Sunday was probably the worst we have played this season.
I always fear the away games after a European trip – it can not be underestimated how much a near 6 hour flight can take out of professional footballers.
It is likely that the team would have taken a flight home straight after the game on Thursday night, arriving back into London for breakfast. I would imagine they would have gone straight to London Colney for a stretching session.
Whilst the Arsenal players would have travelled in luxury, 5 hours sleep on a plan is no substitute for 8-10 hours of sleep in your own bed.
Meanwhile, Leeds United would have had a nice week preparing their game-plan for the arrival of The Arsenal.
Now this is not an excuse. It is part and parcel of the game, and competing in Europe.
Some will argue that the side we put out against Bodo/Glimt was too strong. That we should have left more at home.
But we escaped from the Arctic Circle with a 1-0 win which has all but guaranteed us a place in the next round of Europe.
As we discussed last week, it is also important to top the group.
Finish second, you have to play an extra 2 fixtures in February against those Champions League drop-outs. Win your group and you are straight into the last 16 and can put Europe on the back burner until March.
We have seen performances like Sunday often over the years – and not just Arsenal.
If you play that Thursday night and have not put the game to bed by the 60th minute, fatigue does kick in. And that is what happened.
Leeds came out for the second half hungrier, more intense then Arsenal and it felt like it was only a matter of time until the equaliser came.
Before the penalty – which was a penalty – we had escaped a Leeds goal being ruled out and them ripping us open at will.
Patrick Bamford ended up missing the penalty but with 20 minutes to go it was still all to play for.
In the end, we held on for 3 points. And that is what title challengers do.
Go away from home, after a long mid-week European away trip, play poorly against a fired up opponent, and escape with 3 points.
A few things to note which we might expand on more if I get the time this week.
Bukayo Saka is back, although he never really went away.
We blogged in September that he was playing well, he just was not scoring goals.
Four goals in his last 3 games takes him to 5 goals and 4 assists for Arsenal this season. No player in red and white has scored or assisted more.
It probably shows the high standard he has set himself that some naysayers kept telling us he was having a bad season.
At the other end of the pitch, William Saliba had a tough game.
The way he plays will lead him to look lackadaisical on the ball at the time. In turn that will mean when he does make an error questions will be asked.
He reminds me a lot of a young Rio Ferdinand.
At West Ham, the game often looked too easy for Ferdinand.
He was strong, quick, great in the tackle and had fantastic ability on the ball. This led him to get a bit of crticisim in his early years for his languid style of play. For trying to play out too often.
Ferdinand became one of the best (if not for a while the best) central defenders in world football.
Saliba is following a similar path.
I can handle the odd bad game, odd mistake, as a 21-year-old knowing the play he will become.
Sunday was probably a little reality check for his fan boys who already act like he is the finished article.
Final thought, the game being delayed due to issues with the referee’s communication system is disgraceful.
There is a reason why lino’s have flags, why refs have designated hand signals.
In the past when technology has failed in other sports, the game just continues without it. Football needs to implement a similar rule.
The game can not be held up for an hour just because someone has kicked out a plug. It is not far on away fans.
Some might point out that VAR gave Leeds’s penalty, which shows it was worth the wait.
But without VAR – which leads to linos keeping their flag down – Arsenal would have been awarded a free kick for offside in the build-up.
Onwards the Arsenal train goes. PSV on Thursday. Win that and progression in the Europa League will be secure – and with Zurich (nil pois) at home in the final game, top place will basically be secured.
Enjoy your Tuesday.
The Europa League is a big competition for us this season but I`d take a chance on Thursday and rest the entire eleven that Arteta plans on starting against Southampton. We looked physically and mentally jaded against Leeds and it was pure spirit and determination that got us over the line. We`d have definitely lost that game a couple of years ago.
Agree about Saliba, thought he looked a bit shaky. He never hid though and I doubt he`s ever faced a physical challenge quite like that before. That`ll do him the world of good in the long run.
The whole team took a battering in fairness, Leeds went direct and focused on winning 2nd balls. Fair play to them, they were very effective at it and the game was played on their terms. Pleased to get that fixture out the way, not many teams will relish going to Elland Rd this season.
By the way, I`m pretty sure the team stayed overnight in Norway and travelled back late Friday morning so I doubt they even had a proper training session before the Leeds match. Fair play to the players, we carried the luck but they found a way to win. Got to keep turning the screw now and make sure we`re top going into the World Cup break.
Up The Arse.