Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Arsenal 3-2 Benfica (Agg: 4-3): Europa League – 25/02/2021

With their current run of Premier League games looking to be a daunting and worrying run, it seems as though Arsenal may be resigned to putting all of their eggs into the Europa League basket.

While last season proved to be a disappointment following the team’s humiliating 1-2 defeat at home to Olympiacos, Mikel Arteta would be hoping for a better un in the competition this season.

Following Rob Holding’s concussion in the defeat to Manchester City, the England defender was unable to make the trip to Athens for the second-leg of Arsenal’s crucial Round of 32 tie against Benfica. So Mikel Arteta made one or two changes, Holding, Pablo Marí, Mohamed Elneny and Nicolas Pépé were all dropped for David Luiz, Gabriel Magalhães, Dani Ceballos and Emile Smith Rowe respectively.

Arsenal entered the match knowing that a scoreless draw would be more than enough to secure them safe passage into the Round of 16, but any Arsenal fan knew that it would be a fool’s errand not to try and score at least one if the North London club were serious about making it through to the next round of the competition.

Arsenal started brightly, with plenty of possession and a lot of chances being created, none more so than by Martin Ødegaard, who drifted through the defensive line easily and was able to pick out a number of sumptuous passes for his teammates.

Despite the Norwegian’s exquisite passing and dribbling, it was Bukayo Saka who found the creative breakthrough from out of nowhere. The talented teen made his way through the middle of the park and then played a delightful, Mesut Özil-esque pass into the path of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who placed the ball into the far corner of the net with a trademark Aubameyang chip.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gives Arsenal the lead on the night.

It was a glorious start and was surely a sign of more to come. How wrong that proved to be.

Struggling to contain one of Benfica’s rare attacks, Dani Ceballos inadvertently gave away a free-kick in an area just promising enough to cause Arsenal some real issues and, sure enough, up stepped Diogo Gonçalves, who fired an absolute screamer of a free-kick into the back of the net to draw the visitors level.

Half-time beckoned in an Arsenal side that seemed stunned by the setback. How could this be? They had been in total control for near enough 45 minutes and Benfica had barely even troubled them and yet, much like the week before, Arsenal found themselves inexplicably on level terms.

The second-half proved to be even more head-scratchingly strange. Arsenal found themselves ahead for five glorious seconds as Ødegaard’s sumptuous ball through found Aubameyang who rattled the back of the net in the same way he had in the first-half with a delicious chip over the grounded goalkeeper, but VAR deemed that Aubameyang had strayed offside.

A corner from Ødegaard was confidently caught by Alexio Leite, who hit a clearance as straight as an arrow down the middle of the pitch which fell fairly easily towards Dani Ceballos who attempted to head the ball behind him to Bernd Leno, only for the midfielder to sell his companion short as the ball trickled into the path of Rafa Silva who bore down on goal, rounded a frustrated Bernd Leno and outstripped the advances of Héctor Bellerín and Kieran Tierney and fired home into an empty net from close range for Arsenal to find themselves a goal down.

In fairness, it didn’t take long for Arsenal to reply, a good run from substitute Willian saw him able to cut back for left-back Kieran Tierney, who steadied himself, took aim and fired an arrow straight into the bottom far corner to get Arsenal back on level terms on the night, although still trialing by the away goals rule.

Arsenal began to dig deep to find a goal, but try as they might, they seemed unable to really test Benfica further until Bukayo Saka’s tricky feet in the box gave him room to aim and he delivered a dream of a cross to the back post for an onrushing Aubameyang to head home from close-range and give Arsenal a well-deserved lead in dramatic fashion.

Leading the pack: Kieran Tierney rallies the troops after his equaliser.

Even the subsequent VAR check could do little to tarnish the scenes of jubilation from the players and that feeling was only extended when the final whistle blew a few minutes later.

It was a close run thing, Arsenal qualified by the skin of their teeth and it seemed as though Arsenal’s biggest issues once again were their own.

Héctor Bellerín had spoken in the wake of the defeat to Manchester City about how no team is beating Arsenal, but rather that Arsenal are beating themselves, something that seemed to be echoed in the performance on Thursday night.

Benfica never really looked to be at the races, but three individual errors over the course of the two legs gifted them three goals, with Arsenal needing their usual big hitters to bail them out.

It was an outstanding performance however from young Bukayo Saka. The youngster broke into the team last season and now looks to have usurped Aubameyang and Leno as the first name on the teamsheet. The youngster was everywhere and Benfica seemed unable to get the ball from him, it was as though the ball was velcroed to his feet and his two assists seemed to echo the abilities of the now departed Mesut Özil at his very best.

Another strong performance from Kieran Tierney will have certainly helped as well. The Scottish left-back has endured hell with his injury woes at Arsenal, however, his commitment and abilities can never be questioned, even if his appearance stats can. His goal last night had an air of “I’ll do it myself then” about it and the finish was as emphatic as his celebration afterwards.

Arsenal must now focus on the Premier League, with a trip to the King Power Stadium next up.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (Lacazette 78’)
23.) David Luiz
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
  8.) Dani Ceballos (Partey 63’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Willian 63’)
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Elneny 90’)
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Chambers 90’)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
22.) Pablo Marí
21.) Calum Chambers
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
18.) Thomas Partey
12.) Willian
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Benfica team:
77.) Alexio Leite
  4.) Lucas Veríssimo
30.) Nicolas Otamendi
  5.) Jan Vertonghen
17.) Diogo Gonçalves
21.) Pizzi (c) (Everton 58’)
28.) Julian Weigl (Waldschmidt 90’)
49.) Adel Taarabt (Appelt Pires 58’)
  3.) Álex Grimaldo (Tavares 85’)
27.) Ferreira Silva
14.) Haris Seferović (Núñez 57’)

Benfica subs:
  1.) Mile Svilar
99.) Odyesseas Vlachodimos
  2.) Gilberto
71.) Nuno Tavares
  8.) Appelt Pires
11.) Cervi
19.) Chiquinho
27.) Ferreira Silva
38.) Pedrinho
  7.) Everton Soares
88.) Gonçalo Ramos
  9.) Darwin Núñez

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

Arsenal 0-1 Manchester City: Premier League – 21/02/2021

Despite Arsenal’s recent upsurge in form, it was of no surprise that Arsenal fans still entered their match against Champions-elect Manchester City with a feeling of apprehension.

