouard having a clean run of goal as Ben White backed off as much as he could, which gave the Frenchman invitation to shoot, which he did, dispatching the ball ferociously past Aaron Ramsdale to give Palace a deserved lead.
Arsenal pushed on and on, but never really looked like scoring. It was a tepid display in both attack and defence and it was only through a last gasp shot from Ben White, which trickled it’s way to the substitute Alexandre Lacazette, who lashed it home from close range to salvage an utterly undeserved point.
It was a pathetic display, it had to be said. Arsenal looked utterly devoid of ideas and as though a single gust of wind would blow them over. There was no spark in the team and though Martin Ødegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dutifully led the high-press, no one else really followed through and the introduction of Alexandre Lacazette seemed to be the only thing that gave Arsenal hope as the Frenchman linked up well with Aubameyang.
It was a particularly awful night for the usually excellent Thomas Partey. There is perhaps not too much to be concerned about for the long-term, but the Ghanian’s performance in midfield was a worrying aspect of the team’s performance. Partey was easily closed down, his distribution was awful and he looked like he needed a proper central midfielder alongside him.
Another issue seems to crop up on the form of Gabriel Martinelli. Martinelli has found first-team opportunities thin on the ground at the Emirates this season and his late introduction begged the ternal question, why was he brought on so late? Martinelli didn’t have quite the impact fans were hoping for, but there was enough there to suggest that he should be making more regular appearances and yet, Nicolas Pépé was preferred to the talented Brazilian and the Ivorian was once again, lacklustre.
The game seemed to echo the worrying trend that has plagued Mikel Arteta for some time. Without his perfect XI, he cannot win. Arsenal fans will of course have seen him beat teams without his best XI, but those wins are becoming few and far between.
No Xhaka meant that Arsenal had no one in midfield to help PArtey out and seemed to contribute to the lack of a Plan B. But for Xhaka, Arteta had near enough his perfect XI and was unable to come up with the goods. This is something that Arsenal fans may need more data on, but the fact that an entire game plan can fall apart if just one player is missing (a player Arsenal tried, in earnest, to bin off this summer) is worrying.
Arsenal now face off against Aston Villa on Friday night and if their performance last night is anything to go by, it’s going to be a very tough game for them unless they can really sort things out.
Arsenal team: 32.) Aaron Ramsdale 18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu 4.) Ben White 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 3.) Kieran Tierney 5.) Thomas Partey (Martinelli 81’) 8.) Martin Ødegaard (Lacazette 67’) 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 7.) Bukayo Saka (Lokonga 45’) 19.) Nicolas Pépé 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
Arsenal subs: 1.) Bernd Leno 16.) Rob Holding 17.) Cédric Soares 20.) Nuno Tavares 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Crystal Palace team: 13.) Vincente Guaita 2.) Joel Ward 16.) Joachim Andersen 6.) Marc Guéhi 3.) Tyrick Mitchell 4.) Luka Milivojević (c) (Kouyaté 67’) 18.) James McArthur 9.) Jordan Ayew (Olise 71’) 23.) Conor Gallagher 22.) Odsonne Édouard (Tomkins 82’) 20.) Christian Benteke
Crystal Palace subs: 1.) Jack Butland 5.) James Tomkins 34.) Martin Kelly 8.) Cheikhou Kouytaté 17.) Nathaniel Clyne 15.) Jeffrey Schlüpp 12.) Will Hughes 7.) Michael Olise 14.) Jean-Philippe Mateta
It’s fair to say that the recent influx of youngsters at the club means it is exciting times for Arsenal fans. A summer which saw the club splash a cool £150m on new players, bringing in the likes of Nuno Tavares, Ben White, Martin Ødegaard and Takehiro Tomiyasu among others has ushered in a new era for the club.
However, amongst the exciting crop of young recruits is Gabriel Martinelli, a man seemingly caught in limbo. Unable to nail down a place in the team, but arguably good enough to be starting regularly, but is it mismanagement on Mikel Arteta’s part or is Martinelli simply unable to take his chances?
Martinelli has already established himself as a fan favourite in his time with the club. Plucked from relative obscurity in the Brazilian fourth division, Martinelli instantly impressed Unai Emery and became one to watch under the Spaniard’s tutelage.
When Emery was promptly dismissed, Martinelli continued to impress under interim coach Freddie Ljungberg (scoring his first-ever Premier League goal in the process) and has continued to do so under Arteta.
However, following the suspension of the Premier League in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Martinelli was unable to play for the rest of the season as he picked up a long-term injury training, effectively ending his season.
Since then, it’s been a struggle for Martinelli to get into the team, which has become a worry for Arsenal fans.
Last season, Arsenal looked utterly toothless in the attack and the introduction of blistering pace and high-pressing movement as well as a seemingly never ending stock of stamina, Martinelli would often raise the level of the team around him, even if he wasn’t necessarily making much of a contribution in terms of goals or assists.
This season, Arsenal have looked a lot better. The creative trio of Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have been difficult to argue with, so Martinelli’s chances have been somewhat limited, however, fans have begun to wonder whether Martinelli would get a look in regardless of the trio’s current form.
With Granit Xhaka fully fit, Arsenal prefer to play a 4-3-3, which often sees Ødegaard drop into midfield and Smith Rowe and Saka out wide, but with a 4-2-3-1, Arsenal are down a midfielder (especially given Xhaka’s recent injury).
