Arsenal 3 – 2 Vitoria
For long spells of last night’s game, it seemed as if a draw would be a good result. Certainly, a fair one but football is rarely equitable.
Two late sumptuous Nicolas Pepe free-kicks put paid to Vitoria’s dreams and reasonable expectations of victory given the way the game was playing out.
For the most part, we were unadventurous and disjointed. The introduction of Guendouzi added fire to the midfield belly while Ceballos brought some guile which AMN and Willock hadn’t been able to find.
But we looked like a team which hadn’t played together for weeks, a point emphasised by Vitoria’s compact playing style. Well-organised in defence and swift on the break, they took a deserved lead through Edwards. He was a Tottenham reject, doncha know?
Martinelli’s equaliser was a well-taken header and a signal that he is more of a goalscorer than initially thought. He is certainly hungry for first-team action and that desire is a reassuring sign.
But the same weaknesses which haunt our Premier League XI were evident last night. It’s a failure which is ingrained in Emery’s Arsenal, whatever team he fields: we are mightily vulnerable once we score and/or to the counter-attack.
Time and again last night, Vitoria pushed through the midfield unopposed and caused us problems. No matter who the opposition is we show that weakness and it is baffling that no solution is presenting itself.
Therein is part of Emery’s problems. Whatever is happening at London Colney is not translating into action on the pitch. And it needs to.
It was left to Hector Bellerin to sum up the problems:
We’re human, we’ll make mistakes, but we need to keep pushing. Playing in the same way that we tried in the first half, in the second half we found the holes. That’s how it works: you need to keep pushing and doing what you believe in, then towards the end, everything falls into place.What the Hec?
That’s after he noted that keeping the ball, passing properly, was all part of our “DNA”. The very things we couldn’t do all night.
Last night provided no relief from the failings which ensue from that. Vitoria, with just 32% possession, managed 17 shots on goal to our 15; five on target for both sides. It’s madness that we’re giving that many opportunities away and not seemingly able to do anything to reduce that number. No wonder we don’t keep many clean sheets.
But if Pepe has his eye in like last night, that won’t matter too much. Two excellent freekicks, both curled beyond the goalkeeper’s reach. Critics are quick to make the first seem a goalkeeping error. Really? Can we not just enjoy the excellent technique Pepe displayed?
The pressure on the second makes it a bit more special. My mind was a whirl with “This is into the crowd” and other positive thoughts; Pepe deserves immense praise for the finish and pushing any doubts out of his mind.
Overall, there are few tangibles to take from the game. Hector Bellerin is still a way short of match fitness and we may not see him in the Premier League for another week or so. Certainly, not this weekend.
The same can’t be said of Kieran Tierney. He’s ready and delivers better crosses/passes into the box than any other left-back at the club. It should be inconceivable why he isn’t in the PL XI but it isn’t. Emery is nothing if not contrary.
The Elephant in the Room
Of course, the performance unfolded and the absence of Mesut Ozil left an unanswered question over why. This is Emery’s take from his press conference:
on why Mesut Ozil wasn’t in the squad…
Tonight is not the day to speak about that.
on whether Ozil has a future at Arsenal…
I prefer to speak about the match. We have all the players who played.
on fans asking about Ozil…
He’s not in the squad. That is the decision tonight. Now we are going to work towards Sunday.
The relationship between the pair is broken and if Ozil doesn’t think it’s in his own best interests to leave now, then nothing is going to change that.
One thing is for certain. Raul and Edu – probably Junior – are backing Emery. There’s no way a £350k per week player is going to be continually left out without the club’s approval.
It’s at this point I acknowledge Emery’s contrary nature once again and begin to think he’s saving sickly-ickle Mesut for Sunday…
As it is, we’re three points from reaching the knockout stage which in terms of the Europa League, is job done.
Minds quickly turn to the Premier League…