On occasions when our manager and players have failed to deliver in games, some of our supporters including myself, have criticised them, so by the same token, it’s only fair that we praise them when they do perform. After previously questioning some of Mikel Arteta’s tactics and decisions, it was perhaps inevitable that I would get several “I told you so” comments aimed in my direction by fellow Arsenal fans on social media, following our impressive victory at Old Trafford.
In reality though, we did not perform in the same manner as we have done in previous games, our pressing was far higher up the pitch and we had a lot more intensity and purpose about our play. Rather than waiting in hope for the opposition to make a mistake for us to capitalise on, we forced them into making errors. Not only is this philosophy easier on the eye, it’s more effective too if Liverpool’s recent Champions League and domestic title successes are anything to go by.
Typically, it would be the year when none of our supporters could be in attendance but it still felt fantastic to see us finally win away against one of the so called big six for the first time since 2015. It would be very easy to get carried away after such an important victory, after all, we beat Manchester United which of course, always looks good on paper. However, despite their impressive results in Europe so far this campaign, their league form been a complete contradiction and they currently sit in fifteenth place for a reason.
At this juncture, I am sure that some readers will suggest that I am attempting to take the gloss off our victory in some way, that is not the case and as previously stated, the win was an impressive and important one, that undoubtedly left many of our supporters creating their own versions of an away day atmosphere in their living rooms. In contrast to some of our fans, when I saw the two line ups prior to kick off, I felt strangely confident about our prospects of getting three points and that feeling never wavered throughout the match. The only concern I had was that they would get one opportunity and take it.
Thankfully, as we know, that didn’t happen.
Before anyone says it, it’s true that we have been saying that it’s the worst Manchester United team every year since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure and yet we had still failed to beat them away from home in the league until now, so yes of course it was a significant moment for all supporters and hopefully a pivotal one for the team moving forwards too. Such is the animosity between the two clubs, it is always a satisfying feeling to win against them and silence their online fan base in the process too.
When I saw our line up, I said to my wife that I felt it was a positive move on Mikel’s behalf to include Mohamed Elneny at the expense of Granit Xhaka because he’s more mobile. I have criticised Elneny’s game in the past for being limited, in truth, who hasn’t but at Old Trafford he excelled and showed a different side to his game that we hadn’t seen before, particularly in terms of him always looking to go forward whilst in possession.
It has to be said that whenever called upon this season, Elneny has been excellent and so far, his style appears to compliment that of Thomas Partey. The energy levels that he showed near the end of the game in closing down the opposition were magnificent and he fully deserves a prolonged run in the side.
At the time of writing my previous article, I was of the opinion that Arteta was still searching for the right balance in our midfield, perhaps he has now found the solution. I’ve said it before but it’s always a nice feeling when a player starts to prove you wrong in the right way.
It was not only Elneny who impressed and it is fair to say that the spine of our side suddenly looks far stronger than it has done for some time. Gabriel was excellent once again and is proving to be a bargain, whilst Partey showed what we paid the reported £45m transfer fee for. Following Bernd Leno’s mistake against Rapid Wien, it was also noticeable that he finally appears to realise that there are times when he needs to kick it long rather than trying to play it out from the back at all costs. Perhaps his error in the Europa League was a blessing in disguise considering that we still went on to win the game afterwards.
Whilst on the subject of the Europa League, it was pleasing to see that Runar Runarsson had a preference to catch crosses during our fixture against Dundalk. Runar didn’t have a lot to do but looked assured when required. After learning that Nicolas Pepe was named on the bench for our fixture with Manchester United, as expected, it made the decision to take him off against Dundalk more puzzling. Although I thought Pepe was very poor in the first half of the game and frequently gave the ball away, I couldn’t really understand the logic in taking him off once his tail had gone up, after scoring a superb goal.
Nicolas has been very inconsistent since he joined but I don’t see how substituting and dropping him for our next fixture is ever going to assist him in terms of helping him to find his confidence and rhythm. Arteta gets many things right but I’m not sure that his management of Pepe is one of them. I’m not suggesting that Nicolas should have started on Sunday, I’m simply curious why he wasn’t given the full ninety minutes against our Irish opponent’s if the manager knew that he wasn’t going to be in his starting eleven for the weekend, which I believe he did.
Arteta has managed to orchestrate a tune from many of our players so far, getting Pepe to consistently be part of his symphony is perhaps going to be one of his biggest challenges to date. With all that Mikel has achieved during his time at the club as manager so far, who would bet against him succeeding with Pepe too? After all, I suspect nobody anticipated us having the best defensive record in the league at this stage of the season following the run of fixtures that we’ve had. Accepted, only six teams have currently scored less than us too.
I have seen some supporters starting to compare Mikel to George Graham because of our new found defensive stability but it should not be forgotten that George’s title winning teams actually scored a very similar number of league goals to those of Arsene Wenger. His championship winning teams of 1989 and 1991 both surprisingly outscored Arsene’s 98 and 2004 teams in the league and it’s about finding the right balance between defence and attack.
Personally, I’m not a fan of comparing our current players or manager with legends of the past and would prefer to judge them on their own merit. I have my own mind and I won’t follow anyone blindly, there has never been an Arsenal manager that I have agreed with entirely on every decision that they’ve made and there never will be. However, it is evident that Mikel is doing a very good job and it’s going to be interesting to see how he approaches our upcoming fixtures against opponents that we are expected to beat….
Having been born in 1984, I’ve experienced Arsenal life before Wenger and therefore, I certainly don’t fear it beyond him. That said, I admire and respect his past achievements at the club. I often get called negative but personally, I prefer the term honest and honesty is something that I pride myself on. I joined Gunners Town after penning several ‘Dear Arsene Wenger’ letters on my Facebook profile and sharing them in Arsenal supporter groups. These were met with praise and the encouragement to start writing my own blog, from fellow Arsenal supporters, who felt my words summed up their own feelings perfectly. So here I am…..