Three Things We Learned From Arsenal 2 – 1 Aston Villa
Arsenal are on a roll. In the early days of the 2022-2023 season, they’ve now won their fifth game of five matches played. The latest a 2-1 win over visiting Aston Villa.
The score is a little flattering to the visitors as it was without a doubt a dominant performance from the hosts, who should’ve put the match away earlier with enough chances to put the game out of sight well before the half time whistle blew.
Alas, some poor finishing, and referee incompetence saw the match end with a score line tighter than the match really was.
So, what did we learn from the latest of Arsenal wins.?
Sambi is going to be just fine
The biggest question of the night prior to the official release of the lineup, was who was going to deputize for the injured Thomas Partey and his back up Mohamed Elneny. Arteta isn’t afraid of a little experimentation and there was some concern (at least among the faithful) that Sambi Lokonga wasn’t ready for prime time.
And they had some pause to think that. Last season when he was brought in, the plan by the Arsenal higherups was that he could develop into a number 6. The evidence from last season was that perhaps it was too soon.
When the starting lineup was announced it may have been a little surprising to see the young Belgian midfielder’s name among the starters but there it was and you know what, in the aftermath of the match, he did quite alright.
There was some discussion that he faded in the second half but in truth the youngster didn’t miss a beat all night long. First, he was quite successful as a distributer of the ball successfully making 5 out of 6 long passes and was used frequently to recycle the ball especially out to the wide areas.
Positionally he dutifully sat in front of the centerbacks acting as either the pivot on the ball or as protection off it. On the ball he ended the night with a 93% pass accuracy and forced the opposition to foul him twice. He also ended the night as the Arsenal player with the most progressive passes made.
Defensively he won 100% of his ground duels. He won 2 out of 3 aerial duels and was dribbled past 0 times.
There are probably sterner tests for him in this role, but he was still quite effective in the role and looks markedly different to the player we saw last season. Perhaps the reason we don’t see Sambi linked with a loan this season (before the injuries) was that the plan was to make him the Europa League and Cup deep lying playmaker (notice I didn’t say 6) to let him develop.
But as with any gems we seem to be finding at Arsenal, its often trial by fire that sees them shine in the brightest light and perhaps we are going to see that with Sambi?
Karma Is a B**ch
Yes, it is. I’m going to admit it, nothing makes me happier than seeing Emi Martinez get trolled. Seldom do I hold former players in poor regard but in the wake of his departure he went on to anyone who’d listen to talk about his time at Arsenal and the means of his departure.
Who will ever forget his statement that Aston Villa were a step up from Arsenal?
I could never fault him for wanting to leave. At the time Bernd Leno was the number 1 and outside of his injury that season, nothing was going to move him from that. Emi was sure going to be given the chance to compete for that starting role.
Emi felt that after the 13-game close to the season that saw him end with the FA Cup title, he should be the starter. Given the culture Arteta was trying to create that wasn’t going to just happen, he had to earn it. So, he left.
No harm no foul at that point. Then he went on his tour of never-ending quotes about Arsenal. It appeared any time a mic was thrust into his face he was belittling the club that essentially got him to the point he was at.
So, to see him spill the ball that led to the first goal was kharmaic in some way. It was the opener Arsenal needed and had they been a little more composed in front of goal he likely would’ve been battered before half time.
In the run up to the match there was a lot of social media chatter about the need to get Bukayo Saka some back up because it looked like he was already looking too leggy from how much the team had depended on him.
With all that concern about his form, he ended the night with his third assist of the season and became rose to fourth on the list of leaders of assists before turning 21 (17 assists.)
It wasn’t just however his assist last night that set him out. It was his play especially in 1v1 duels that looked especially threatening. It was probably his best game of the season so far as he effectively helped drive Arsenal forward in the attack.
He was 5/5 with dribbles, made 3 key passes and had the afore mentioned assist. All in all, it was a good day for a player people are worried about.
Yes, we do need to protect one of our most valuable players but last night he showed that even when he’s not scoring goals, he’s a threat. The goals will come but for now its all the other stuff that still makes Bukayo Saka one of the best young players we’ve seen since Jackie and Cesc roamed the first team as teens.
For years we heard the story of how the Emirates was a library. That it was a soulless bowl with no spirit or life to it. I’d like to see them make that claim now.
It has been growing since last season but the supporters at the Emirates have already been immense in the early season. The manager talked about the energy level from the fans and its clearly evident that the Arsenal faithful have found their voice.
As it continues to grow and as Arsenal head through the season, it will make the Emirates a difficult place to play which is what we need each home match.