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20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates giving Arsenal a well-deserved lead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Partey battles with James Milner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandre Lacazette jumps highest to draw Arsenal level.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Ødegaard celebrates his equaliser with Bukayo Saka.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandre Lacazette’s trademark celebration after his winning penalty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

Burnley 1-1 Arsenal: Premier League: 06/03/2021

Following their remarkable 1-3 victory over Leicester City a week ago, Arsenal fans have likely resigned themselves to a reverse of the recent seasons. In previous years, Arsenal have been unbeatable at home and timid away from home, but like most teams in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the home advantage has since been lost.

With an important Round of 32 tie with Olympiacos and the daunting visit of José Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur in the North London Derby, it was a little surprising to see the strength of the team that Mikel Arteta fielded against Burnley.

However, Arteta’s selection seemed to be vindicated as Arsenal took an early lead at Turf Moor. Some quick play in midfield between Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka meant that they were able to quickly release Willian, who fed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who jinked and swerved through the Burnley defence and squeezed a possibly lucky effort past Nick Pope to give Arsenal a deserved lead.

From there, Arsenal continued to dictate play. Though Burnley continued to defend fairly well, they struggled to contain Arsenal’s main attacking threats, as was shown when Bukayo Saka’s effort fizzed millimetres wide.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates the opening goal with Granit Xhaka and Willian.

However, in recent weeks, Arsenal have since been the orchestrators of their own downfall and Saturday afternoon did not disappoint in that regard.

Arsenal’s insistence of playing out from the back, something that has been a constant source of terrified squeal from Arsenal fans around the world since the final days of Unai Emery, reared its ugly head once more.

Bernd Leno sold Xhaka short on a pass as the Swiss international was being pressed by an attacker, however, the midfielder committed that most unforgivable sin of passing the ball across his own penalty area, which cannoned off Chris Wood and into the open net. It was the easiest goal he’ll score in his entire life and Arsenal inexplicably found themselves level.

The second half was one way traffic for Arsenal. With a renewed desire to grab all three points, Arsenal began to attack with gusto, however, things did not become too clear cut until the introduction of Nicolas Pépé.

The former Lille man, who has been so important to Arsenal of late, was again at the heart of everything that was impressive about Arsenal as they continued to attack Burnley, although he likely won’t be forgiven for his mis-hit of Kieran Tierney’s cross, which would have won the game.

He was however, at the heart of two controversial VAR decisions. The first was a blatant handball from Burnley substitute Erick Pieters. The defender’s hand was raised, in an unnatrual position and Pépé’s flick upwards smashed off the defender’s wrist in a blatant handball that was infuriatingly dismissed by VAR.

The second was his late effort cannoning off the bar from Erick Pieters’ block. Andre Marriner incorrectly dismissed the Burnley defender for a handball, though replays showed that the ball had brushed his shoulder and was therefore not a penalty. VAR again coming to Pieters’ rescue.

Nicolas Pépé’s flick is blatantly handballed by Erik Pieters.

But the drama still wasn’t over. Following a scramble in the penalty area, the ball fell to Dani Ceballos, whose shot thudded off the post and ended the game not five seconds later.

It couldn’t have been a more frustrating afternoon if Arsenal had tried. Try as they might, they seemed unable to score a second and VAR controversy and individual errors cost them dearly.

Granit Xhaka’s error in the first-half was perhaps the midfielder’s only misstep all game, but it was a costly one. The basic, almost Sunday League adage of “never go across your own area” seemed to go out the window. On another day, the ball goes out for a goal-kick or misses Chris Wood altogether, however, it’s difficult to play the unlikely game when you see it roll into the net, powerless to keep it out.

As for VAR, Arsenal saw the good and the bad mixed with the ugly. The overturning of the red card was a correct decision and Pieters would have felt hard done by had Andre Marriner sent him off for such a small indiscretion, whereas his blatant handball from Pépé’s initial flick is truly baffling. Not only is Pieters’ arm in an unnatrual position, the ball clearly cannons off his wrist and is about as blatant a handball as you will find.

A frustrating day in Burnley is not what Arsenal needed heading into their European excursions, but they must keep the focus and put Saturday’s frustrations behind them.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers
23.) David Luiz
22.) Pablo Marí
  3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey (Ceballos 80’)
  7.) Bukayo Saka
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Lacazette 63’)
12.) Willian (Pépé 69’)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
16.) Rob Holding
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
25.) Mohamed Elneny
  8.) Dani Ceballos
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
19.) Nicolas Pépé
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Burnley team:
  1.) Nick Pope
  2.) Matthew Lowton
  5.) James Tarkowski
  6.) Ben Mee
  3.) Charlie Taylor (Pieters 63’)
  7.) Jóhann Guðmundsson (Brady 68’)
18.) Ashley Westwood
  8.) Josh Brownhill
11.) Dwight McNeil
27.) Matěj Vydra (Rodriguez 86’)
  9.) Chris Wood

Burnley subs:
15.) Bailey Peacock-Farrell
23.) Erik Pieters
34.) Jimmy Dunne
28.) Kevin Long
26.) Phil Bardsley
41.) Josh Benson
16.) Dale Stephens
12.) Robbie Brady
19.) James Rodriguez

Categories
20/21 First Team General Match Reports Premier League

Leicester City 1-3 Arsenal: Premier League – 28/02/2021

Following their narrow escape against Benfica in mid-week, Arsenal entered Sunday’s match with Leicester with a mixture of apprehension and tiredness.