Given the re-introduction of the Europa League, fatigue has started to creep in and Arsenal and their players seem unlikely to be able to cope with both a Premier League and European run-in at the same time.

It therefore seemed a somewhat bizarre turn of events to see Mikel Arteta name a damn-near full-strength side for the visit of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Kieran Tierney returned to the side after a prelonged period of absence and Mohamed Elneny stepped in alongside Nicolas Pépé.

Arsenal could not have gotten off to a worse start. No sooner had the whistle blown to kick the game off that Manchester City began to attack with gusto and it was no surprise that after two minutes, City found themselves ahead through a Raheem Sterling header.

Bukayo Saka tracks João Cancelo.

It was a hammer-blow for Mikel Arteta and his side. Not only were they coming up against arguably the best attacking outfit in the land, but also one of the sturdiest defences in the league as well.

However, Sterling’s goal had looked like a premature opening of the floodgates for a cavalcade of City attacks, an onslaught that would leave Arsenal begging for the final whistle before half-time, but it proved to be nothing more than a signifier of an anti-climax.

Barely either team created much throughout the game, though Arsenal found themselves in some fairly advanced positions, with Nicolas Pépé rattling the side-netting.

When the final-whistle blew, it seemed to be a disappointing result for both managers. Guardiola will feel that he could have easily had three or four in the opening fifteen minutes alone and Arteta will be questioning how Arsenal failed to pull one. back, especially given that City seemed to regularly secede possession to Arsenal so often.

Raheem Sterling rises highest to score the game’s only goal.

Despite the defeat, Arsenal couldn’t be too upset with what they had seen. It was always a tall ask to beat Manchester City, especially a Manchester City team as good as this one. The return of Rob Holding had looked to be a poor decision on Arteta’s part in the beginning when he failed to beat the tiny figure of Raheem Sterling in the air, but the defender recovered well from the goal and turned in a fairly impressive performance alongside Pablo Marí.

The performance of Bukayo Saka is so often a high point for Arsenal regardless of the result, and Sunday was no exception. The youngster gave it his all and looked to cause City some real issues, creating chances, attacking with intent and opening up space for Kieran Tierney on the left-hand side.

Arsenal will take some comforts from the defeat and will hope that their performance in Athens on Thursday against Benfica is a more profitable return.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
16.) Rob Holding (concussion: David Luiz 82′)
22.) Pablo Marí
  3.) Kieran Tierney
25.) Mohamed Elneny (Ceballos 86′)
34.) Granit Xhaka
19.) Nicolas Pépé
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Lacazette 73′)
  7.) Bukayo Saka
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
23.) David Luiz
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares
  8.) Dani Ceballos
12.) Willian
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Manchester City team:
33.) Ederson
27.) João Cancelo
  3.) Rúben Dias
  5.) John Stones
11.) Oleksandr Zinchenko
25.) Fernandinho
  8.) İlkay Gündoğan (c)
20.) Bernardo Silva
26.) Riyad Mahrez
17.) Kevin De Bruyne (Gabriel Jesus 63′)
  7.) Raheem Sterling

Manchester City subs:
13.) Zack Steffen
14.) America Laporte
  2.) Kyle Walker
22.) Benjamin Mendy
16.) Rodri
47.) Phil Foden
21.) Ferran Torres
  9.) Gabriel Jesus
10.) Sergio Agüero

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Benfica 1-1 Arsenal: Europa League – 18/02/2021

While Arsenal’s Premier League form has been something of a rollercoaster ride for all involved, their Europa League form has been a showing of potential favourites.

Finishing top of their group with maximum points, twenty goals scored and only five conceded, has given Arsenal fans hope that this season could indeed be their year.

Starting with the same eleven that romped to a 4-2 victory over Leeds United on Sunday, Mikel Arteta sent a clear message that Arsenal consider this competition among their top priorities.

If that attitude was hinted at with his selection, it was reflected too in the performance of the team.

Arsenal started well, creating chances and keeping Benfica at bay. Benfica struggled to contain the midfield, which allowed Arsenal to push forward more often. Following his side’s defeat on Sunday, Marcelo Bielsa simply stated that his team failed to keep Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos quiet, something Benfica failed to do as well.

Xhaka was not the main man that Benfica needed to worry about, it was Ceballos, who was carving open the Portuguese side with indifferent ease, his passes reaching Héctor Bellerín and Bukayo Saka far too easily and it was from these positions that Arsenal were at their most dangerous.

Arsenal were carving open Benfica with relative ease and it seemed certain that they would take a well-deserved lead, when Bellerín laid a beautiful cross along the floor of the six-yard area to fall to the feet of the in-form Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, fresh off his first-ever Premier League hat-trick, only for the talismanic striker to miss. It seemed a cert that he would score and it also seemed easier to score it than miss it.

Despite Benfica’s penalty, David Luiz & Gabriel Magalhães looked solid on the night.

Arsenal had plenty of other chances, but the main issue seemed to rise from the forward line’s seeming inability to remain onside. Bukayo Saka, Aubameyang and Emile Smith Rowe were the guilty parties more often than most and while seemed a little bit harsh, it killed a lot of the momentum going forward against a somewhat hapless Benfica defence.

It was remarkable that Arsenal reached half-time at 0-0 and it seemed as though Benfica had been hoping for such an event, as they implemented the attacking part of their gameplan in the second-half. Though Benfica rarely troubled Arsenal beyond a decent save from Bernd Leno, they inadvertently found themselves on the receiving end of a very harsh penalty decision.

Emile Smith Rowe’s handball in the box was verified by VAR, but the decision seemed to penalise Smith Rowe for something he had little-to-no control over. A stray ricochet from his chest onto his arm meant that Benfica were given the chance to take the lead, which they dutifully did as Pizzi’s effort creeped past Leno to give Benfica an early advantage.