Mikel Arteta reportedly sees the Brazilian’s long-term future in the middle of the attack, in the position currently occupied by one of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette. This seems to be an odd prediction, given that Martinelli always seems to perform well when pushed out wide and has struggled with the mantle of becoming the lone striker.
With Xhaka’s absence, it would seem that the more logical choice would be to impart one of Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles or Albert Sambi Lokonga into the midfield to pivot with Thomas Partey, but perhaps there is a third option.
Aside from the more obvious choice of dropping Aubameyang (who’s form has since improved from last season, but who still looks a little off the boil), Arsenal may have a replacement in the form of Ødegaard, which would allow Smith Rowe to drop into the central creative role and Martinelli to move out wide, his preferred position, where he can build upon his remarkable partnership with Kieran Tierney.
Of course, Ødegaard’s predilection for moving forwards and creating chances would be at odds with the position’s requirement to create from deep, however, many Arsenal players have made the switch from central attacking midfielder to deep-lying playmaker, such as Santi Cazorla and current manager Mikel Arteta.
Perhaps allowing Ben White to drop into midfield when Ødegaard is unable to sit back while the attack happens would provide Arsenal with sufficient cover, as well as Takehiro Tomiyasu’s ability to drop into central defence and Ødegaard’s exceptional work rate would mean the defence is not exposed for too long.
This too would allow Martinelli to be accommodated into the side. Bukayo Saka seems to have the right side on lockdown, making it near impossible for Nicolas Pépé to retain the role from the number 7 and Smith Rowe has looked promising both through the middle and outwide.
If Arsenal are unable to accommodate Martinelli, then they may need to consider a temporary move away for added game time. It is unlikely that Reiss Nelson, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nkietiah and Alexandre Lacazette will be with the club next season, hell, even Nicolas Pépé could be on the way out if the right offer is made, which means that Martinelli is able to gain some first-team experience and then return to the team with less blockages obscuring his path.
Time is on Arsenal’s side with the youngster however, as Martinelli committed his long-term future to the club in the form of a five-year contract at the end of the season before last and seems to have no intentions (at least publicly) to leave the club.
Perhaps at home to a momentum-gaining Crystal Palace (currently headed up by former captain Patrick Vieira) is the wrong time to try and experiment too much, but Arsenal will need to find a solution for Martinelli soon or risk damaging their diamond in the rough.
The injury to Granit Xhaka meant that only one change was necessary from the previous week as Albert Sami Lokonga dropped into midfield alongside Thomas Partey.
Graham Potter’s side have been playing with a confidence and swagger that has made them one of the surprise packages of the season and an ever-increasingly popular scalp to take.
The home side started well, attacking Arsenal with pace and with venom. Neal Maupay, already public enemy no. 1 for Arsenal fans after his clash with Bernd Leno and Mattéo Guendouzi, came close on a number of occasions, but it was set-pieces that Arsenal looked unusually vulnerable from. A bizarre match-up saw 6 fot 7 inch Dan Burn being marked by 5ft 10 inch Martin Ødegaard, which left no one in any doubt why the defender kept coming so close from the team’s subsequent corners, Lewis Dunk too.
That’s not to say that Arsenal didn’t have their fair share of chances, Bukayo Saka’s mesmeric run allowed Arsenal to have their first shot of the game and a few minutes later, he teed up captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who’s header smacked off the post.
The second-half was more of one-way traffic. Brighton were mean and looking to inflict as much damage as possible, most of which seemed to be coming in the form of either Marc Cucurella or Jakub Moder, both of whom were reeking havoc on the Arsenal defence, but for exceptionally poor finishing on Brighton’s part, Arsenal may well have walked away with nothing.
Emile Smith Rowe had arguably the biggest chance of the game, however. Faced with the decision between squaring it for Bukayo Saka or going alone, the youngster opted for the latter, and rather than placing his finish squarely into the far corner, he instead opted for the front post, which prompted a fairly easy save from Robert Sánchez.
The final say of the game, however, fell to Aaron Ramsdale, Arsenal’s superb goalkeeper. A fantastic whipped in cross almost found Maupay, however, Ramsdale was quick to react and kept it just out of the Frenchman’s reach.
It wasn’t a good performance from Arsenal at all and a long, long way off of the mesmeric first-half that saw that expertly dispatch Tottenham last weekend.
The performance of Thomas Partey will likely be the focal point for many. Though he didn’t look too bad in midfield, his constant pot-shots, all of which seemed to cause more problems for any low-flying aircraft within the vicinity of the stadium, killed so many Arsenal attacks and begs the question as to just what he is actually doing in training. The shots were embarrassingly poor for a midfielder of Partey’s technical qualities and seemed to re-enforce the idea of the Ghanian never taking a shot again.
Another issue seems to stem from questions of the manager, such as “What does Gabriel Martinelli actually have to do to be given a place in this side?”. The performance of Martin Ødegaard was always going to open the possibility of a winger coming on and Emile Smith Rowe switching to the middle, but when the time came, Martinelli was nowhere to be seen, instead seeing Nicolas Pépé enter the field of play instead.
Martinelli’s conspicuous absence means that Arsenal have a distinct lack of energy in the team and it’s no surprise that Ødegaard’s departure saw the team’s intensity drop-off significantly.
However, as Sky Sports’ pundit and former Arsenal player Jack Wilshere pointed out in the aftermath of the game, given Arsenal’s young squad and lack of experience, sometimes learning not to lose is as useful as learning to win and Arsenal seemed to learn that against Brighton, even if they were a little lucky to do that too.