Given the close proximity to Thursday’s match, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was forced to make changes to his side, which saw a drastic and somewhat controversial lineup change.

Cédric Soares came in for the out-of-form Héctor Bellerín, Pablo Marí came in for an absent Gabriel Magalhães, Mohamed Elneny replaced the hapless Dani Ceballos, Willian took the place of Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka was switched out in favour of Nicolas Pépé and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was switched out for Alexandre Lacazette.

Given Arsenal’s poor run of results in the Premier League whenever they follow up a European excursion, Arsenal fans were noticeably apprehensive, but the early signs showed that Arsenal looked to be more in control of the game than Leicester, who had had European exploits of their own to contend with.

However, despite Arsenal’s overall dominance in the early minutes, it was, predictably, Leicester who took the lead. A misunderstanding on the halfway line between Granit Xhaka and Willian allowed exciting Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans to grab the ball. The midfielder began to run unimpeded towards the goal. While Pablo Marí tracked back to cover Jamie Vardy, Mohamed Elneny did the same, leaving Tielemans’ path clear, who fired home a difficult shot which gave the home side the lead.

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates his superb penalty.

It was the same kind of lackadaisical defending that Arsenal fans have come to expect down the years and it would have served as no surprise to see Leicester wheeling away in celebration.

Arsenal’s fortunes looked as though they may take a swift upsurge after Tielemans was deemed to have brought Nicolas Pépé down in the penalty area, though a VAR check soon ended hopes of an upsurge as the decision was overturned for a free-kick instead.

Despite the VAR overturning the decision, it was a warning sign to Leicester that Arsenal were going to continue to oppose them and sure enough, Arsenal found themselves back on level terms after Willian’s delightful free-kick found the head of former Chelsea teaate David Luiz who headed home the equaliser.

From there, Arsenal began to really dictate play and it was just before half-time that Pépé’s somewhat hopeful shot smashed into the hand of Wilfried Ndidi. There could be no mistake this time and not even the harshest of VAR assistants could have denied Arsenal a penalty here. The decision was upheld and captain-for-the-day Alexandre Lacazette promptly dispatched it into the left-hand corner, sending Kasper Schmeichel the wrong way.

Half-time was a welcome affair for Leicester and also gave Arsenal time to fully prepare Martin Ødegaard who replaced Emile Smith Rowe just before the break.

The second-half was pretty much more of the same from Arsenal, who really began to take the game to Leicester City. Jamie Vardy, so often the torn in Arsenal’s side and so usually active, was regularly beaten to the punch by Pablo Marí, which gave Arsenal heart.

A Leicester corner led to a swift and devastating Arsenal counter-attack. Granit Xhaka fed Pépé who raced forward and picked out Martin Ødegaard, the Norwegian played through Willian who was able to squeeze a pass through for Pépé who tapped home the final go of the game to deal a hammer-blow to Leicester.

The ret of the match passed without incident except for substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot glancing centimetres wide at the end.

The final whistle blew on a glorious afternoon for Arsenal. It was safe to say that they were far from the favourites before the match and given the hapless way that they had fallen behind so early on, it was a remarkable performance from the team to turn things around.

Nicolas Pépé caps off a superb display with a well-deserved goal.

One of the many bright sparks of the team today was Willian. So often the man who endures groans from the fans watching at home and so very rarely turning in a particularly enjoyable performance, Sunday’s performance was a glimpse of the undoubted quality he still posses. He was quick to every pass, eager to win it back, sharp to notice his teammates and his two assists were a great return for a great performance.

Nicolas Pépé shpuld also be commended for his performance. Though it had looked early on that youngster Luke Thomas had potentially pocketed the Ivory Coast winger, Pépé soon began to grow in confidence and his positive play was enough to win Arsenal the initial but eventually overturned penalty. His goal was a an indictment on the performance he turned in, with the intelligence to pick out Ødegaard and then be in the right place at the right time to receive Willian’s pass.

The whole team can be happy with their performance. It can be tough to keep up such a high press, especially after a near calamity in mid-week, but Arsenal stepped up. The team’s high press and their tendency to “hunt in packs” forced Leicester into some costly errors and often gave Arsenal a glimmer of yet more chances.

Mikel Arteta and his side can enjoy a brief break before their next game, an away trip to Burnley, but they will take comfort from their first win at the King Power Stadium since 2015.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
17.) Cédric Soares
23.) David Luiz
22.) Pablo Marí
  3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
25.) Mohamed Elneny (Partey 66’)
12.) Willian
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Ødegaard 42’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Aubameyang 84’)

Arsenal subs: 
33.) Maty Ryan
16.) Rob Holding
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
18.) Thomas Partey
  8.) Dani Ceballos
11.) Martin Ødegaard
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
  7.) Bukayo Saka
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Leicester City team:
  1.) Kasper Schmeichel (c)
27.) Timothy Castagne
  6.) Jonny Evans (Amartey 69’)
  4.) Çağlar Söyüncü
33.) Luke Thomas (Albrighton 45’)
21.) Ricardo Pereira
25.) Wilfried Ndidi
  8.) Youri Tielemans
15.) Ashley Barnes (Ünder 51’)
14.) Kelechi Iheanacho
  9.) Jamie Vardy

Leicester City subs:
12.) Danny Ward
18.) Daniel Amartey
46.) Vontae Daley-Campbell
28.) Christian Fuchs
24.) Nampalys Mendy
20.) Hamza Choudhury
50.) Sidnei Tavares
11.) Marc Albrighton
19.) Cengiz Ünder

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 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