It didn’t take long for Arsenal to respond however. Though not a terrific sign that Arsenal only really clicked into gear in the final-third when they had conceded, it was a very well worked goal.

A brilliant pass from the excellent Martin Ødegaard found Cédric Soares unmarked in the box, who squared it for Saka, who promptly finished to give Arsenal an equaliser and an all-important away goal.

From there, Arsenal had one or two other chances, but otherwise failed to create much more and it was with a dissapointing air that the final whistle sounded.

Bukayo Saka celebrates his equaliser with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Despite conceding a penalty, it was a sound defensive performance from Arsenal, especially from Brazilian duo David Luiz and Gabriel Magalhães, who managed to keep most of Benfica’s main attempts at bay fairly easily. Their long balls over the top were often the main source of creativity in the team for a while, allowing Smith Rowe and Saka to build up on the flanks, while Ødegaard and Aubameyang crowded the box.

The performance of Martin Ødegaard will surely turn some heads too. The Norwegian youngster was unlucky not to impact the game more, as Arsenal seemed to usurp him whenever they were going forward, not least in the form of Bellerín, who seemed unwilling to pass to the midfielder, despite the acres of space for him to run into and the excellent runs he had made.

Nevertheless, when he was on the ball, he looked every bit the exciting creative talisman that Arsenal have so craved. His passes were deftly woven, perfectly weighted and easy for the attacker to take in their stride and he seemed totally at ease when dribbling at Benfica’s rather error-prone defence. Though it will likely be said until everyone is sick of it, there was a touch of Mesut Özil about Ødegaard and the comparisons between the two are far beyond the fact that they share the same initials and both came to Arsenal from a Real Madrid side that considered them surplus to requirements.

A lack of sharpness in the final-third (not least from Aubameyang), is all that stood between Arsenal and a potential thrashing, but an away goal is certainly an important take-home as Arsenal leave their COVID-enforced away leg in Rome, to take on Manchester City on Sunday, followed by the return leg in Athens; Mikel Arteta will be hoping for a more exciting attacking display from his side in both matches.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
23.) David Luiz
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares (Tierney 64’)
34.) Granit Xhaka
  8.) Dani Ceballos (Elneny 90’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Martinelli 77’)
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Willian 90’)
  7.) Bukayo Saka
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Pépé 77’)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
21.) Calum Chambers
  3.) Kieran Tierney
25.) Mohamed Elneny
12.) Willian
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Benfica team:
77.) Alexio Leite
  4.) Lucas Veríssimo (Chiquinho 85’)
30.) Nicolas Otamendi
  5.) Jan Vertonghen
17.) Diogo Gonçalves
21.) Pizzi (c) (Everton Soares 64′)
28.) Julian Weigl
49.) Adel Taarabt (Pires 77′)
  3.) Álex Grimaldo
10.) Luca Waldschmidt (Silva 45’)
  9.) Darwin Núñez (Seferovic 64’)

Benfica subs:
  1.) Mile Svilar
99.) Odyesseas Vlachodimos
82.) Fonseca Ferriera
  2.) Gilberto
71.) Nuno Tavares
  8.) Appelt Pires
11.) Cervi
19.) Chiquinho
27.) Ferreira Silva
38.) Pedrinho
82.) Fonseca Ferriera
  7.) Everton Soares
14.) Haris Seferović

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

Arsenal 4-2 Leeds United: Premier League – 14/02/2021

Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds have one of the most popular teams to watch in the Premier League this season. The games are usually high-scoring, the scoreline’s enthralling and football dazzling. Despite this, Arsenal showed no signs of trepidation as they entered Sunday evening’s match.

With injuries to Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney, Dani Ceballos and Cédric Soares were brought in to cover, meanwhile Bernd Leno and David Luiz returned to the side following their red cards in the defeat to Wolves.

It can be difficult for managers figuring out how to defeat Leeds. While their defence leaves a lot to be desired, last year’s Championship winners have more than enough quality in their attack to punish any team that dare commit too many men forward.

Despite this, Arsenal came out of the blocks all guns blazing. The creativity overload of Martin Ødegaard and Emile Smith Rowe definitely aided Arsenal’s attack, with the supplementary silkiness of Bukayo Saka.

It didn’t take long for Arsenal’s hard-work to pay off. The runs of Ødegaard and Smith Rowe created space for Granit Xhaka’s slide-rule pass into the feet of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who’s silky step-overs and body-feints were enough to bamboozle former-Gunner Luke Ayling and the former Borussia Dortmund hitman rattled the back of the net in emphatic fashion to give the Gunners a well-deserved lead.

Pierre-Emerick Aumabeyang celebrates one of his three goals on Sunday with Cédric Soares.

It wouldn’t be an Arsenal game if there wasn’t some kind of controversy however and sure enough VAR supplied some. After Liam Cooper brought down Saka in the penalty area, Stuart Atwell immediately pointed to the spot without a second’s hesitation, however, VAR assistant Andre Marriner told the referee to check the incident out on the VAR screen. The decision was remarkably overturned. Given David Luiz’s incident only two weeks previously, it seemed an unnecessarily harsh decision on Saka.

Arsenal didn’t have to wait long to get their penalty however. Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier failed to clear his lines and in a desperate attempt to keep the ball away from the high-pressing Saka, brought the youngster down in the penalty area and this time, there was no mistake at all and Aubameyang dutifully dispatched from twelve-yards to double the home side’s lead.

Arsenal continued to attack before the half was out and after some silky footwork in the penalty area from Dani Ceballos, the Spaniard was able to dink the ball throigh the legs of the defender for Héctor Bellerín, who took a touch seemingly too far outwide, only for the right-back to thump home Arsenal’s third.

Half-time was a welcome occurrence for Leeds as displayed in their two changes at half-time, but for Arsenal, it was an unnecessary distraction.

Not that their performance stuttered, barely two minutes after the interval, Aubameyang rounded off his hat-trick when Emile Smith Rowe’s shot-cum-cross found Aubameyang at the far-post who headed home in style.