Arsenal team: 32.) Aaron Ramsdale 18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu 4.) Ben White 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 3.) Kieran Tierney 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 5.) Thomas Partey 7.) Bukayo Saka (Maitland-Niles 90’) 8.) Martin Ødegaard (Pépé 63’) 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Lacazette 72’)
Arsenal subs: 1.) Bernd Leno 16.) Rob Holding 17.) Cédric Soares 20.) Nuno Tavares 25.) Mohamed Elneny 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles 19.) Nicolas Pépé 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Brighton & Hove Albion team: 1.) Robert Sánchez 24.) Shane Duffy 5.) Lewis Dunk (c) 33.) Dan Burn 34.) Joël Veltman 13.) Pascal Groß (March 84’) 14.) Adam Lallana 15.) Jakub Moder (Mac Allister 78’) 3.) Marc Cucurella 11.) Leandro Trossard 9.) Neal Maupay
Brighton & Hove Albion subs: 23.) Jason Steele 2.) Tariq Lamptey 28.) Haydon Roberts 20.) Solly March 30.) Taylor Richards 10.) Alexis Mac Allister 27.) Jürgen Locadia 7.) Aaron Connolly 60.) Jeremy Sarmiento
For many, Arsenal’s Premier League season did not start in their 2-0 away defeat to Brentford, but rather, in the team’s narrow 1-0 win against Norwich over a fortnight ago. Such is the upturn in form, that Arsenal entered Sunday’s North London derby in significantly better form than Tottenham, who’s early season form has since been overturned by a period of two consecutive games in which they have conceded three without reply.
There was one fairly predictable change for Arsenal as Nicolas Pépé was dropped to the bench in favour of Granit Xhaka, aside from this, it was the same team that beat Burnley last weekend.
Arsenal’s season has usually been characterised by starting at break-neck speed and then slowly petering out and allowing the opposition to have more and more chances as the game wears on, however, against Tottenham, Arsenal started a little more cautiously. Whether this was a conscious decision from Mikel Arteta or just a by-product of it being a derby game is unknown, but it suited Arsenal to grow into the game as quickly as possible, rather than to start at 100mph right from the off.
Their patience was rewarded as the soon found themselves ahead through Emile Smith Rowe. Wonderful link-up play between Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka allowed Saka to drift into the Tottenham box, a lack of covering from midfield saw Emile Smith Rowe free as a bird in the middle of the box and a tidy finish gave the hosts the lead.
Soon after, Arsenal went again. This time a blistering counter-attack that had Tottenham bewildered from the get-go allowed Smith Rowe the chance to run at Japhet Tangaga and then lay an inch-perfect ball into the path of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who’s weaker foot shot was scuffed into the far corner into the net to double the lead.
It was a sign of Mikel Arteta’s love of playing-out-from-the-back that caused the goal. A slightly hospital pass from Aaron Ramsdale hadn’t looked too encouraging but Granit Xhaka fought hard to win the ball back (the possibility of a foul in the build-up too) and Kieran Tierney was able to feed Smith Rowe to do the rest.
But Arsenal weren’t done yet! Harry Kane lost his footing on the edge of the Arsenal box and Arsenal again countered at speed. Though Kane fought hard to catch Bukayo Saka, he was ultimately unable to prevent the talented teen from getting loose in the box. Though the England captain was able to block Saka’s pass to Aubameyang, it actually served up a lovely finish for Saka, who took the chance gratefully to truly put the game to bed.
The second-half wasn’t quite as one-way traffic as the first, especially as Tottenham soon found themselves finding their feet at last, but the game still looked well beyond their grasp, even with the double-change they made at half-time.
Arsenal’s defending, so often criticised for it’s lackadaisical offerings, was on a different level entirely all game and it is perhaps only to a potential injury to Granit Xhaka (which had the defence’s head turned momentarily), that Heung-min Son was able to creep his effort past a flailing Aaron Ramsdale.
It may have been a consolation goal, but it wasn’t the last scare of the day for Arsenal. Lucas Moura’s deflected effort looked to be creeping towards the top corner, however, an acrobatic save from Aaron Ramsdale was tipped onto the crossbar and headed out for a subsequent corner.
The final whistle blew as the Emirates Stadium erupted with noise. It was arguably the team’s best performance since the departure of Arsène Wenger and as complete as you could get while still conceding.
Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka continued to assert their dominance in the attack for Arsenal. Both were utterly unplayable on the day and were aided by their new partner in crime Martin Ødegaard, who’s velvet-touched passes reminded the crowd of Mesut Özil at his very best.
In defence, Arsenal were incredible. Though he may have some way to go before he is able to repay the rather brobdingnagian price tag Arsenal paid for him, Ben White looked assured and confident as he marked Harry Kane out of the game. His partner in crime Gabriel Magalhães was just as assured, while Kieran Tierney was the main focal point of the attack as always. However, the performance of new boy Takehiro Tomiyasu was one for the memory book. The Japanese international failed to lose a single aerial duel, was quick enough to nullify the threat of Heung-min Son, who was forced into the middle in order to change his luck and was a brick wall all game.
The controversial decision to restore Granit Xhaka to the starting eleven was met with consternation of fans. The Swiss international has never exactly been what you’d call “popular”, however, his performance alongside Thomas Partey was a sign that he still has a role to play for the club.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s performance must also be singled out. While the Hale End boys will take the headlines, the captain’s assured performance in front of goal, as well as his blistering pace, was every bit as crucial as anyone else.
