Tag Archives: Arsenal

Effectiveness of Experienced Players Leaves Mikel Arteta with Plenty to Ponder

Arsenal fans could have been forgiven for approaching their Premier League clash against Leicester City with pessimism, despite seeing their side secure an impressive win against Benfica to progress in the Europa League.

The spirits of unexpectant supporters, ready for a rollicking from a well-oiled Leicester machine, were not eased upon the release of the team sheets. A midfield pivot of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny looked to be too cautious, whilst the decision by Mikel Arteta to start Willian on the wing over Gabriel Martinelli further raised eyebrows.

When Youri Tielemans drove an effort into the far corner to put the Foxes ahead after seven minutes, a sense of inevitability hung in the air. It has been symptomatic of Arsenal this season that they splutter to a stop on the back of achieving a solid win, particularly against sides from the Midlands.

Yet on Sunday, something strange happened.

Coming from behind, Arsenal rallied, with the performances of much-maligned senior players proving crucial as they steered the Gunners to victory at the King Power.

After setting up Kieran Tierney’s winner in the week, Willian was influential again, producing his best performance for the club since his opening day debut at Fulham. It was his

well-executed free kick, whipped flat in front of the Leicester defence, that allowed David Luiz to head home. After Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty gave Arsenal a half-time lead, Willian was again involved for the third goal, having the presence of mind to keep ball alive and in play for Nicolas Pepe to tap into an empty net.

Pepe himself has struggled to nail down a starting spot under Arteta, the emergence of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe and Martin Odegaard pushing Arsenal’s record signing down the pecking order. However, with rotation of those youngsters necessary amidst a gruelling schedule, the Ivorian played a prominent role. Challenged by his manager to contribute more consistently, Pepe has delivered, scoring four times in his last seven league matches. He also benefitted from consistent service in the first half, touching the ball 25 times in the first half alone, drawing five fouls in the process.

Having struggled to get out of first gear in the early part of the season, Arsenal’s attack is accelerating not just in the player’s speed of movement, such as Cedric’s lung-busting run that created space on the other flank for Pepe’s goal, but also in terms of their efficiency. Arteta has repeatedly hammered home the importance of being clinical to his players, who have sharpened their previously blunt attacking instincts.

In their last two matches, Arsenal have scored six goals from nine shots on target. Although goals came from the penalty spot and an unmissable chance versus Leicester, 22 shots in two outings for the Gunners highlights that a rapport is being developed when it comes to precise patterns of play in the final third.

Granit Xhaka was key to this, electing to play a pass that would help progress a move forward. The Swiss international often chooses to go for the safer option of passing laterally or backwards but he demonstrated distribution of great quality to set Arsenal on their way. In the same way Dani Ceballos did in both legs against Benfica, purposeful forward passing from Xhaka allowed Arsenal to exploit spaces in attacking areas more frequently. Although there is a perception that Xhaka stifles attacks, the Swiss showed he is an important initiator in getting Arsenal to advance.

Experience also played its part in keeping Jamie Vardy as quiet as a mute mouse, with David Luiz closely marshalling the Foxes marksman throughout. His defensive partner Pablo Mari was also able to keep Vardy quiet. The Spaniard’s fleetness of foot to beat the striker in a one-on-sprint marked the best of several good moments for Mari in what was an impressive display.

Victory against high-flying Leicester also marked a small milestone for Arsenal as it was their first away win against a team starting a day in the top three of the Premier League since that 2-0 win at Manchester City in January 2015. But the reality is that does not earn any extra points.

What matters most is that Arteta uses this win, which he achieved after naming a

much changed lineup, as a springboard for a set of consecutive victories in the league, something that he has struggled to do since taking charge.

It won’t be straightforward, with West Ham, Tottenham and Liverpool to face in the coming weeks, but the performance against Leicester serves as an example that it can be done without a dependence upon youth, the old heads showing that they are useful too.

Zac Campbell

Match Report: Leicester City 1 – 3 Arsenal

Leicester City (1) 1 Arsenal (2) 3

Premier League

King Power Stadium, Filbert Way, Leicester LE2 7FL

Sunday, 28th February 2021. Kick-off time: 12 noon

(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Cédric Soares, David Luiz, Pablo Marí, Kieran Tierney; Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith-Rowe, Willian Borges da Silva; Alexandre Lacazette.

Substitutes: Hector Bellerin, Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos, Martin Ødegaard, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Rob Holding, Thomas Partey, Mat Ryan, Gabriel Martinelli.

Scorers: David Luiz (39 mins), Alexandre Lacazette (45+2 mins), Nicolas Pépé (52 mins)

Yellow Cards: Kieran Tierney

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 56%

Referee: Paul Tierney

Assistant Referees: Dan Cook, Harry Lennard

Fourth Official: Michael Oliver

VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR David Coote; AVAR Nick Hopton

Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions

After Thursday’s glorious victory against Benfica, we are back to our bread-and-butter matches in the Premiership, and with it comes the usual team formation merry-go-round that we have come to accept as part of a Mikel Arteta era at the club, which in many ways, is a good thing, especially when it comes down to possible player fatigue. Rob Holding and Thomas Partey are back on the substitute’s bench, along with two of our outstanding players from the Benfica match, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka. However, the proof of the Arsenal pudding could be in the Leicester City eating today, as there is everything to play for in the East Midlands. An important match, in which no team can afford to lose. Let’s go!