From then on, Leeds soon found their way back into the game. A thumping header from Pascal Struijk from a corner and a beautifully worked finish from substitute Hélder Costa where enough to invoke ripples of fear from a fanbase that has seen Arsenal throw away similar leads to this one before, but the final whistle blew on a 4-2 victory for Arsenal.

Aubameyang rounds off his hat-trick.

It was a superb performance from Arsenal, despite conceding two goals. A hat-trick for a talismanic captain who has been in need of some form for a while now is always a welcome addition, but the defensive solidity of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos aided matters a lot too.

Mikel Arteta seemed to take a leaf from Pep Guardiola’s book as well; Arsenal seemed to play with a false-nine, but with them rotating. One minute it was Aubameyang, the next Saka and the next it was Smith Rowe or Ødegaard and Leeds seemingly had no way to block it.

The movement of the Arsenal forward-line was backed-up by the remarkably press-resistant midfield pivot of Ceballos and Xhaka. Though the two have come under fire for their lackadaisical passing or inability to beat the press of anyone who comes near them, they coped with Leeds remarkably well.

Many have put Xhaka’s recent resurgence in form down to the added cover of Thomas Partey, however, with the Ghanian missing against Leeds, he seemed to cope just fine.

It seems strange to have too many negative critiques from a game in which Arsenal won fairly comfortably, but the performance of substitute Willian was fairly close to taking the sheen off of a fairly immaculate performance.

The Brazilian seems to be on a completely different page to his teammates and his inability to track back or to dribble with the ball begs the question as to why Arteta insists on introducing him every game.

Willian seems to be on another planet entirely and though his lovely ball through for Saka in the second-half showed the vision he has, it’s worrying that he doesn’t use it more. Outside of that one incident, the former Chelsea man lost the ball the same amount in just under half an hour of play than Emile Smith Rowe (the man he replaced) managed in 62 minutes, a truly worrying statistic and seemingly emblematic of the poor performances Willian seems to churn out every week.

The attention now turns to the return of the Europa League, as Arsenal face-off against Benfica in their Round of 32 first-leg.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
23.) David Luis
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares
34.) Granit Xhaka
  8.) Dani Ceballos (Holding 89’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Willian 62’)
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Elneny 78’)
  7.) Bukayo Saka
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
21.) Calum Chambers
25.) Mohamed Elneny
12.) Willian
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
19.) Nicolas Pépé
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Leeds United team:
  1.) Ilan Meslier
46.) Jamie Shackleton
  2.) Luke Ayling
  6.) Liam Cooper (c)
10.) Ezgjan Alioski (Huggins 53’)
21.) Pascal Struijk
18.) Raphina
15.) Stuart Dallas
43.) Mateusz Klich (Roberts 45’)
22.) Jack Harrison (Hélder Costa 45’)
  9.) Patrick Bamford

Leeds United subs:
13.) Kiko Casilla
24.) Leif Davis
35.) Charlie Cresswell
52.) Niall Huggins
47.) Jack Jenkins
17.) Hélder Costa
19.) Pablo Hernández
30.) Joe Gelhardt
11.) Tyler Roberts

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

Aston Villa 1-0 Arsenal: Premier League – 06/01/2021

An embarrassing performance at the Emirates Stadium back in November gave Aston Villa a well deserved victory, but given Arsenal’s recent run of form (their game against Wolverhampton Wanderers notwithstanding), Arsenal had every right to be confident about securing revenge against the boys from Birmingham.

Following the unceremonious dismissals of David Luiz and Bernd Leno respectively against Wolves, Maty Ryan was called into make his Arsenal debut and Gabriel Magalhães was recalled to the side alongside him.

The game did not start well. Within the opening two minutes Aston Villa found themselves in front. A bit of dawdling on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area from left-back fill-in Cédric Soares allowed Bertrand Traoré loose and the winger square the ball for Ollie Watkins, whose shot took a deflection off Rob Holding to take it away from Maty Ryan and bounced into the back of the Arsenal net.

Jack Grealish encourages Aston Villa’s anti-Bukayo Saka tactic.

It was a hammer blow. Going 1-0 down can be a tough pill to swallow even at the best of times, but going 1-0 down away to a side in the form Aston Villa are in within two minutes os damn near suicide.

Arsenal created a few avenues to exploit Villa, but the final ball was all that was lacking. Aston Villa soon seemed to realise that Bukayo Saka would likely be Arsenal’s main danger man and so targeted him so as to break up Arsenal’s play.

For the most part, this tactic seemed to work. Saka is something of a pacemaker in the Arsenal side and the constant breaking up of fouls broke the team’s rhythm. The tactic almost backfired hiwever when Granit Xhaka’s superb free-kick was expertly kept out by former-Gunner, Emiliano Martínez.

The second half was a far more creative showing from both sides. Villa had sat back after their goal, but in the second-half they seemed more willing to attack, forcing Maty Ryan into some superb saves.

From Arsenal’s perspective, there were a few opportunities to draw level, mainly through the high number of chances the team created. A possible penalty incident that was missed by VAR in which Alexandre Lacazette was tugged down by Martínez summed up Arsenal’s afternoon however, and the final whistle blowing brought an end to a cruel afternoon for the North Londoners.

Martin Ødegaard is tracked by Ross Barkley, Jack Grealish and Marvelous Nakamba.

Despite the result on the board, the performance was something far more impressive than Arsenal fans are used to seeing from the team. Despite going 1-0 down, Arsenal did not let their heads go down, but instead strived to be better and create openings for a route back into the game.

The introduction of Martin Ødegaard seemed to bolster Arsenal’s attacking credentials. A guilt-edged miss at the end of the game will likely play on his mind for a while, but his performance elevated the team around him, even Emile Smith Rowe, who was himself already experiencing a very good game of his own.

The tactical switch-up following Ødegaard’s introduction was a fascinating sight to behold as Emile Smith Rowe moved out to the wing and Granit Xhaka, Bukayo Saka and Willian all seemed to occupy the left-hand side, with Ødegaard given the license to drift out wide where needed.

