Three things learned from Norwich City vs Arsenal
This just keeps getting better and better. Norwich City 0-5 Arsenal. Things are starting to click into gear for the Gunners. There was some consternation about how strong the starting line up was, taking into account the number of absences the Canaries had, as well as, a potential 45 hour turnaround for the next game against Wolves.
Thankfully, Arsenal may have had a heads up about the pending postponement of that game. The North Londoners now have a 6 day rest before a big test against Manchester City at home on New Year’s day.
Here’s three key takeaways from the victory against the East Anglians:
The leadership of Granit Xhaka is important
Since the arrival of Granit Xhaka in the summer of 2016, which coincided with the first season Arsenal dropped out of the Champions league, they have never been back. Some fans blame signings like Granit Xhaka for this and some supporters believe Xhaka is a vital cog in what Arsenal are seeking to achieve. The truth is somewhere in the middle. The Swiss captain has been plagued by a lack of understanding his role in the different incarnations of the sides, he has been involved with, not to mention how his lack of agility has been targeted in the past.
Tactically, you always felt under Arsene Wenger (who admittedly said he was unsure of Xhaka’s best position) and Unai Emery, Xhaka always had too much to do, but because of his tendency to over exert himself, it would lead to too much and ultimately bad decision making.
The former Basel youth product has had real lows as a captain/player, culminating in THAT home match against Crystal Palace, in which he seemed that he would never play for Arsenal again. Xhaka seems to be a player that Mikel Arteta trusts explicitly, the midfielder’s contract was extended to 2024 in the summer, after strong links to Roma.
Arsenal have consistently fielded the youngest teams in the Premier League this season, and even though Xhaka is unlikely to be named official Captain, in light of the Aubameyang situation, it is clear that is what his teammates see him as. Players respect his availability and his ability not to be cowed by opponents that try to bully his younger colleagues, this is what keeps him in the side.
Everybody has an opinion on Granit Xhaka, he may need to be upgraded, and he will show you over a season why there are doubts about him, however, you are blind if you’re saying his impact on this team is not largely positive.
The midfield is looking bare at the moment
With Thomas Partey and Mo Elneny departing for the African Cup Of Nations soon, there is a worry that leaves not many options available in the middle of the park for what could be a testing and season defining January. That game against Tottenham on January 16th at their ground looks ominous.
Mikel Arteta will be hoping that the effects of Covid-19 do not become too much for Albert Sambi Lokonga, the young Belgian shown promising signs as a solution in midfield, earlier in the season and will now be expected to demonstrate that bravery and press resistance in the absence of Partey.
Ainsley Maitland Niles last starred in a man of the match performance against Watford, however, he could have the biggest impact on midfield in January than anyone else. The 24 year old is reportedly on the brink of a move to Roma on loan with option to buy. If the Englishman does depart, you would expect that to jolt Arsenal into action and potentially act on plans to bring in a new addition in that area.
The direction of midfield and what Arsenal do there will be very telling and will provide insight into how January could potentially pan out.
£50 million great British sterling for Ben White? That was the gist of the reaction on twitter, when he was rumoured to be on his way. Out of Arsenal’s English contingent, it is baffling that he is the one player that has rarely had a look in to the Three Lions squad, and had to rely on the lack of availability of other players as a way into the thinking of Southgate.
Ben White absolutely struggled against Ivan Toney and against Brentford, winning just 43% of his aerial duels in that game. However that has improved since then, with the success rate climbing up to 61.4%. The former Brighton defender’s biggest asset is starting attacks from the back, and it is clear that Arteta trusts him as one of the technical cogs in this team, he plays every game. Even in the Carabao cup.
White played at right back yesterday in the absence of Takehiro Tomiyasu, who along with three other options in that position tested positive for Covid. White slotted into that position perfectly and popped up in half space intelligently all game. You can see Rob Holding trusted him with ball progression and as a shield on the right side.
The biggest beneficiary of the former Leeds loanee showing versatility could yet be William Saliba, The Frenchman is on loan at Marseille making a name for himself and there are signs that the defence is turning into one that could thrive with both Saliba and White in tow.