Arsenal must not get too carried away now though, a trip to the Amex Stadium beckons and Brighton will likely not be as easy as Tottenham, who looked like they were still stuck on the Seven Sisters roundabout for the first-half.
Arsenal team: 32.) Aaron Ramsdale 18.) Takehrio Tomiyasu 4.) Ben White 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 3.) Kieran Tierney 34.) Granit Xhaka (Lokonga 82’) 5.) Thomas Partey 8.) Martin Ødegaard 7.) Bukayo Saka (Maitland-Niles 87’) 10.) Emile Smith Rowe (Tavares 87’) 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
Arsenal subs: 1.) Bernd Leno 16.) Rob Holding 17.) Cédric Soares 20.) Nuno Tavares 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 19.) Nicolas Pépé 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Tottenham Hotspur team: 1.) Hugo Lloris (c) 25.) Japhet Tangaga (Emerson Royal 45’) 6.) Davinson Sánchez 15.) Eric Dier 3.) Sergio Reguilón 20.) Dele Alli (Skipp 45’) 5.) Pierre-Emile Højberg 28.) Tanguy Ndombele (Gil 70’) 27.) Lucas Moura 10.) Harry Kane 7.) Hung-min Son
Tottenham Hotspur subs: 22.) Pierluigi Gollini 4.) Cristian Romero 14.) Joe Rodon 33.) Ben Davies 12.) Emerson Royal 29.) Oliver Skipp 11.) Bryan Gil 18.) Giovani Lo Celso 44.) Dane Scarlett
Given the recent upsurge in form, with the team’s win over Norwich and now Burnley, it seems fair that the players have a well earned rest for their efforts.
It was therefore a little surprising to see Mikel Arteta name as strong a team as he did against Wimbledon. The inexplicable dropping of Bernd Leno in favour of Aaron Ramsdale, meant the German was back between the sticks, Thomas Partey wished to fine tune his fitness ahead of Sunday’s North London derby against Tottenham and Alexandre Lacazette hasn’t started a game yet this season.
It was a strong team that was marred with the disappointment of not seeing the very talented Charlie Patino in and amongst the first-team squad. His inclusion likely being down to Partey’s insistence on playing.
With the team that Arsenal put out, it’s not really surprising to see them take an early lead. Fantastic work by Gabriel Martinelli in the Wimbledon penalty area led to the talented Brazilian being brought down and Alexandre Lacazette converting from the spot a few seconds later.
Despite their dominance, Arsenal didn’t really look too likely to score again in the first-half. There were glimpses of quality for sure, the likes of Eddie Nketiah and Albert Sambi Lokonga had speculative efforts, but nothing to really trouble Nik Tzanev too much.
The second-half saw Arsenal really kick into gear. One of the more noticeable tactics of Arsenal under Mikel Arteta has been the team’s insistence on the left-hand side, specifically through the monstrous Kieran Tierney. However, with the Scotsman’s absence, Nuno Tavares was the team’s primary creative outlet and the Portuguese fullback was unstoppable all evening.
Perhaps it was the total lack of marking or the fact that Arsenal’s £6.7m summer signing is just so quick, but Wimbledon just couldn’t get near him and Arsenal’s best chances definitely came through him.
However, it wasn’t until the introduction of both Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka respectively that Arsenal clicked into gear.
Wonderful play from Saka and Nketiah allowed Smith Rowe to bury home Arsenal’s second from close-range. It seemed to kill the game off from there, but it wasn’t before Eddie Nketiah capped off the win with a truly mesmeric finish. Saka’s ball down to Cédric Soares was cut-back and the England youngster backheeled it into the net to send Arsenal comfortably into the fourth round.
It was a good display from Arsenal where they never really looked too troubled. Wimbledon had their chances of course, but they never really looked to punish Arsenal’s mistakes or to trouble Bernd Leno too much.
It’s a shame that Mikel Arteta went with such an experienced side. This was a chance for the likes of Omari Hutchinson, Karl Jakob Hein, Folarian Balogun, Kido Taylor-Hart and the aforementioned Charlie Patino to potentially strut their stuff, but instead, Arsenal opted to give others more minutes. While the strategy makes sense, it does perhaps explain why most of these players do not start regularly.
The amount of chances created, it is perhaps a little embarrassing that Arsenal only entered the second-half 1-0 up.
Still, a win is a win and Arsenal will be satisfied that they are safely through to the knockout stages and will revel in the fact that Cristian Romero, Davinson Sánchez, Tanguy Ndombele and Harry Kane all played a full 90 minutes as Tottenham edged through on penalties against Wolves.
With full attention now on Sunday’s North London derby, fitness will be key as Arsenal enter with no injuries or suspensions as Granit Xhaka returns.
Arsenal team: 1.) Bernd Leno 17.) Cédric Soares 16.) Rob Holding 22.) Pablo Marí 20.) Nuno Tavares 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles 5.) Thomas Partey (Smith Rowe 60’) 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga 35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Saka 76’) 30.) Eddie Nketiah (Balogun 83’) 9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c)
Arsenal subs: 49.) Karl Jakob Hein 21.) Calum Chambers 31.) Sead Kolašinac 25.) Mohamed Elneny 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 7.) Bukayo Saka 26.) Folarian Balogun
AFC Wimbledon team: 1.) Nik Tzanev 2.) Henry Lawrence 22.) Ben Heneghan 5.) Will Nightingale 18.) Nesta Guiness-Walker 21.) Luke McCormick (Mebude 60’) 4.) Alex Woodyard (c) 8.) Anthony Hartigan 12.) Jack Rudoni (Chislett 69’) 9.) Ollie Palmer (Pressley 54’) 10.) Ayoub Assal
AFC Wimbledon subs: 31.) Zaki Oualah 3.) Dániel Csóka 7.) Cheye Alexander 6.) George Marsh 11.) Ethan Chislett 19.) Aaron Pressley 16.) Dapo Mebude
Heading into their game against Norwich, Arsenal fans were perhaps cautiously optimistic with the refrain “The season starts against Norwich” being the constant reminder Arsenal needed.