All in all, it was a dissapointing result for Arsenal, but they can take comfort from the performance, which was definitely a step in the right direction.

Arsenal team:
 33.) Maty Ryan
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (c)
16.) Rob Holding
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares (Ødegaard 65’)
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey (Willian 74’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
  7.) Bukayo Saka
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Aubameyang 59’)

Arsenal subs:
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
21.) Calum Chambers
22.) Pablo Marí
25.) Mohamed Elneny
  8.) Dani Ceballos
12.) Willian
11.) Martin Ødegaard
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Aston Villa team:
26.) Emiliano Martínez
  2.) Matty Cash
  4.) Ezri Konsa
  5.) Tyrone Mings
18.) Matthew Targett
  7.) John McGinn
19.) Marvelous Nakamba
15.) Bertrand Traoré
20.) Ross Barkley
10.) Jack Grealish (c)
11.) Ollie Watkins

Aston Villa subs:
  1.) Tom Heaton
27.) Ahmed Elmohamady
22.) Björn Engles
  6.) Douglas Luiz
21.) Anwar El Ghazi
17.) Trézéguet
41.) Jacob Ramsey
25.) Morgan Sanson
39.) Keinan Davies

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 Arsenal: Premier League – 02/01/2021

With recent results starting to look ever more promising for Arsenal, it is not entirely unsurprising to see Arsenal fans walk with a spring in their step recently.

Wins over Brighton & Hove Albion, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United and Southampton and a draw against Manchester United, seem to have given the team a new lease on life, not least because of the continued rise of young Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka.

It therefore came as no surprise to see Arsenal taking their match against Wolves by the scruff of the neck right from the off. A fabulous through-ball from Thomas Partey to Bukayo Saka gave everyone an indication of how Arsenal intended to play, attacking with style. Though Saka’s effort rattled off the post, it was one of many danger signs for the home side.

Saka was one of Arsenal’s most lethal attackers and even had the ball in the back of the net, only for it to be ruled out due to VAR. From there, Arsenal continued to dominate Wolves.

Eventually, the deadlock was broken. Wonderful footwork from the resurged Nicolas Pépé saw him break into the Wolves box only to then lash a stunning shot into the far corner with his weaker right foot to give the away side the lead.

David Luiz receives his marching orders.

From there, it was one-way traffic until…disaster struck. Right on the stroke of half-time, David Luiz brought down Willian José in the penalty area and was immediately dismissed. It was a huge blow to the team, not least because they were now facing the prospect of heading into half-time all-square.

The penalty decision itself looked very harsh and Luiz’s dismissal was particularly unfair, given that the Brazilian had not even attempted to tackle the striker. It was therefore no surprise whatsoever to see Rúben Neves rifile home the equaliser as the half-time whistle blew.

The second-half saw Arsenal forced into a defensive change as Alexandre Lacazette was replaced by Gabriel Magalhães to cover Luiz’s absence. Arsenal struggled to gain much more of a foothold and, inevitably, Wolves took the lead, this time throigh an absolute screamer from João Moutinho. Five goalkeepers wouldn’t have kept it out, but it was pretty much the final nail in the coffin for Arsenal, who looked distinctly unlikely to score now.

However, if Arsenal fans thought that that was the end of the misery, they were sadly mistaken. A moment of madness from the usually reliable and heroic Bernd Leno saw the German goalkeeper leave his penalty area and attempt to head the ball out of play, only for the ball to hit his hand. An instant dismissal and Mikel Arteta saw his team go down to nine men and was forced into the substitution of Thomas Partey being withdrawn for Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson.

Thankfully, the final whistle blew without Arsenal conceding anymore, but with a sour taste in the mouth.

Bukayo Saka was one of Arsenal’s few bright sparks on the night.

It was a particularly frustrating result to take for Arsenal fans. The first-half had been a display of rich attacking football, with intricate passing play, players playing with full confidence and a team that looked capable of replicating a similar scoreline to Manchester United’s recent 9-0 hammering of Southampton. The first red card killed the momentum, the second killed the game.

The first red card still seems an insanely harsh decision, not least because no foul had been committed. Willian José seemed to have hit his own foot into David Luiz’s knee and was given a penalty for it. Though the penalty decision itself seemed a little harsh, it was at least understandable, however, the subsequent red card was distinctly unfair. It is therefore no surprise that Mikel Arteta and his staff will be appealing the decision.

The second red card was a moment of pure insanity from Leno. Its clear that the former Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper had not intended to use his hand or to commit any sort of foul, however, a mis-timed header in the pouring rain is always a dangerous combination and the goalkeeper paid the price for it.

However, the continued good form of Nicolas Pépé will certainly be a glimmer of hope with which to cling onto. The Ivorian winger was keen to do the defensive dirty-work as much as the attacking and though Pépé was substituted in the 61st minute, it was more down to Arsenal’s one-man disadvantage than anything else.

Despite the glimmers of hope in Pépé or Partey or Saka or Smith Rowe or even Rob Holding, Arsenal fans will likely want to try and forget this game as soon as possible and honestly, who can blame them?

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno 🔴
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (c)
16.) Rob Holding
23.) David Luiz 🔴
17.) Cédric Soares
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey (Rúnarsson 74’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé (Aubameyang 61’)
  7.) Bukayo Saka
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Gabriel Magalhães 45’)

Arsenal subs:
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
21.) Calum Chambers
25.) Mohamed Elneny
  8.) Dani Ceballos
12.) Willian
11.) Martin Ødegaard
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Wolverhampton Wanderers team:
11.) Rui Patricío
22.) Nélson Semedo
16.) Conor Coady (c)
15.) Wilfried Boly
49.) Max Kilman
  8.) Rúben Neves (Dendoncker 74’)
28.) João Moutinho
37.) Adama Traoré
10.) Daniel Podence (Vitinha 62’)
  7.) Pedro Neto
12.) Willian José (Fábio Silva 91’)

Wolverhampton Wanderers subs:
21.) John Ruddy 
2.) Ki-Jana Hoever
42.) Lewis Richards
54.) Owen Otasowie
32.) Leander Dendoncker
18.) Morgan Gibbs-White
20.) Vitinha
17.) Fábio Silva

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United: Premier League – 30/01/2021

The rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United is not what it once was. In the days of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, Arsenal and Manchester United were the two best teams in the country, constantly battling out for the league title and just about every other trophy you could think of along the way. Though both teams are nowhere near their former glory, the antipathy has not dissipated.

