Qarabag FK 0 – 3 Arsenal
The record books will show a comfortable win with three players claiming their first senior goals for the club. Eight wins on the spin and we’re beating teams we ought to in 45-minute bursts. We remain a work-in-progress, with plenty for Unai Emery to chew on in the aftermath of victory.
Not least of which is why the hell we wore red shorts? Even with a decent shirt design, it doesn’t look right so with the sh*tshow Puma came up with this season, it’s even more of a hideous mess than before. If that’s my biggest bugbear, we did well.
An early Sokratis goal was just what the doctor ordered and blew the home side’s gameplan out of the window. There were plenty of positives in a night of experimentation, not least a bright performance from Emile Smith Rowe. On a day when Gareth Southgate announced a youthful approach for the coming internationals, Smith Rowe offered a glimpse of the talent we’re told doesn’t exist in the English game.
Which as I type this begs an unrelated question: what happened to the hyphen in his double-barrelled surname? What’s the etiquette on this?
It didn’t matter when he calmly finished in the second half to double Arsenal’s lead. Guendouzi’s rasping drive sealed the win and put a positive sheen on the night.
Despite the mithering from the pundits’ sofa, Guendouzi had a good game. While the worldly-wise former pros complained the young Frenchman gave the ball away cheaply, his stats begged to differ. Three times in 90 minutes isn’t high when it comes to ceding possession. There will no doubt be other stats that show he was rubbish; you believe what you want and I believe he was unfairly singled out for criticism.
International Bright Young Things
Another who shone was Alex Iwobi. His form is resurgent after he decided to knuckle down as he admitted yesterday. Coincidentally, a new coach arrived to inspire him. Would he be as bright this season without a change at the top?
It isn’t enough, however, to make his place in the starting line-up certain:
We will look tomorrow and Saturday to see how [Aubameyang and Ramsey] are for Sunday to see if they can play. For us, each match is very important to show us and for them to take responsibility, take confidence and take rhythm. Each match is one exam for them. I am very happy with how they are responding on the pitch. Alex Iwobi is another player who is the same.Unai Emery on team selection
Bernd Leno was also impressive in all aspects of his game with some smart saves and decent distribution. Fulham on Sunday is likely the last game of Petr Cech’s absence which leaves Emery with a decision to make. Hopefully.
There’s plenty to ponder as well. The back three formation didn’t work. Is that the personnel? It was certainly the match in which to experiment. Better a minnow in the Europa League than the Premier League which is a more punishing environment.
Sokratis pointed out afterwards that we’d been lucky in not conceding and there’s an element of truth in that. A better side that Qarabag would take advantage of that formation ruthlessly. The question is whether we’d play that formation in a high-stakes match? I’d be surprised is my view.
Once again, it was Lucas Torreira whose introduction brought some semblance of balance to the performance. If Emery was looking for proof of the Uruguayan’s importance, he found it. If he wasn’t, he still found it anyway.
Never Mind The Quality…
So, we’re eight matches unbeaten against teams we expect to beat. Last season, we would have lost one or more of these games. Fair play to Emery for instilling a strong mental improvement.
That’s not to claim everything in the garden is rosy. There’s plenty to work on, particularly in getting a 90-minute performance. To be honest, it’s a baffling situation. Even with an early goal, we didn’t settle into a rhythm or routine. While Unai talks about it is good that we had a difficult game, I wonder if it is?
Is eight games a long enough spell for the players to adapt? We seem to be making harder work of adapting to new ideas than other teams. Is that just perception or is it the reality of Arsenal? He’s got players in the XI who won’t be at the club in the next year or two so there is that to factor in as well.
A final thought about the match in general as well. When the Champions League emerged from the devil’s bowels in 1992, there was a knockout round before the group phase. It’s time for the Europa League to embrace that. Rather than having 12 groups of four, sort the wheat from the chaff and then have six groups of four, before taking the top two in each and then a Round of 32. Or Eight groups of three and straight into a Round of 16.
Changes are coming with a third tournament so maybe the quality will improve.
As it is, we’re through (almost); it’s just a question of first or second to be resolved.