There were already a few changes abound for Arsenal. Number 1 Bernd Leno was dropped in favour of new boy Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Gabriel Magalhães played their first game as a defensive pair, Ainsley Maitland-Niles (fresh off the back of his Instagram outburst) partnered Albert Sambi Lokonga in midfield, while Emile Smith Rowe dropped to the bench.
Arsenal started furiously. They pressed Norwich hard and high. It was the kind of high-pressing game that Mikel Arteta has been begging for his team to play more often.
Such was the intensity of Arsenal’s press, that they began to force some errors from Norwich, none more so than Tim Krul, who seemed to crumble whenever Arsenal strayed too close to him.
However, in typical Arsenal fashion, the team took their collective foot off the gas and allowed Norwich more breathing space. Norwich slowely began to creep back into the game and by the time the half-time whistle had blown, Norwich had had more shots than Arsenal (though most were off target) and Arsenal looked like the break hadn’t come soon enough.
Arsenal again started brightly in the second-half. Norwich looked a little more worse for wear and although they too created chances and began to hurt Arsenal, it was always the home side who looked to be in total control.
Soon enough, Arsenal managed to find their breakthrough! A slide rule pass allowed Nicolas Pépé loose with the ball, and he galloped into the penalty area, only for his shot to cannon off the post, his follow-up was blocked by Brandon Williams and the Ivorian’s tumbling foot managed to connect with the ball, drifting it into Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s path who will never have an easier tap-in.
VAR looked at the goal, but Michael Oliver gave it and Arsenal had their first goal of the Premier League season.
There were still a few scares to come from Norwich before the half was out and soon enough, Arsenal had just about managed to scrape through intact and with a cleansheet to boot.
It hadn’t been the prettiest performance from Arsenal on the day, but they won’t care a win is a win and the three points were all that mattered.
Arsenal could have had plenty more if they had had their shooting boots on. Nicolas Pépé, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka and substitute Emile Smith Rowe could all have had goals if they’d been a bit better in front of goal. Smith Rowe’s shot in particular looked gilt-edged.
There was however a very promising performance from new boy Takehiro Tomiyasu. Initially though to be too soon for the Japan international owing to visa and work permit issues, he was thrown into the team immediately and looked like he’d been there all along.
Tomiyasu’s performance was stunning. He looked a real threat going forward and was a very competent defender when Arsenal needed him, winning 5 out of 5 aerial duels in the first-half. His substitution will perhaps raise some eyebrows, but it’s understandable why Arteta would want to keep his new boy fit and ready for Burnley next weekend, especially given his cramps towards the end.
Meanwhile, the performance of Ainsley Maitland-Niles will raise some eyebrows. Despite his baffling progressive passing rate of 6 (the joint-highest in the team), the youngster did not look comfortable in midfield, and it would perhaps be welcome to see Thomas Partey back in the mix next weekend, though, in Maitland-Niles’ defence, he hasn’t played for Arsenal in a Premier League match for some time and would perhaps have needed a bit more time to bed in.
It’s a monkey off the back for Mikel Arteta and co., but Arsenal need to keep their feet firmly on the ground as they travel to Turf Moor next weekend.
Arsenal team: 32.) Aaron Ramsdale 18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu (Smith Rowe 62′) 4.) Ben White 6.) Gabriel Magalhães 3.) Kieran Tierney 15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Cédric Soares 82′) 23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga (Partey 62′) 19.) Nicolas Pépé 8.) Martin Ødegaard 7.) Bukayo Saka 14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
Arsenal subs: 1.) Bernd Leno 22.) Pablo Marí 21.) Calum Chambers 17.) Cédric Soares 20.) Nuno Tavares 5.) Thomas Partey 10.) Emile Smith Rowe 35.) Gabriel Martinelli 9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Norwich City team: 1.) Tim Krul 2.) Max Aarons 5.) Grant Hanley (c) 44.) Andrew Omobamidele 21.) Brandon Williams 7.) Lukas Rupp (Idah 80′) 20.) Pierre Lees-Melou 23.) Kenny McLean 10.) Kieran Dowell (Cantwell 62′) 18.) Christos Tzolis (Rashica 69′) 22.) Teemu Pukki
Norwich City subs: 28.)Angus Gunn 15.) Ozan Kabak 4.) Ben Gibson 8.) Billy Gilmour 16.) Mathias Normann 17.) Milot Rashica 19.) Jacob Sørensen 14.) Todd Cantwell 35.) Adam Idah
The transfer window finally closes with a snap for six months.
What teams have at their disposal will have to last them until January at this point, so any players looking for moves to and from Arsenal will need to wait another six months.