Within six minutes, after starting so well, we were a goal down, when Youri Tielemans picked up a ball on the right after a mix-up, ran thirty yards and slotted it past the outstretched arm of Bernd Leno into the Arsenal goal. But why did Pablo Marí decline to tackle Youri Tielemans when he could have prevented the goal? Unbelievable. Almost immediately, we nearly equalised when Emile Smith-Rowe ran through on the right and was unlucky not to be able to cross the ball for Alexandre Lacazette to tap it into the net. On the twelfth minute, Youri Tielemans and Wilfried Ndidi brought down Nicolas Pépé just outside the Foxes’ penalty area; after a lengthy VAR check, in which Paul Tierney initially gave a penalty to us, the subsequent free-kick bounced off the head of Luke Thomas for an Arsenal corner. Early dramas! Kieran Tierney came close to equalising when an excellent Willian ball fell to him, and his shot (or was it a cross?) came off Jonny Evans and went back into open play; despite pressure from the home side, we were managing to break out when we could and attempt to redress the balance. Despite some good play, Arsenal were unable to penetrate the Foxes’ defence at this time in the match. It is to be noted that Nicolas Pépé is having a tough time out there today, having been the target of several Leicester City defenders time and time again, which led to a few Arsenal free-kicks this half. Six minutes before half-time (after yet another foul on Nicolas Pépé), a Willian free-kick, which was taken perfectly, found the head of David Luiz, who wasted no time in levelling up the scores. A couple of minutes later, an injured Emile Smith-Rowe was replaced by Martin Ødegaard, and literally on the stroke of half-time, we were awarded a penalty when a Nicolas Pépé shot struck the arm of Wilfried Ndidi (which was in an unnatural position); Alexandre Lacazette made no mistake from the spot, and so we went into the break in the affirmative.

The second half started quite strongly with both sides feeling the urgency of the outcome of the game today. Seven minutes after the restart, we scored our third of the day, when Nicolas Pépé started a passing movement in the Leicester City penalty area, and after some superb intricate play between Alexandre Lacazette and Willian, the man who started the process, Nicolas Pépé simply tapped the ball into the empty Foxes’ net. A couple of minutes’ later, David Luiz left the pitch for a while after a header that appeared to go wrong, but thankfully he returned to the field of play to take up his important position in the centre of our defence. Speaking of our defenders, the second half performance of all of them had been exemplary in keeping out the Leicester City strikers, when danger appears to be imminent. A case in point was when just after the hour, Jamie Vardy was brushed off the ball by Pablo Marí just outside the Arsenal penalty area with only Bernd Leno standing between the Leicester City striker and the goal; a good strong professional tackle by a superb defender that prevented a goal. Thomas Partey replaced Mohamed Elneny with twenty-five minutes of the match remaining, and the substitution just served to make us stronger and more alert in the midfield area. Granit Xhaka went down following an arm in the face by Kelechi Iheanacho but he carried on with no apparent issue, and with ten minutes of the match remaining, we were in full control of the outcome of the game. With eight minutes of the match left, a superb Kieran Tierney shot brushed the outside of Kaspar Schmeichel’s post, and shortly afterwards, Alexandre Laczette was replaced by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the final few minutes of the game. He almost scored shortly afterwards with a strong shot from outside of the penalty area that went narrowly past the post, and as the minutes ticked away, the match started to get more physical with both Kieran Tierney and Nicolas Pépé being the recipients of such behaviour. In the seven minutes injury time, we were put under pressure by the home side, but in the end, we stayed firm to get the three points.

An excellent win despite starting off rather badly. We were dogged, determined and took our chances well, and overall, we were by far the better side at the King Power Stadium today. Willian was superb, as was Nicolas Pépé, despite getting some rough treatment at the hands of the Leicester City defenders. At the time of writing, we are tenth in the Premiership, and out next match is against Burnley next Saturday, which should give the lads a good opportunity to recharge their batteries in the meantime.

Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Burnley at Turf Moor on Saturday, 6th March at 12.30pm (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.


Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.

Match Report: Arsenal 3 -2 Benfica

Arsenal (1) 3 SL Benfica (1) 2

(Arsenal won 4-3 on aggregate)

UEFA Europa League, Round of 32, Leg 2 of 2

Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis, Piraeus 185 47, Attica, Athens, Greece

Thursday, 25th February 2021. Kick-off time: 5.55pm

(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, David Luiz, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Substitutes: Alexandre Lacazette, Willian Borges da Silva, Cédric Soares, Thomas Partey, Nicolas Pépé, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Mat Ryan,Gabriel Martinelli, Karl Hein.

Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (21 mins, 87 mins), Kieran Tierney (67 mins)

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 53%

Referee: Björn Kuipers (Netherlands)

Assistant Referees: Sander van Roekel (Netherlands), Erwin Zeinstra (Netherlands)

Fourth Official: Danny Makkelie (Netherlands)

Referee Observer: Georgios Bikas (Greece)

VAR Team (UEFA): VAR Pol van Boekel (Netherlands); AVAR Rob Dieperink (Netherlands)

Attendance: A minimal amount of attendees (circa 3,000) due to coronavirus restrictions

Make no mistake about it, tonight’s match may as well be a cup final, with all the importance that such a game carries for us at this point in the season. We have to be victorious, in order for the team to have a chance to progress into the Champions League next season, because if we fail, it will make things extremely difficult for us, as our Premiership form does not (at the moment), suggest a top four finish in May. With regards to team news for the game, Rob Holding has not travelled to Greece because of UEFA/Premier League concussion protocols after his head injury suffered in Sunday’s match against Manchester City, whilst midfielder Thomas Partey had a late fitness check after a hamstring injury, and is on the substitutes’ bench tonight. Let’s go!

Although Benfica pinned us back into our own half in the early stages of the match, we managed to get a grip and started to push the ball around a bit, particularly out on the wings where the visitors seemed to be vulnerable. Just on quarter of an hour, Kieran Tierney made a spirited charge down the flank, but he was prevented from advancing any further when defender Ferreira Silva won the ball with a sliding challenge. Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka were linking up well in the central areas, (which is where we miss Thomas Partey at times like this), and it looked like a matter of time before we found a way through the Benfica defence. And sure enough, young Bukayo Saka pushed a inch-perfect pass through the Benfica defence, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ran on to it and chipped a beautiful ball over Benfica goalkeeper Helton Leite to open the scoring after just twenty-one minutes. We started to get the wind in our sails now, and a few minutes later, Dani Ceballos tried to extend our lead as he hit a ball from the edge of the penalty area but his shot was parried away by the Benfica goalie for an Arsenal corner. Although there was a bit of a heartstopping moment when former Tottenham Hotspur defender Jan Vertonghen outjumped David Luiz and headed a ball over the bar from a free kick after thirty-five minutes, overall, we looked to be the more confident side at this point in the game. Five minutes before the break, Bukayo Saka ran onto a ball from Emile Smith-Rowe, and his neat shot went just past the Benfica post. Completely against the run of play, two minutes before half-time, we gave away a sloppy free-kick just outside the penalty area. Cupido Goncalves stepped up and hit a perfect ball into the back of our net past the outstretched arm of Bernd Leno to equalise the scores going into the break.

Despite some tough play at the beginning of the second half, four minutes after the break we found a way through the Benfica defence for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score a seemingly perfect goal, only to find it was chalked off for offside. This incident merely served to fire us up, and we were then playing a high-line, pushing Benfica well back into their own half, almost near to the penalty area for large periods of the game. On the hour, the nightmare happened. From a Martin Ødegaard corner, in a classic smash’n’grab movement, goalkeeper Helton Leite grabbed the ball out of the air, and launched it down the field and Dani Ceballos, being the last man, attempted a header back, but it fell short, sadly. Ferreira Silva quickly ran on to it, touched it past Bernd Leno and walked the ball into the net. Absolute disaster. Almost immediately, Dani Ceballos and Emile Smith-Rowe were replaced by Willian and (at last) Thomas Partey. The effect was almost instant, as new boy on the pitch Willian found himself free down the left wing, pulled the ball back for Kieran Tierney, who composed himself and expertly drilled an unstoppable shot into the corner of the net. With thirteen minutes of the match remaining, Hector Bellerin was replaced by Alexandre Lacazette for a final push to grab more goals, which we desperately needed, because at that moment we were going out of the competition on the away goals rule. It was now becoming obvious that Benfica were just running down the clock as they were quite happy (obviously) to do so. When we did win the ball, and started advancing towards their goal, all they had to do was to get ten men behind the ball and slow everything up. Incredibly, with three minutes left of the match, somebody up there liked us, when Bukayo Saka hooked the ball over beautifully from the left, which went beyond the goalkeeper, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang headed the ball into an empty net! Despite a VAR check, in which everyone’s hearts was in their mouths, the goal was given, and we were ahead. Mikel Arteta replaced Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka for Calum Chambers and Mohamed Elneny to shore things up at the back, which worked perfectly, as minutes later, the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the match, with Arsenal in the draw for the last sixteen of the Europa League tomorrow.

Now that we have all put our collective hearts back into our quivering chests, this was a memorable night for everyone involved with the club. Yes, it could have gone badly wrong, but it never did, thanks to the collective sheer guts of this group of players, their never-say-die attitude and desire to win. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got his shooting boots back on, Bukayo Saka is growing into a fantastic footballer with a natural ability for finding space when there does not seem to be any, and Kieran Tierney must surely be, currently, one of the best two or three left-backs in the world. We may have only got five shots on target, but hey, three of them were goals; and this group of players are growing together in stature and class. Believe me, the best is yet to come from this group of players.

Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Sunday, 28th February at noon (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.


Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.