Despite their 1-3 win over Southampton, Arsenal went into Saturday’s match with an air of foreboding. Key players Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney were all missing due to injury or fitness levels, leaving Arsenal with a rather depleated side, depraved of it’s best players, with only one change from the side that won at St. Mary’s Stadium as Gabriel Martinelli came in for the injured Saka.

Arsenal started well, though Manchester United found a few avenues to explore, mainly through Bruno Fernandes, Arsenal were the team that left at half-time with the better pleased of the two sides.

Granit Xhaka tracks the tricky Marcus Rashford.

Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pépé and Emile Smith Rowe all linked up well throughout the half and though it was perhaps not the best attacking display on the day, Arsenal still looked menacing.

Half-time saw the controversial tactical substitution of Martinelli in favour of Willian.

The Brazilian has failed to have much of an impact at the Emirates Stadium since his summer switch from Stamford Bridge, so this was seen by many as a chance for him to prove himself.

The second half was a bit more exciting than the first, with both teams having guilt-edged chances. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani all came closest for the away side, whilst Willian, Pépé and Lacazette all came closest for the home side, Lacazette in particular, rattling the crossbar from a free-kick.

The final whistle bought an end to a game that, goals aside, had had it all. It was a fast-paced attacking display from both sides and with plenty of intricate tactical planning from both Mikel Arteta and Ole Gunnar Solskjær.

The performance of Willian was perhaps the only down-side for Arsenal on the night. Though the former-Chelsea winger played much better than in previous weeks, there was still a feeling of anti-climax about the Brazilian’s performance. He was handed a guilt-edged chance early in the second-half, which he deliberated over for too long, causing the moment to pass. Though he did redeem himself later with a mazy run which set-up Pépé’s chance a few minutes later. Willian will have to show a lot more than he is doing at the moment if he wishes to be in the starting eleven for Arsenal’s match against Wolves.

David Luiz and Cédric Soares greet Edinson Cavani.

Elsewhere, the continued rise of Emile Smith Rowe is plain to see. Though there were the usual sloppy moments one would expect to see from a young player, there were the Manchester United found it very difficult to contain him. Smith Rowe showed new signing Martin Ødegaard that he is not assured of a first-team place and will need to battle Smith Rowe for the position.

The performances of Rob Holding have been astounding to see as well. Though the famous proclamations of Arsène Wenger who said: “I’m sorry he didn’t cost £50m, so he cannot be good” are constantly referenced on social media, it is perhaps a testament to Wenger’s transfer policy to show just how good a bargain of £2m for Holding is in hindsight.

With England manager Gareth Southgate in the stands keeping a watchful eye over proceedings, Holding did very little to keep Southgate from a potential selection headache. Holding was first to every ball, partnered well with man-of-the-match David Luiz and looked as solid at the back as he has in recent weeks.

Though Arsenal (and by extension Manchester United) will be disappointed to come away with only a draw, there was plenty to be excited about for Arsenal fans as the final day of the transfer window draws ever closer and their match against Wolves beckons as well.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (c)
16.) Rob Holding
23.) David Luiz
17.) Cédric Soares
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Willian 45’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Ødegaard 83’)
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Nketiah 94’)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
21.) Calum Chambers
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
25.) Mohamed Elneny
28.) Joe Willock
12.) Willian
11.) Martin Ødegaard
30.) Eddie Nketiah

Manchester United team:
  1.) David de Gea
29.) Aaron Wan-Bissaka
  2.) Victor Lindelöf
  5.) Harry Maguire (c)
23.) Luke Shaw
39.) Scott McTominay (Martial 37’)
17.) Fred
  6.) Paul Pogba
10.) Marcus Rashford (Greenwood 80’)
18.) Bruno Fernandes
  7.) Edinson Cavani

Manchester United subs:
26.) Dean Henderson
  3,) Eric Bailly
38.) Axel Tuanzebe
27.) Alex Telles
31.) Nemanja Matić
34.) Donny van de Beek
21.) Daniel James
11.) Mason Greenwood
  9.) Anthony Martial

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

Southampton 1-3 Arsenal: Premier League – 26/01/2021

St. Mary’s Stadium hasn’t exactly been the happiest of hunting grounds for Arsenal over the years. Whether it be the 2-0 defeat that spelled the end of Wojciech Szczęsny’s time at the club or the humiliating 4-0 demolition they endured a few seasons back or even this weekend’s 1-0 FA Cup loss, Arsenal fans had a right to enter Tuesday night’s match a little apprehensively.

In light of the unceremonious loss on Saturday, Arsenal’s main priority until the Europa League resumes in February, is the Premier League, which saw a return of all the big names, with the exception of Kieran Tierney, who was left out as a precaution and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was out of the side for family reasons.

The game started well enough for Arsenal in the opening two minutes. The team created an early chance, which Alexandre Lacazette saw his rather tame effort saved by the onrushing Alex McCarthy. However, no brighter had they started, than Arsenal saw themselves a goal down.

Alexandre Lacazette’s early effort is kept out by Alex McCarthy.

Poor marking on a James Ward-Prowse corner saw Stuart Armstrong lash home the volley on the edge of the box and give the home side the lead.

It is perhaps a testament to how much the Premier League means to Arsenal at the moment that the team did not drop their heads and soon enough, their perseverance was rewarded. An exquisite through-ball from Granit Xhaka allowed the often-maligned Nicolas Pépé the room to take a touch and comfortably roll the ball into the far corner to bring the visitors level.

Arsenal continued to dominate and created a wealth of chances, with free-flowing attacking movement and passing. Once again, Arsenal found themselves with the space to create as Lacazette exploited Southampton’s abnormally high line to release Bukayo Saka, while McCarthy ran out to block his path, Saka expected it and diverted the ball around him and finished with his weaker right foot into the open net to give Arsenal the lead.