Here’s how Arsenal faired over the summer window:
🇵🇹 Nuno Tavares
🇧🇪 Albert Sambi Lokonga
🏴 Ben White
🇳🇴 Martin Ødegaard
🇪🇸 Real Madrid
🏴 Aaron Ramsdale
🏴 Sheffield Utd
🇯🇵 Takehiro Tomiyasu
🇬🇷 Kostas Mavropanos
🏴 Zech Medley
🇧🇪 KV Oostende
🇧🇷 David Luiz
🇹🇷 Adana Demirspor
🇫🇷 Mattéo Guendouzi
🏴 Kieran Petrie
🏴 Swansea City
🇫🇷 William Saliba
🏴 Joe Willock
🏴 Newcastle Utd
🇺🇾 Lucas Torreira
🏴 Reiss Nelson
🇪🇸 Héctor Bellerín
🇪🇸 Real Betis
* Mattéo Guendouzi’s move to Marseille is a season-long loan, with a purchase obligation for £10m at the end of the loan spell.
Total: £36m Total Net Spend: -£110.9m
Overall, a fairly mixed bag from Arsenal. A huge amount of money invested, and comparatively very little received in return.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly had an effect on the transfer window and on the way things have played out so far this summer, but a paltry £36m (£10m of which will not actually arrive in the accounts for another season as Mattéo Guendouzi is technically on loan for another season before the obligation comes into effect) to offset a stupendous £147m spent on new players is not a good look for Arsenal’s accounts this year.
Let’s take a look at Arsenal’s business this summer.
Incomings Arsenal’s incomings are a respectable bunch, decent signings that address the medium to long-term future of the club, but there is very little for the short-term.
Martin Ødegaard, Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu certainly fulfil issues the club has now, however, Nuno Tavares is signed as cover for Kieran Tierney (though the failure to offload Sead Kolašinac has immediately made the transfer redundant in the short-term); Albert Sambi Lokonga is a long-term replacement for Thomas Partey and Aaron Ramsdale is more of a Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson replacement at this point than a Bernd Leno replacement.
The deals that have been done have either been completed entirely too late or for a greater sum than the player’s market value.
Ben White is perhaps the best example of this. White is tipped for a bright and beautiful future in the game, however, questions are raised, even among his biggest supporters, over the whopping £50m fee that Arsenal have paid for the England youngster.
Whatever White’s abilities and potential are, they don’t seem high enough to merit such exorbitant spending. £50m should be signing you the finished article, not a “might be”.
White also seemed to represent the same problem as with other recruitments; the seeming lack of a Plan B.
For White, names such as Edmond Tapsoba and Jules Koundé were mentioned in passing as viable options, but neither ever really seemed serious. The same too can be said for Aaron Ramsdale. The prices being quoted are eye-watering for the players being mentioned and yet, Arsenal seemed totally unwilling to fish in another pond; Newcastle’s Freddie Woodman was again fleetingly mentioned, but overall, Ramsdale always seemed the priority.
As for the other signings, Mikel Arteta is well within his rights to demand of Edu, why were they not signed earlier?
Arsenal showed against Brentford that they were in dire need of reinforcements and yet, there were none available. Martin Ødegaard would have likely lightened the load on Emile Smith Rowe and Takehiro Tomiyasu would have been a more welcome sight at right-back than Calum Chambers.
The age profile of the players is however a comforting notion. All the players signed are either 23 or under and represent the club thinking long-term, as opposed to the usual here and now signings that the likes of Willian represented.
The failure to not bring in a goalscoring midfielder or a striker will sting however. Lyon were practically begging to offload Rayan Cherki and Houssem Aouar, yet, Arsenal refused to take them on. As for strikers, Lautaro Martínez and Tammy Abraham were mentioned as viable options, but Arsenal never tabled a bid for either player.
There is also the bizarre dodging of Brighton’s Yves Bissouma. The Malian midfielder was calling Arsenal all summer and yet, Arsenal were uninterested in pursuing a deal.
There is always a frustration around Deadline Day deals. The same thing was true last season when the club unceremoniously snatched Thomas Partey from Atlético Madrid by activating his £45m (€50m) release clause. Why, if Tomiyasu was so high on the club’s agenda as their prime right-back target, did it take so long to sign him up?
The fee paid for the Japan international was not unaffordable and the club have need a new right-back since around October of last year, why was he only signed on the last day of August?
Some may point to the fact that Arsenal needed to sell before they could buy, but this too seems to have a flaw. Tomiyasu will be Arsenal’s fifth right-back.
Though Héctor Bellerín has left on loan, he will be back next season and will need to have his future resolved, unlikely to be happy to play second fiddle after a season of presumably being first choice at Real Betis. Calum Chambers and Cédric Soares are also still at the club. Arsenal have the option to extend Chambers’ deal by a further year and Cédric’s deal does not run out for another three years.
Elsewhere, Ainsley Maitland-Niles will also be hungry for game time as he too has nowhere to play after the club blocked his Deadline Day move to Everton and no chance of a reconciliation with Mikel Arteta anytime soon following his ill-advised Instagram SOS call.
Which brings us onto the outgoings.
Outgoings It is worth prefacing before focusing on Arsenal’s outgoings that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the finances on all teams not named Manchester City or Chelsea (or Arsenal, given the relative spending to those two), so shifting players was always going to be a task.
With that in mind, it’s difficult to be too harsh on Edu’s inability to find homes for certain players.
However, on the other hand, there have been several situations this summer that have been very poorly handled from the start.
William Saliba’s situation is perhaps the best place to start. Saliba returned from a six-month loan deal at Nice prepared to break into the Arsenal first team and with David Luiz’s departure, he looked ready to finally accept a place in Mikel Arteta’s side.
