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Post Match Review

Three Things We Learned from Arsenal 1 – 0 West Ham


Arsenal continued to show grit and growth under new head coach Mikel Arteta, as his Gunners worked to grind out a 1-0 win over visiting West Ham. It wasn’t a pretty affair but it was a win that kept Arsenal improving their chances on a European spot for next season.

With plenty to play for, the Gunners showed a resiliency that wasn’t there under Arteta’s predecessor Emery. In the past, it was a match that might have gone against them or at least resulted in an agonising draw, but it didn’t.

Let’s look at the three things we learned from the Gunners recent win.

Our saviour – Bernd Leno

In the wake of the match, there was some debate on whom should’ve received Arsenal’s man-of-the-match award. A strong case was made about Dani Ceballos (whom we’ll address shortly) but it was German goalkeeper, Bernd Leno who rightly walked away with the award.

Depending on whether you track stats with or SofaScored – Bernd Leno ended the match with the highest rating of all players (8.2 and 8.6 respectively).

Overall, he ended the match with 6 saves, 3 from inside the box, 1 pinch and 1 successful runout. But it was the single hand save in the 56th minute and the near-post save in the 83rd minute that preserved the game for the Gunners.

In each of the saves he made, one thing stands out – his positioning. He tracks and sees the ball very well and he hardly over commits on a play. He continually got his feet set and in all of his saves, but especially in the two mentioned previously, he is in the right place to make the save. And when you combine that with his outstanding reflexes, its no wonder that he is growing in stature.

One of the other nice things to see was how he was attacking the ball. There was the moment in the second half with the ball into the box that Leno came out and attacked the ball with such strength that he took out David Luiz with a shoulder charge.

But this has been the norm for Leno at Arsenal this season. Aubameyang will get all the rave reviews because of the number of goals he scores. SkySports went so far as to do one of its famous “where would Arsenal be without Aubameyang tables.” You could make a stronger case of where we’d be without Bernd Leno.

Time and again this season, he has been called on to make critical saves to preserve a match or keep Arsenal in a match and he has delivered. Sure, he has to bear the blame for the poor decision-making in the closing minutes of the Europa League that would eventually cost us the match, but that is one moment. This season, he has been a big reason we don’t have more losses after such dreadful performances.

Aubameyang will likely get Arsenal’s player of the year, but Bernd Leno really should get a stronger consideration for what he has done for the team this season.

Dani Ceballos makes a case to stay

Over the course of the last few matches, Mikel Arteta has turned to Dani Ceballos to act as the outlet by which most Arsenal play will develop from. Yesterday was no different.

Against West Ham, Ceballos has the most passes as well as the most progressive passes. He ended with an 88% pass success rate. But what was most impressive about Ceballos play was his commitment to playing the defensive role.

With Arsenal’s overall play looking tired, there were moments that West Ham were able to create and cut through the Gunners’ lines. Ceballos was one of the standouts in cutting out those attacks. He ended the match with 15 ball recoveries (most in-game), 5/5 tackles (most in-game), and 6 interceptions (most in-game).

 It was a performance Arsenal needed from the midfielder, especially with Lucas Torreira out with a fractured ankle.

Ceballos suffered through a horrendous run of injuries that saw him play a limited role for almost half the year. Even when he did play, Emery was playing him as 10. Of course many refer to his effective spell in the Spanish youth sides as a 10 to validate Emery’s choice, but Ceballos himself he is most comfortable on the ball as an 8.

The evidence speaks for itself as Ceballos continues to shine every time he steps into the role that Arteta.

“I’m really happy with Dani and what he’s bringing to the team right now.

“It took him a while after his injury to get to the level that he has and that I’ve seen in the past. He’s performing much better now and that’s why he’s playing much more games”

To this date, it seems Arsenal haven’t discussed a long-term purchase of the Spanish midfielder and there is no word as to whether or not he wants to stay here. However, if he keeps turning in performances like Saturday’s, then the Gunners would be negligent if they didn’t offer to take up his purchase option.

Still A Lot of Work to Be Done

Mikel Arteta’s appointment for 99% of Arsenal supporters was met with a general feeling of optimism with a sprinkle of cautiousness. Some 3 months into his tenure the general feeling remains good but Saturday showed that there is still some way to go with this Arsenal side.

Arteta set out from the outset of his tenure that his way of doing things was the only way of doing things for this group of players. Anyone who didn’t sign on to that was going to see a reduced role.

Additionally, the first-time coach also acknowledged the reality of the task at hand. Saturday showed that this level of caution was warranted.

Once again, Arsenal were slow in transition, especially in attack, cautious moving the ball forward and lacked any movement off the ball. While fitful starts have been seen during Arteta’s early time at the club, he’s managed to coerce is side to come with a different attitude in the second half.

Saturday, they did not.

It was just a reminder that while things do seem to be pointed in the right direction, work still needs to be done and it’s likely we won’t see an end to this kind of stop-start play until next season – after Arteta has had a full preseason with his team AND an influx of players that fit the profile of what he needs to compete.

Still, the wins are starting to come more frequently than they have this season and the signs of improvement have taken root. It’s all the more reason that its okay to remain cautious but have hope that we are on the right trajectory and next year will definitely be more enjoyable than this one.

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