THREE THINGS LEARNED FROM ARSENAL VS MANCHESTER UNITED
Arsenal beat Manchester United by 3 goals to 1 at a raucous Emirates Stadium to boost their hopes of finishing in the top four. The Gunners had lost three games on the bounce, and in the process tried their hardest to make my recent trip to Ghana as unpleasant as possible (I did not witness a win while I was out there). The North Londoners were up against probably the worse Manchester United team in living memory (For me, anyway. Fergie ruined many a childhood memory).
The Mancunians had an almost perfect record in London, up to this point. They had gone down the Seven sisters road and a Ronaldo clinic saw them claim maximum points. They had claimed a draw at Stamford Bridge as well as wins at Brentford and West ham. Even though Arsenal claimed a win against Chelsea in the midweek fixture, this game was hard to call. The Gunners defeated their old rivals to move into the coveted fourth spot with 5 games remaining. Here are three key takeaways from the so called “twitter derby”.
Stability eases injury woe
Arsenal have lost key personnel at a vital point in the season. It would be an understatement to say that Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey are not pillars of the system that had led to this massive improvement in Arteta’s team this season. Losing both after the international break (which I’ve said previously had the potential to derail Arsenal) was a hammer blow. It was down to the gaffer to find a solution that allowed as many players as possible to continue playing their most natural games. Step up Mohammed Elneny. Ridiculed and underrated.
The Egyptian is not the solution to Arsenal’s midfield problems and probably is not a more talented player than the likes of Albert Sambi Lokonga or the on-loan Ainsley Maitland Niles. However he provides stability in a side riddled with players that are in-experienced and so often vary with the quality of their performances and ability to deal with pressure. The former Basel midfielder had 89% pass completion, was more progressive with his carries, and also had 3 shot creating actions. Which shows that he understood his responsibility well in that pivot. Mo Elneny for the next 5 games may not be what the majority of the fanbase envisioned but it may just be what is required.
Moving forward (Nketiah) template for attacker recruitment this summer
I was there for Eddie Nketiah’s debut almost four years ago in Carabao cup tie with Norwich city, during which he came on and scored two memorable goals in Arsene Wenger’s last season. In my mind, I had shades of Andy Cole in my head. This is a player that timing of run is so important for and occupying defenders is second nature.
The England U21’s record goalscorer has struggled to make an impact due to lack of game time but also due to him not being viewed in the mould of being capable of leading the line due to deficiencies in deeper link up play. On recent evidence, Nketiah is showing he can do that, he isn’t static and gave Lindelof and Varane issues yesterday with constant harrying and made more space for the likes of Saka and Smith-Rowe.
Eddie will continue to show he is premier league quality, whether this is at Arsenal, is an entirely different question. The Gunners will need his contribution for the rest of this season.
Squad depth going to be important in rest of the games this season
Takehiro. Tomiyasu. Is. Back. I repeat Tomiyasu is back. Squad depth is figurative. You’re only as good as how well you can make the players you have available mesh. The Japanese full back’s return in the last 5 minutes of this game will inevitably lower the chance of Nuno Tavares turning over the ball closer to goal because of his natural attacking tendencies. Tomiyasu is a good natural inverter and that will help Arsenal be more secure than they have seemed in the last few games.
In the same vein, Pepe, Martinelli and Lacazette are good options to have off the bench. I believe they will also be good starters depending on opposition. Lacazette isn’t suddenly useless because he is not in the team and there will be games where Pepe’s ingenuity in the final third may be key to a successful outcome. Martinelli can finish games and start games, he is industrious and is a good player that can help his struggling full back towards the end of games, but he also can stretch defences in behind. It bodes well that Arsenal have this litany of options. It is up to Mikel Arteta to use them accordingly.