However, questions were raised over the Frenchman’s experience, having only played 12 out of the past 24 months owing to the early closure of Ligue 1 during his time with Saint-Étienne and Arsenal’s failure to secure a loan deal for him until January of last year.
Saliba, it was decided, needed to have more experience at senior level, with the club keen for him to receive more top-level experience in the Premier League with Newcastle. However, Saliba opted for a move back to France, where he joined Marseille.
This too seems a baffling choice. Saliba cannot be as far behind the likes of Rob Holding or Calum Chambers in terms of being prepared and why did the club no insist that he take a loan in England to acclimatise? Instead, Arsenal have loaned him back to the only league he’s ever played in which, doesn’t provide enough experience that he needs.
It is also arguable that Saliba’s loan out also created the need to sign Ben White, as Arsenal lacked depth.
Elsewhere, the Granit Xhaka situation also raises several eyebrows.
Xhaka had been of interest to Roma for a while, with Roma manager José Mourinho speaking highly of the player and reiterating his stance of signing him for the club.
The two clubs ultimately failed to agree on a fee. Arsenal, to their credit, stood firm on their £17.1m (€20m) price tag and Roma failed to even come close to matching it.
So it seemed that Xhaka was destined for at least one more year in North London, which few could really argue with given his performances last season.
However, the club took the increasingly bizarre move to extend the midfielder’s contract, ostensibly to “protect his value”.
This seemed an odd move. Not only was Xhaka’s contract two years off expiring, but the one-year extension the club have given him makes it harder to rid themselves of the player as his value continues to plummet.
Although its early days in the season at this point, he’s not done much to show why he should be offered such a deal. A red card in Arsenal’s 5-0 humiliation at the hands of Manchester City was yet another cameo of the kind of performances Arsenal fans have come to expect from Xhaka.
However, there is some good to come from this summer in terms of outgoings. Arsenal were able to turn a huge profit on Joe Willock as he secured his move to Newcastle United for a staggering £25m and Arsenal were able to save a reported £20m on Willian’s contract after he agreed to a mutual termination and moved back to Corinthians in Brazil.
Then there’s Eddie Nketiah.
Crystal Palace allegedly issued a “take it or leave it” offer of £10m to Arsenal for the striker, which Arsenal turned down.
This seems to be the very apex of incompetence.
Not only is Arsenal’s valuation of the player entirely too high (the club reportedly wanted as much as £20m), but the fact that the club have turned down tangible money for a player that will walk for free next summer is baffling to the nth degree.
What value is there in keeping Nketiah? He is behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Folarian Balogun in the pecking order and even Gabriel Martinelli is starting more games than him as a striker, so why hold on to him? Surely it’s better to compromise on an offer to guarantee some funds than to stick with him for another year and lose him for nothing? In fact, his sale could have helped fund 62.5% of the fee for Tomiyasu and have resulted in a slightly better accounting sheet.
However, this is not even the worst situation this summer.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles came close to securing himself a move away last season. Wolverhampton Wanderers tabled a £20m bid for the young England youth player, and personal terms were agreed, however, a last minute intervention from Mikel Arteta saw Maitland-Niles ultimately stay put, having been given assurances of playtime.
Despite this, Maitland-Niles never really established himself int he team and was hastily loaned out to West Bromwich Albion in the January window.
This summer, Everton put in an offer of a one year loan with a purchase option at the end of the deal. However, given Maitland-Niles’ contract situation (his deal runs out in two years) Arsenal rejected the offer, encouraging Everton to return (if at all) with a more enticing option, either with an obligation to buy or a straight bid.
However, Maitland-Niles did not react kindly to this new development and took to Instagram to vent his frustrations with the club and his situation.
No sooner had the post been made that Maitland-Niles held talks with Edu and Arteta to discuss his situation. The club made it clear, he would not be sold and his Instagram stunt had earned him a spell of training on his own.
Now Arsenal are encumbered with a player who doesn’t want to be at the club and someone who is very angry with the club’s treatment of him, again, why keep him?
Arsenal’s outgoing business has been shambolic, poorly thought through and incompetent to the point where the club were penny-pinching on assets they were perhaps likely to receive any money for whatsoever.
Now the attention turns to what Arsenal can muster on the field. The distraction of the transfer window will no longer loom large over the field of play, now is the time for Mikel Arteta and his players to turn around their dismal start to the season.
Arsenal have signed defender Takehiro Tomiyasu from Bologna for a reported fee believed to be worth £16m with £2.57m in bonuses. Tomiyasu joins the club on a four-year deal with the option for a fifth. The player completed his Arsenal medical in Italy and will wear the number 18 shirt.
Tomiyasu is likely Arsenal’s final signing of the window, with Héctor Bellerín joining Real Betis.
Tomiyasu seems to fit the hybrid player style that Arsenal have gone for all summer. Arsenal have looked to sign young players who can play in multiple positions, with Tomiyasu capable of playing as both a right-back and as a centre-back.
Arsenal seem to have the same ambitions for Tomiyasu as they do for for other summer signing Ben White, as someone who can help the club build up play from the back as Mikel Arteta works desperately hard to make his playing out from the back system work.
It was not only Arsenal who were interested in Tomiyasu, however. Tottenham Hotspur had long held an interest in the right-back, however, as they switched their interest to Barcelona’s Emerson Royal, Arsenal were able to swoop in to complete the deal.