Half-time was a welcome affair for Southampton, but a dissruption for Arsenal, who were playing some of their best football of the season so far and it came as no surprise that Arsenal grabbed a third towards the end of the second-half.

Former Saint Cédric Soares, filling in at left-back, played arguably one of the passes of the season as his cross-field ball was inch-perfect to the feet of Bukayo Saka, who’s first-time cross was met at the far-post by Alexandre Lacazette to settle the tie for Arsenal.

The final whistle blew on a tremendous away performance from Arsenal and one that begins to right some of the wrongs from earlier in the season. From nearly two months without a win or a goal from open-play to 16 out of a potential 18 points.

Bukayo Saka celebrates giving Arsenal the lead with captain Héctor Bellerín.

The performance of Cédric Soares is the main talking point at the moment for Arsenal fans. It was yet another impressive performance from the Portuguese full-back. Though the signing was questioned at the time, Cédric has since adapted to life in N5 well and his performance on both the offensive and defensive side were impeccable and led to a number of opportunities for Arsenal throughout the match.

The continued rise of Bukayo Saka must also be noted. Saka’s performance was one of a seasoned veteran, not a young man in his first full season with the team. Saka was tricky to track, too quick to catch and a handful for the Southampton defence, linking up particularly well with Lacazette.

Though Arsenal fans will no doubt have some concerns over the injury status of both Emile Smith Rowe and Thomas Partey, both players’ performances were other areas that showed improvement in this Arsenal side. Partey and Xhaka are starting to form a formidable midfield pivot, whilst Smith Rowe is looking every bit the part as Arsenal’s creative midfielder, even with the loan signing of Martin Ødegaard.

Next up for Arsenal, is the title-challengers Manchester United and Mikel Arteta will be hoping for a showing similar to the team’s 0-1 win at Old Trafford in November.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (c)
16.) Rob Holding
23.) David Luiz
17.) Cédric Soares
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey (Elneny 78’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé (Willock 92’)
  7.) Bukayo Saka
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Willian 72’)
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
21.) Calum Chambers
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
25.) Mohamed Elneny
28.) Joe Willock
12.) Willian
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah

Southampton team:
  1.) Alex McCarthy
18.) Yan Valery
35.) Jan Bednarek
  5.) Jack Stephens
29.) Jake Vokins (Redmond 66’)
32.) Theo Walcott (N’Lundulu 74’)
27.) Ibrahima Diallo
  8.) James Ward-Prowse
17.) Stuart Armstrong
  9.) Danny Ings (Watts 74’)
10.) Che Adams

Southampton subs:
44.) Fraser Forster
31.) Kayne Ramsay
47.) Will Ferry
65.) Caleb Watts
72.) Kgaogelo Chauke
64.) Alex Jankewitz
11.) Nathan Redmond
  7.) Shane Long
40.) Dan N’Lundulu

Categories
20/21 FA Cup First Team Match Reports

Southampton 1-0 Arsenal: FA Cup – 23/01/2021

The FA Cup has long been one of the staples of the Arsenal trophy cabinet. As the record winners of the competition and current holders, it is a competition that holds particular significance for the club and Arsenal fans have long become accustomed to seeing the club’s name carved into the trophy at the end of the season, with many affectionally referring to the competition as the ‘Arsenal Invitational’.

Ahead of Saturday afternoon’s kick-off, Arsenal announced a fairly makeshift team. Gabriel Magalhães has only recently returned from a bad bout of COVID-19, Héctor Bellerín was dropped in favour of the in-form Cédric Soares the previous week, Mohamed Elneny has been reduced to bench appearances in the wake of Thomas Partey’s return to the side and Willian, Eddie Nketiah and Nicolas Pépé have struggled for form in recent weeks ahead of the high performing front line in the league, all of which were drafted in for Saturday’s game.

Rob Holding tracks Ché Adams.

St. Mary’s Stadium has never been a particularly happy hunting ground for Arsenal in recent seasons and Saturday was no different. A painstakingly average performance from Arsenal was served by casual reminders of old issues. The defence looked very suspect, the midfield was as easy to open as an unlocked door and the attack was as toothless as ever. 

That’s not to take away from what was a very resolute and disciplined performance from Southampton, but Arsenal didn’t exactly make matters difficult for Southampton with a string of poorly thought out passes and positioning. 

It therefore came as no surprise to see Kyle Walker-Peters’ shot deflect in off of Gabriel Magalhães who looked particularly hapless on his return to the starting eleven. 

By the time Mikel Arteta looked to correct things in the second-half, the damage was long done. Arsenal looked as though they could have been there until past midnight and they still wouldn’t have scored. 

The final whistle brought an early end to Arsenal’s FA Cup defence. 

Kyle Walker-Peters’ shot canons in off of Gabriel Magalhães.

It was possibly one of the worst performances from Arsenal this season. Defensive frailities were exposed with rather rather shocking ease, with Gabriel Magalhães in particular being the main source of disruption at the back, as he struggled to contain a very hard-working Southampton forward-line. 

In midfield, Mohamed Elneny (who’s initial loss of possession led to Southampton’s only goal) was constantly caught out of position, making the midfield far too easy to overrun and leaving Granit Xhaka isolated for Southampton to pick off easily. Things noticeably picked up after the introduction of Thomas Partey.

In terms of attack, Nicolas Pépé, Willian and Eddie Nketiah did not cover themselves in glory. There was almost nothing about Pépé’s presence that seemed to inspire fear in the Southampton defence, The Ivorian winger was constantly caught out in possession and was unable to find many teammates. Nketiah looked very out of his depth and though his high pressing stance was useful, his overall performance left plenty to be desired.

Elsewhere, Willian still continues to uninspire with yet another woeful showing. Though Mikel Arteta and Edu Gaspar may have pushed hard for the signing, their faith in the former Chelsea man has not been repaid particularly well and his continued presence for 90 minutes will only serve to bewilder Arsenal fans.

