Three Things We Learned From Arsenal’s win over Leeds United
Arsenal continued their return to respectability tour with a rather convincing 4-1 win over hosts Leeds United. The win keeps Arsenal sitting in the top 4 albeit with their challengers for Europe having games in hand. Still, if Arsenal are going to be shown to have improvement over last season, they’re in a pretty good spot to highlight that.
As with everything Arsenal-related, it should be measured against where they really are in the process of rebuilding. Still, since the poor performances at United and Everton and the subsequent benching of Aubameyang, the Gunners have looked a markedly different team. And that trend continued on Saturday.
With all that in mind let’s look three things we learned from Arsenal’s latest win over Leeds United.
Fourth Place Is Within Reach
At the outset of the season, I had Arsenal pegged as a shoe-in for a top 6 team. I felt the turnover in the squad, the youthful makeup of the squad and the need for the group to come together, that even thinking of the top 4 would be a bridge too far for this squad.
I am beginning to re-evaluate that as those things I thought would be an issue are slowly turning into strengths for this team.
In terms of the turnover, the removal of bad apples and poor performers, has created opportunity for the young stars to get on the pitch, develop and in many cases shine. This may not have been the case if we were still clinging on to players think their experience could see us through this time of transition. But with players like Aubameyang away from the squad, it is making this team (and the players) rise to the occasion and show perhaps what a bright future Arsenal have.
There is something to be said for being young. Sometimes when you’re young you don’t know any better and conventional wisdom is that young players should take some time to develop and understand the realities of playing at a top level like the Premier League. And while there will still be bumps in their developmental journey, there definitely seems to be an upward trajectory for this group of extremely likeable AND good players.
The players themselves are endearing themselves to Arsenal fans as many find it extremely difficult to dislike ANYONE in this group of players. With Aubameyang playing the role of villain right now, players like ESR, Saka, Ramsdale, Tomiyasu and others are tugging at the heart strings of fans, establishing a connection that is breaking through the hearts of even the most rigid, cold -hearted Arsenal cynic.
Now that alone doesn’t make it likely that this group will finish in the top 4. But they are putting together better performances. They seem to be developing a bit of a ruthless streak as they effectively put all three of the last opponents to the sword.
Add that into a group of teams that are all over the place in terms of their own transitions and poor performances that if Arsenal continue to develop as they are, then top 4 could be a realistic possibility. I mean how many times do you have to say “we’ll see where they . . . “ only to see them come out in an even more positive light?
Gabriel Martinelli is the talent Jurgen Klopp spoke of
After Arsenal and Liverpool played to a 5-5 draw in the Carabao Cup (Liverpool won on PKs) Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool Manager said the following about Gabriel Martinelli
“Martinelli’s pretty much the same age but he’s a talent of the century, he’s an incredible striker, so it’s really difficult.”
At the time Martinelli was only 18 and had only just begun to show what he was capable. But for some time Arsenal fans were wondering whether they’d see him playing with any regularity again.
Social media being what it was even had a group of “fans” claiming (take your pick here) either Arteta hated Martinelli or Martinelli hated Arteta. It turns out that neither of those were true (I know you’re shocked.)
The truth is the club had been guiding his development and helping him get to this point where he is playing the game smarter and less like a runaway train.
In the wake of his goal against West Ham and the club’s subsequent win, Arteta talked glowingly of the Brazillian and even gave an insight into what they specifically seemed to be working with him on
“Certainly, he was one of the best in every aspect of the game,’ Arteta said in his post-match press conference.
‘Physically he was cramping again today. He needs to mature on that side of the game. He’s able to put some gears into his play instead of doing everything 100 miles per hour.
‘His overall understanding of the game is getting much better. The energy and the quality that he shows sometimes is top.”
As good as Martinelli is/has been, there’s always been the sense of being out of control. The talent is undeniable, but it has to be controlled, running at as Arteta says ‘a 100 miles per hour’ is great but its not useful to a team over a course of a 90-minute game.
For one it exhausts the individual player and as the player becomes more fatigued, they are less effective. They also run the risk of increasing their susceptibility to injury.
At a time when Aubameyang is out, the future of Lacazette is uncertain, Martinelli is in the process of laying down a claim towards being Arsenal’s striker not of the future but of the present.
Tactical Consistency Starting to Show
For much of the season, a fair amount of criticism was hurled at Arteta for his team’s lack of tactical consistency coming through the play. Even prior to the Liverpool loss when Arsenal had strung together a run of 10 undefeated in all comps, the games had no feeling of consistent play and felt more “lucky” than not.
We’re all confident that we can identify and name Arteta’s preferred style of play. Whether it has been consistently evident is another story. Until these 3 matches. While some issues remain the identity of this team has been clear.
The completeness of the victory over West Ham highlighted the strength of the approach both in attack and defense as the Gunner’s fluid lay consistently opened up West Ham. That trend continued into the Leeds match and the visitors were unlucky not to be up by more than 3 at the break based on the relentlessness of their attack.
There still needs to be work through the midfield but when you look at the pass maps for this match, the midfield was used effectively as part of the build up and was influenced heavily by an attacking unit the knew how to occupy space and offer options around the ball.
Like much of this team its still a work in progress but if you can’t see a tactical identity developing and being more consistent rather than in flashes then you aren’t paying attention