Tomiyasu began his career in Hakata, a city in the Fukuoka Prefecture, with Avispa Fukuoka. Tomiyasu impressed with the club and was offered a place at Barcelona’s academy, however, the deal was unable to be completed as it proved difficult for Tomiyasu to travel to Spain.
“Takehiro is a strong defender with good experience in Serie A and at international level. He’s a versatile defender with great defensive qualities, high technical ability and composure on the ball. He will be an important member of our squad. We look forward to Takehiro joining up with us when he returns from international duty.”
Following impressive displays for Avispa Fukuoka, Tomiyasu then moved to Sint-Truidense V.V. int he Belgian league. Tomiyasu impressed in Belgium and won the club’s Player of the Year award, for his performances.
By this point, Tomiyasu was beginning to attract interest from all over Europe, however, Tomiyasu joined Italian side Bologna for £7.7m (€9m), becoming the second Japanese player to play for the club since midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata, who was on loan at the club for a season.
Tomiyasu’s performances for Bologna have once again shown an impressive elements about the player, with his tactical versatility likely to be a key asset going forward, especially if Arsenal decide to rotate between a back four and a back three.
He has made 23 appearances (scoring 1 goal) for the Japan national side and has been described by Bologona’s Technical Coach, Emilio De Leo as having “… the ability to read and manipulate time and space in a modern way”.
For his part, Mikel Arteta has reportedly pushed very hard for the move internally. Tomiyasu fits the profile of the kind of player Arsenal are looking for and has asked Technical Director Edu to complete the deal as soon as possible.
Arsenal will hope that Tomiyasu will be available for their next Premier League match, a home fixture against struggling Norwich City.
Arsenal have announced that Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson has joined Belgian team, OH Leuven on a season long loan, though there is a purchase option included in the loan deal.
Rúnarsson joined Arsenal last summer from FC Dijon for a £1.8m fee in the wake of Emiliano Martínez’s departure for Aston Villa. Rúnarsson was signed on the recommendation of Iñaki Caña Pavón, who coached the Iceland international at FC Nordsjaelland.
It’s fair to say that Rúnarsson’s time in North London has been a fairly mixed bag. Initially signed as the club’s third choice keeper, Rúnarsson never looked totally comfortable between the sticks for the club.
The transfer itself had always looked to be surprising one, considering that Rúnarsson was not even the second-choice goalkeeper at Dijon when Arsenal signed him and his presence in the side most certainly mimicked that of the third-choice goalkeeper for a relegated French team.
After a series of fairly uneventful Europa League performances, Rúnarsson was unfortunately brought into the spotlight following a disastrous performance in Arsenal’s 1-4 loss at home to Manchester City in the League Cup, where he fumbled a number of chances, even spilling a fairly innocuous free-kick into his own net.
Heading into what is expected ot be a busy summer for Arsenal and one that has already seen the likes of Mattéo Guendouzi leave the club, Rúnarsson was always expected to leave the club in some capacity, with a loan deal preferred.
Despite the transfer seemingly looking like a very poor investment by the club, it is a fairly low-risk potentially high-reward transfer. If Rúnarsson turned out to be the next Bernd Leno, then Arsenal would be guffawing over a £1.8m price tag and a job well-done. If Rúnarsson shows promise, but is unable to stake a claim in the team, then he can be sold for more than he was signed for or can be loaned out to gain some more experience.
It’s a shame to see things end so abruptly for Rúnarsson, however, the former Dijon shotstopper had fallen very far down the pecking order at Arsenal. Brighton & Hove Albion’s Maty Ryan was brought in on a six month loan deal to give Arsenal some serious cover options, while Rúnarsson was merely allowed in the team as and when Ryan was unavailable for selection.
Now that Rúnarsson has left, Arsenal are left with three goalkeepers at the club. Bernd Leno, Arthur Okonkwo and Aaron Ramsdale.
Héctor Bellerín has joined Spanish side Real Betis on loan for the remainder of the season. Arsenal had initially hoped to use Bellerín as a makeweight in a deal to bring Emerson Royal to the club from Barcelona, however, their €15m fee with Bellerín included was not enough to entice the Catalans and Arsenal have since turned their attentions to Bologna full-back, Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Bellerín has endured a torrid time at the club since returning from injury under Unai Emery. He has failed to appear in any of Arsenal’s first-team selections this season and was replaced by Calum Chambers last season.
His time at the club is an inspirational one however.
Bellerín initially broke into the first team following a suspension to Calum Chambers and an injury to Mathieu Debuchy. From there, Bellerín was instrumental in heloing the club win their second FA Cup in two years.
Before that, Bellerín had been a part of the La Masia academy in Barcelona, before switching to North London. From there, Bellerín has been loaned out to Watford for one season.
Since then, Bellerín has been Arsenal’s main choice of right-back. Following Arsène Wenger’s departure, he was given the number 2 shirt and was made one of the many vice-captains under Unai Emery.
Bellerín was in top form for Emery and looked like a man reborn, however, disaster struck when he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) against Chelsea.
Since returning, his form has taken something of a nosedive and produced a considerable drop-off in quality (as these injuries often do).
He his no longer first choice under former captain turned manager Mikel Arteta and he has been looking for a move all summer.
Interest in Bellerín reportedly came from a number of clubs including Inter Milan, Atlético Madrid and Barcelona, however, Bellerín was only keen to return to Spain for either Barcelona or Real Betis, having grown up a Real Betis fan.
Arsenal will hope that Bellerín receives plenty of game time while at Real Betis and is able to return in form or with his value significantly inflated.