The Pain is relieved: Arsenal 2-0 United Review and Player Ratings
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Editor)
5th October 2019. The last time an Arsenal side attained all 3 points in a Premier League game at the Emirates Stadium. The result saw us go 3rd in the league, with David Luiz’s 9th minute header settling a dire football match.
Fast forward almost 3 months and two managers later and we’ve won our second game in 16 attempts. The jubilant scenes at full-time signified a huge 3 points for a club whose wellbeing had been significantly eroded in the past few months. Arteta was embraced by his players, whilst the fans applauded a team who had given everything on the pitch. There was a genuine sense of togetherness around the ground, amongst both players and fans, all spearheaded by our new head coach. Chants of ‘Mikel Arteta’s red army’ reverberated across the stands, a sign of a divided fanbase reuniting behind one man.
Arteta emphasised his desire to see ‘positive body language’ from his players in his post-match interviews, and there’s no doubt that we saw this. They were up for it from the first minute, winning second balls, pressing in numbers and covering large amounts of ground. Whilst fitness levels may have dipped in the second 45, the endeavour never dipped, and the fans responded to this exceptional work rate by creating an electric atmosphere that spurred them on.
This sense of positivity and optimism was created before a ball was kicked, with Arteta becoming the first Arsenal coach this season to opt to deploy all of Lacazette, Aubameyang, Pepe and Ozil in the same team from the start. Kolasinac’s inclusion was a surprise one (and we later found out he wasn’t even in the right state to start), whilst Sokratis also made a surprise return from his concussion. Both of them were crucial to our clean sheet, with Sokratis in particular producing a heroic performance, the type of display we saw from him on a consistent basis last season.
Tactically, Arteta delivered expertly in the first half. He had clearly identified United’s strengths in previous big games this season, seeing their ability to play through teams on the break, and looked to counter that by aggressively pressing them in their own defensive third as soon as we lost the ball. We stopped passing lanes using our front four, making their offensive transition completely ineffective, and forcing them to go long on several occasions, suiting our physically imposing back four. He targeted the weakness’ on United’s left side, instructing Nicholas Pepe to directly attack Luke Shaw whenever he could. He offset Kolasinac’s defensive frailties by deploying him virtually as a winger, with Maitland-Niles tucking inside once again as an inverted full-back when we were in possession.
This use of his full-backs perfectly suited their attributes and capabilities, and resulted in our opening goal. Good combination play from Aubameyang and Kolasinac saw Pepe tuck home from a cut-back from the Bosnian just 9 minutes into the game. This was the first of a number of quality chances we created in the first half, with Pepe hitting the post, Aubameyang volleying over, Lacazette screwing wide after a fantastic turn and Torreira firing narrowly wide. Eventually we got our second from a Pepe corner, with Lacazette’s header diverted into the path of Sokratis, who finished emphatically. A well-deserved lead based on expected goals, as we limited United to a mere 0.3 xG, whilst mustering up an impressive 1.46 xG in the first period- an indication of our dominance and ability to completely shut out the opponent under Arteta.
The second half saw a similar pattern to the Chelsea game. Understandably, energy levels dropped, with the hectic Christmas schedule and the intensity at which we played in the first period taking its toll. This, definitely, an area in which improvements can be made. United controlled possession as we looked to hit them on the counter, which we did mostly to wasteful effect. Despite United’s lion share of possession, we still limited them to very few moments of note, with Pereira’s wild effort that hit the side netting their best moment. This evident in their xG oncly increasing to 0.75 by the end of the 90 minutes.
A resilient but fatigued second half, the Leeds game on Monday gives Arteta an opportunity to rotate, resting several players ahead of our next league game against Palace. Let’s hope this victory marks the beginning of a run of form that drags us up the league and makes our standing respectable. Nevertheless, the immediate tactical and mental impact that Arteta has had on these players in extremely impressive, and we finally appear to be moving in the same direction as a fanbase and club. The future looks bright.
Leno 6- Not overly worked (a testament to the outfield players), but resolute when called upon. Commanded his box much better the Chelsea game. Distribution was questionable at times.
Maitland-Niles 8- Superb. Arteta has worked wonders with him so far, using him in a rejuvenated role as an inverted full-back. Had Rashford in his pocket all game, winning several tackles and displayed his new positional discipline excellently throughout.
Sokratis 8- Warrior. His physicality was not over-bearing or irrational, using it to dominate Martial. Got the goal with a predatory finish and his recovery defending was excellent throughout.
Luiz 9- A lot of criticism from myself towards him this season for his passive defending. Yesterday, however, he produced a dominant display, commanding the back four, leading the team and conducting the crowd. Perhaps the leader the side has sourly lacked in recent months.
Kolasinac 7- Played through injury, and when booked for an early foul on James I feared the worst. However, the way in which Arteta used him offset his defensive deficiencies, and he was a beast offensively, driving the team forward with his powerful running. Contributed excellently to the opening goal.
Torreira 9- Exceptional. Such a surprise that a good player is excelling in his natural positon isn’t it Unai? Screened the back four superbly, complimenting Xhaka in the middle of the park, dominating the feeble United midfield. Relentlessly won the ball back and fed Mesut Ozil- essentially what you want from him.
Xhaka 9- It’s starting to look imperative that we keep him. Superb two games in a row under Arteta, who seems to have created a system that allows him to excel. Used the ball very effectively yesterday, progressing it from deep areas and winning several tackles. Let’s hope he can maintain this level of performance.
Pepe 8- Tormented Shaw throughout and made two massive contributions on both the goals. Tucked home nicely from Kolasinac’s cut-back and delivered an inviting corner for the second. Worked harder defensively than ever before in an Arsenal shirt and went off to a warm reception. Goal was reminiscent of the type of goal Sterling scores regularly at Manchester City. Arteta could make him a world-beater.
Ozil 8- Another player resurrected by Arteta’s exuberant energy. Pressed players 44 times in the match, evidence of the increased work rate Arteta has provoked from him. On the ball he made things tick, every attack we had he was involved in the construction of. Faded a bit in terms offensive influence in the second half, but like the rest of the team, his endeavour never ceased.
Aubameyang 7- Worked exceptionally hard once again. Involved in a lot of our effective build up play in the first half. Didn’t get in the scoresheet but was a constant menace to Wan-Bissaka. Please stay.
Lacazette 7- Another one who’s work rate epitomised Arsenal’s attitude. Fluffed his lines in front of goal on a few occasions but the goals will come again. Provided a focal point and some of his foot work and hold up play was outstanding.
Nelson 6- Slipped a lot.
Saka 7- Filled in very well for Kolasinac when coming on, defending excellently. Involved in some of our better offensive play on the counter.