Arsenal have a Partey against Newcastle. by Konstantin Mitov
Welcome back lovely Arsenal people! We’ve beaten Newcastle again, and in the end it was comfortable. There will certainly be sturdier opposition this season as the north-easterners were really poor. I can’t remember Leno making a save at all. Still we were a bit slow in the first half. We had Auba hit the post when you really expect from a player of his quality to put it in, and not too much else created.
What changed after the break was our pace. We reduced the number of touches needed to move the ball forward, our runs were sharper and we saw individual quality from senior players. Thomas Partey managed to pick up the ball from a Newcastle set piece, turn and release Auba who picked it up on the wing one on one with their full back, took him with his pace and buried it.
The second goal saw Smith-Rowe picked, who did a couple of turns on their full back and then served it for Saka on a plate. Our third saw Saka and the surprising starter Cedric combine on the touchline, which released the Portugese full back, who managed to keep the ball in somehow and gave Auba one of the easiest goals he’ll ever score.
A few things stand out for me. Thomas Partey was immense. He was the boss of the midfield, with his control of the ball, his range of passing and the amount of interceptions and recoveries he makes is ridiculous. The quality to turn and pass for our first goal is something we haven’t had since Cazorla in midfield. He’s not even 100% fit and he hasn’t played too many games for us, but if this is what’s to come, oh my god.
I must say Xhaka has been sublime as well, since our resurgence started. He now has a midfield partner that’s on another level that can compensate for his lack of pace, and runners in front to pick out, so advantage can be taken from his passing. It’s just astonishing how the look of the entire team can change, when a few better quality players with the right attitude come in.
Football is a game where having one good area of the pitch doesn’t mean much if you get overrun elsewhere. Your defense will always be under pressure if you are overrun in midfield. If you don’t press high, balls will much easily reach your box and you’d have to defend more. Same goes for attack, if there aren’t people from the wings and the middle supplying balls, you’ll be isolated.
Our defense has recorded 5 consecutive clean sheets for the first time since 2009! Those were very different times. True the opposition we played was hardly the best you can face in the league, but it highlights the point. Our improvements in midfield and up front helped our defence. And the fact that Holding, Mari and Luiz have been superb. The full backs as well, Tierney is massive for us and so has been Bellerin. Today we played Cedric and he made an impact.
What ultimately changed our fortunes was the fact that we simply introduced better players in Saka, Smith-Rowe and Martinelli up front that gave us energy and desire. They are hungry for the ball. I look at Smith-Rowe and he’s everywhere, left, right, center, even tracking back and recovering balls. He’s looking for Lacazette trying the one-twos, making the runs, creating space. He’s been involved in 7 goals (5 assists, 2 scored) and that’s the most assists in the entire squad, when he’s been only playing since Christmas.
If I am Willian or Pepe I’d be embarrassed. The roles are reversed and the youngsters are the main men. I just wonder how long this can keep up? What happens when the academy combinations don’t work? The Palace game was an example, where I didn’t feel we had anything on the bench to make an impact. What do we do with the players I mentioned in the start of this paragraph? They don’t look like they fit into our current style of play and they are on high wages.
We’re slowly moving on players who won’t be used at Arsenal. Kolasinac left, Ozil is in Turkey, Guendouzi in Germany, Mustafi and Sokratis will be out in the summer, so the squad will free up some wages, which should be used to improve the balance. We don’t have back up for Smith-Rowe in the number 10, nor do we have an alternative to Saka.
Aubameyang put in 2 goals, which doubled his season tally, so hopefully he can pick it up, because a striker was also on my agenda. I like Eddie but I don’t think he is the answer. Maybe Gabi in the middle can be tested in a dire situation? We just need to distribute goals better throughout the team, and with Saka and Smith-Rowe adding goals from midfield, I think we’re in a better place.
Overall, there is a feeling that we’re moving in a forward direction for the future with decisions on the players who start the games and those who should be leaving. That doesn’t mean we’re anywhere near where we should be, but a shining path looks visible at least.
With half the season gone, we made 13 points out of 5 games, when we managed just 1 more (14) in the other 14 games. That is a pathetic statistic. We surprisingly had a better point tally of 13 from away games, and only 11 from home games before Newcastle, in 18 games split evenly (9 home and 9 away).
Our next games include Southampton away (probably twice due to the FA cup), United, Wolves and Villa. This season has been massively unpredictable but the next games will provide a much better test for us and a measure of whether we can realistically push for the top 8 or maybe even 6.