Our 3-1 league defeat at Anfield was an unusual one to analyse and consisted of several ifs, buts and maybes. Had Sadio Mane been sent off following the early incident involving him and Kieran Tierney or had Alexandre Lacazette taken his clear opportunity in the second half for example, we would obviously have been discussing a different game. As it transpired, neither of the aforementioned happened and we were deservingly on the end of a defeat.
In terms of the score line, theoretically we were still in the game up until the killer 3rd Liverpool goal but in reality, they looked a class above us throughout and the two goal victory margin didn’t flatter them. In fairness, it was probably more flattering for us. Even Mikel Arteta himself has admitted that they are currently at the level that we aspire to reach as a team and because of that, there is no shame in losing to them. In my opinion, there’s not a better team than them in terms of pressing and closing down the opposition. They have become so collectively effective at it, that it often gives the impression that they have a numerical advantage over their opponents.
None of the above came as a surprise and neither did the obvious need for an injection of new blood in our midfield. If media reports are to be believed, the club is working hard to rectify this. What did surprise me though, was the number of supporters pleased with our performance in defeat. We lost by the same score in the league under Unai Emery in the last campaign, were they proud back then too? As much as I love Arteta and see him as the right man to take us forwards, it appears that many of our fans have allowed their faith in him to cloud their judgement at times.
I don’t believe that it would have made any difference but I still thought Mikel picked the wrong team in that game. It’s no coincidence that we looked a better side in the final half hour or the match, following the introduction of Dani Ceballos, who can carry the ball with far greater purpose than anyone else in our current central midfield options. I would have started Gabriel too. Some will say Rob Holding has been playing well but for me, his turning speed is too slow and he’s not anywhere near as competent on the ball as our recent acquisition from Lille.
After we avenged our Anfield league defeat by knocking Liverpool out of the league cup, I was called names and in one exchange, laughably offered a fight for saying that I didn’t think we had played particularly well as a team since the Fulham game. Look, I’m thick skinned and that sort of thing doesn’t concern me but it’s disappointing that some people are incapable of understanding that it’s possible to be happy that we won whilst also being honest about our performances in post-match discussions.
When I saw the two line ups prior to kick off in our cup clash, yes, even despite the inclusion of Virgil Van Dijk and Mohamed Salah, I considered ours to be the stronger team overall but perhaps that was just my current confidence in Mikel’s magic shining through! Although some supporters were impressed by the performance of our team, I wasn’t particularly but when it comes to cup competitions, the only thing that really matters of course, is that we are in the next round, where we will face Man City.
Whilst I was more critical of our display than some, I do acknowledge that when teams make a lot of changes in personnel, it can make it difficult for them to find consistent fluidity within their play and I would say this has been evident in both of our cup games to date. It has noticeably affected our opponents too, with Leicester or Liverpool also failing to impress. However, there were some obvious positives against the current champions in the form of Bernd Leno and Gabriel, with the latter yet again looking assured.
It has to be said that Leno’s saves kept us in the game but his performance was nothing I wouldn’t expect from him. After all, there has never been any concerns about his reflexes or his shot stopping abilities. Following the recent departure of a certain Argentinian goalkeeper, there was a very small minority of our fan base who had bizarrely decided that Bernd is a less than adequate goalkeeper, so I was pleased for him to metaphorically stick two fingers up at those critics.
However, even in a good performance from him, I could see evidence of why many had a preference for Aston Villa’s new number one. Without wanting to rain on Bernd’s parade or that of those supporters sitting firmly within the “Arteta has been proved right” camp, I didn’t see Leno demonstrate any of the aerial attributes that supporters such as myself have said are missing from his game. He still doesn’t command his area and has a penchant for wanting to punch everything that comes his way rather than catch it, if he did the latter it would massively help to take pressure off our defence during games.
Had Takumi Minamino scored the rebound effort that he hit the bar with, in my opinion Leno would have been at fault for the goal because his goalkeeping wasn’t great on the initial save from Diogo Jota. I’m aware many won’t agree but I felt the save was made to look more spectacular than necessary and when you palm the ball back into the danger area in that manner, you’re certainly asking for trouble. Thankfully, he got away with it.
A couple of Bernd’s saves were excellent but the commentator’s reactions to goalkeepers saves these days make them sound better than they actually were. This is not just a Leno thing; I’ve noticed it in every game I’ve watched of late. Perhaps it’s an attempt to compensate for the lack of supporters inside the stadiums and generate some additional excitement for the viewers at home. Either way, Leno is a very good goalkeeper who in my opinion, does need to improve in some areas, although I’m starting to wonder whether comparisons between him and Emi Martinez will continue to be made until the end of their careers.
I want Leno to do well and I believe that the majority of our supporters do. I said this in my previous article so I’m guilty of it too, but it really is time to put the Leno and Martinez subject to bed now. I have faith in Arteta and what he’s trying to achieve with how he’s setting the team up etc. It’s fine to question him but ultimately, he currently has my full support and so does every Arsenal player whenever they pull on our shirt.
Sheffield United are up next, so here’s to three points and some positive transfer news before the closure of the window….
Passionate Gooner born in 1984. I often get called negative but personally, I prefer the term honest and honesty is something that I pride myself on. I joined the Gunners Town team after penning several ‘Dear Arsene Wenger’ letters on my Facebook profile, several years ago, and sharing them in Arsenal supporter groups. These were met with praise and the encouragement to start writing my own blog, from fellow Arsenal supporters, who felt my words summed up their own feelings perfectly. So here I am…..