So Arsenal’s FA Cup defence comes to an end, though this is by no means a good thing, especially given Arsenal’s historic connection with the competition, it does give Arsenal a chance to focus on turning around their somewhat abysmal league form and to focus on the Europa League, which restarts in February.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (c) (Lacazette 72’)
16.) Rob Holding
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny (Partey 57’)
34.) Granit Xhaka
19.) Nicolas Pépé
12.) Willian
35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Saka 58’)
30.) Eddie Nketiah

Arsenal subs:
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
33.) Mat Ryan
23.) David Luiz
21.) Calum Chambers
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
18.) Thomas Partey
28.) Joe Willock
  7.) Bukayo Saka
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Southampton team:
44.) Fraser Forster
  2.) Kyle Walker-Peters
35.) Jan Bednarek
  5.) Jack Stephens
  3.) Ryan Bertrand
17.) Stuart Armstrong
  8.) James Ward-Prowse
27.) Ibrahima Diallo
32.) Theo Walcott
  9.) Danny Ings (Long 85’)
10.) Ché Adams (N’Lundulu 78’)

Southampton subs:
41.) Harry Lewis
31.) Kayne Ramsey
29.) Jake Vokins
18.) Yan Valery
64.) Alex Jankewitz
65.) Caleb Watts
72.) Kgaogelo Chauke
40.) Dan N’Lundulu
  7.) Shane Long

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League Uncategorized

Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle United: Premier League – 18/01/2021

As the January window rears its ugly head once more, Arsenal are faced with the prospect of being linked with every player under the sun (usually Julian Draxler as well for good measure). But while the January window is still a big area of consideration for Arsenal, the results on the field need attention and ahead of their second match against Newcastle in seven days, any potential signings would need to be pushed to the back of the mind. 

Following Thomas Partey’s return from injury, Arsenal were able to stop the usual midfield merry-go-round of who will be partnering Granit Xhaka and start working on a potentially deadly midfield pivot. 

The first half was a solid affair from Arsenal. Defensively, Arsenal looked unlikely to concede and in midfield, Newcastle were barely bale to get a foothold, it was upfront where the issues laid. 

Though Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe continued to create chances, Arsenal were unable to finish them effectively, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming the closest with a chance that glanced off the crossbar from an acute angle. 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fires Arsenal into the lead.

It seemed as though Arsenal knew they would have chances, but making those chances count was the hard part, especially when Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have been yo-yoing in and out of form for the most part this season.

The second-half saw the final pieces of the jigsaw click as Arsenal began to click into gear. Thomas Partey’s excellent ball forward allowed Aubameyang an untroubled run at the one-man Newcastle defence and though he was shown onto his far weaker left-foot, that didn’t stop the Arsenal captain from rifling home the game’s opening goal. 

Ten minutes later, Arsenal doubled their lead. Superb work down the left-hand side from Emile Smith Rowe saw the young midfielder break into the penalty area and then lay the ball on a platter for the in-form Bukayo Saka, who slotted home from close-range. A goal made in Hale End. 

For their third goal, Arsenal switched their attacking preference over to the right instead, with Cédric Soares’ fairly heavy touch being compensated for by his wonderful cut-back for Aubameyang who rounded off the evening with the Gunners’ third. 

Though Arsenal were certainly rampant in the second-half and were playing more of the kind of football that fans have wanted to see for a while now, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Newcastle were not at their very best. 

There were plenty of positives to take from the match, namely the return of Thomas Partey. 

Thomas Partey’s performance was outstanding.

Since his switch from Atlético Madrid, the Ghanian has found it difficult to cement a place in the Arsenal midfield, owing mainly to his injury issues, but Monday night’s match served as a reminder as to why Arsenal were so keen to sign him and why his £45m switch is so important for the Arsenal midfield.

Partey has long been keen to work alongside Granit Xhaka in midfield and Monday night’s match seemed to show why the pivot has the potential to work so well. Partey was everywhere, cleaning up messes all around him and his progressive passing was exactly what Arsenal have been missing in the past few weeks and is a huge part of Arsenal’s first goal. 

The continued rise of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka is another encouraging sign for the club as well. Smith Rowe was at the heart of everything good about Arsenal’s performance, frequently finding himself jinking in and out of tackles and creating space for the attackers to run into. Saka, on the other hand, seemed to be everywhere, his quick feet and penchant for spotting runs made their link-up a joy to watch.

Though it is unlikely that Arsenal could rely on Smith Rowe for the remainder of the season as their sole attacking presence (especially given his injury record), there are positive signs that Smith Rowe could be the internal solution that Arsenal have been looking for.

Elsewhere, Cédric Soares’ performance gained praise as well. The Portuguese right-back was a constant threat on the flank and was near impossible to get past as well. Though it is true that Newcastle didn’t really offer much in the way of an attacking threat to Arsenal in many ways, Cédric’s defensive performance was very promising to see.

The attention will now turn to Arsenal’s FA Cup match against Southampton on Saturday as Arsenal look to continue their defence of the competition. 

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
17.) Cédric Soares
16.) Rob Holding
23.) David Luiz
  3.) Kieran Tierney
18.) Thomas Partey (Elneny 67’)
34.) Granit Xhaka
  7.) Bukayo Saka
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Willian 79’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Martinelli 81’)
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Arsenal subs:
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
25.) Mohamed Elneny
28.) Joe Willock
12.) Willian
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah

Newcastle United team:
26.) Karl Darlow
17.) Emil Krafth
  6.) Jamaal Lascelles
  2.) Ciaran Clark
15.) Jamal Lewis
24.) Miguel Almirón (Anderson 87’)
  8.) Jonjo Shelvey
  4.) Matty Longstaff (Hendrick 78’)
  9.) Joelinton
  7.) Andy Carroll (Murphy 69’)
13.) Callum Wilson

Newcastle United subs:
  1.) Martin Dúbravka
19.) Javier Manquillo
22.) DeAndre Yedlin
14.) Isaac Hayden
16.) Jeff Hendrick
23.) Jacob Murphy
11.) Matt Ritchie
36.) Sean Longstaff
57.) Elliot Anderson