Martinez, Sokratis, Luiz, Mari, Saka, Guendouzi, Torreira, Nelson, Willock, Martinelli, Nketiah
Leno, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Xhaka, Ceballos, Pepe, Lacazette
Pablo Mari gets the start for the first time of his Arsenal career. Arteta looked to get Arsenal back on track after crashing out of the Europa League and he was looking to do it with a heavily rotated side. From the kick-off it was clear that Arsenal were in for a game. Fratton Park was rocking with Portsmouth’s fans up for making a ruckus and getting behind their team. The atmosphere was there, Portsmouth was balanced and organized in picking and choosing when to pressure and when to sit in and the message was sent – we intend to give you a game.
As we have seemed to say a lot lately, Arsenal struggled to get off the mark. Portsmouth got after it winning challenges, quicker to 50/50 balls, winning duels in the air, while Arsenal looked like they were laboring on the ball. Portsmouth managed a few half chances, but nothing seemed too threatening.
No event of significant note took place until the 14′ when Torreira was on the receiving end of a heavy challenge. The ball was poked away first, but the trailing leg caught him and chopped through him. Immediately Torreira could be seen pounding the turf and had to be stretchered off. A worrying sight for Arsenal who will likely need his contributions during the remainder of the season. We were told toward the end of the game that he is “okay” by Arsenal. Rumors suggest he suffered a twisted ankle but is able to move it, so hopefully it won’t be a lasting injury. Ceballos come on in his place.
The game progressed in a similar manner after the substitution. Arsenal struggled to move the ball around with much pace and were finding themselves caught in a few awkward positions. The Reiss Nelson looked dangerous on a few occasions as he beat his man for pace with relative ease but it wasn’t until the 30th minutes that anything came of it. In the 30th minute he burned his way into the box and smashed a 10-yard cross at Martinelli who was, unsurprisingly, unable to do anything but get a head to it – shot goes over the bar. Too tough of an ask to expect him to handle a cross with that much pace from so close. Nelson should have maybe done better with it, but it was a positive sign.
Arsenal’s worry would be eased a little in the 45+3 minute of the first half on a set piece. Portsmouth cleared the first ball in, but only as far as Dani Ceballos. Ceballos would settle the ball, play it back out wide to Reiss Nelson who was left alone after taking the corner, and able to smash another ball in that was impressively volleyed home by Sokratis. Sokratis’ finish would have pleased any striker and left fans wondering why we haven’t replaced Lacazette for Sokratis before this point.
It wasn’t a comfortable half, but Portsmouth will have known against a team like Arsenal, even with their struggles, they have the ability to make the most of a half-chance, which is what they did. No one would gamble on a Sokratis volley with that amount of technical skill demanded being the difference at the half but 1-0 to the good.
Arsenal came out and continued to look patient, bordering on slow, but this time were doing it with a bit of purpose as they looked to breakdown Portsmouth. Unless the first half where they left it until the end to be dangerous, Arsenal found a second early. In the 51st minute, Reiss nelson picked up the ball and drove past Portsmouth’s left back again with ease to get to the end line. He played another driven ball in to the near post and found Nketiah who managed to get the ball to stick to his foot and puts it away from very close range. 2-0.
After the 2nd goal, Arsenal controlled the next 10 minutes comfortably. It appeared as though the wind in Portsmouth’s sails died down going down by 2. The crowd seems a little more subdued, the team looked deflated and Arsenal stepped up their stranglehold on the possession.
Arsenal began playing with a lot more pace in their game. Moving the ball around, content to possess, and not getting caught in tight positions nearly as much as they were in the first half. It was clearly a combination of Arsenal being solid on the ball technically and a lighter press from Portsmouth who were unable to find the same moments to put the midfield and backline of Arsenal under pressure.
A few chances here and there, none that threatened Arsenal all the much and only a few from Arsenal that forced Portsmouth’s keeper into action saw Arsenal comfortably see out the time. It was a composed and comfortable 2nd half and one that was more along the lines of what Gunner fans would have hoped the full 90 minutes would be.
2-0 at the whistle. Arsenal progress.