It always felt like a game that would ask a lot of questions for these Arsenal players. The quantity and stake of some of those questions were compounded an hour before the match when fans found out that neither Zinchenko nor Partey would be a part of the squad. Both have seemingly suffered injuries. Injuries that Arteta is unsure will be alleviated by Wednesday when Arsenal go again against Aston Villa.
Yesterday, Fulham came into The Emirates and were organized, consistent, physical, and unruly toward Arsenal’s play in the final third. Arsenal dominated the ball, an aspect of this game that Arsenal strive for and had to be done to help limit Mitrovic’s influence, but were unable to get the outcomes they were looking for. Limited shots on target in the first half (1), great chances spoiled with last ditch defending, and bits of intricate exchanges interrupted by nosy, compact defenders meant things weren’t quite falling into place.
In the 2nd half, Arsenal carried on as they had in the first, but a schoolboy mistake by Gabriel saw him pinched when isolated with Mitrovic who quickly turned it into a goal and Fulham lead. From there, all eyes were on how this Arsenal side would respond to one of the few challenges they have been faced with early this season.
Good teams overcome, and Arsenal made a statement by doing so. Arteta made the bold move of bringing on Eddie Nketiah and changing to a three-back system, Ødegaard rewarded the move in the 64th minute to level things, and Gabriel found sweet redemption as he put away the winner in the 85th minute, after a goalmouth scramble to beat Leno.
Arsenal go 4 for 4 to start the season and will remain on top of the league for at least a few more days.
Let’s look at the standouts from yesterday’s performance.
When the going gets tough, every team wants a captain they can look toward to spur them forward. After receiving some criticism early this season, Ødegaard has responded emphatically, scoring two goals against Bournemouth and coming up with another great performance yesterday.
With more than a handful of dazzling passes and bits of intricate linkup, Ødegaard was just missing that little ‘X factor’ to turn his vision and deft touches into Arsenal shots and scoring chances. In the second half, when facing a deficit, it was Ødegaard that really stepped up and got things to finally click and switch into production. Arsenal turned good moments into shots and shots on target, and Ødegaard finally took his openings to look for his own shots. He scores the goal, he spurs the team on, he picks up the pace, and he put together a Man of the Match, true Captain’s performance.
With 92 touches, 5/5 completed dribbles, 7/8 long balls, 10 recoveries, 8 duels won, 2 created chances, and the goal, he was immense in Arsenal’s possessive domination and earning of three points. That’s two in a row for the player I voted as my breakout player of the year contender.
Four appearances in and Saliba has taken another serious step toward being Arsenal’s unanimously agreed upon ‘best center back’. In a day when the battle with Mitrovic was constant and physical, and his partner slipped up and needed picking up, Saliba was an absolute rock at Arsenal’s foundation.
Coming into the day, many will have wondered how this young center back would fair in handling such a physically draining battle with Mitrovic. Would it effect his play on the ball too? Well, Saliba handled this test — like every other test he’s faced early on this season — and passed it with flying colors. He and Gabriel pinched together and squeezed Mitrovic when they had to, they challenged for duels to make life uncomfortable, and Saliba thrived in possession once again.
103 touches, 92 passes, 9/10 long balls, and he was rewarded with the game-winning assist on Gabriel’s goal after he contests Leno for Martinelli’s corner kick.
And if you haven’t seen his celebration, it’s outstanding.
The boy is good. Very good. And seemingly getting better. That’s two goal contributions in two games and two standout performances.
Eddie is a player I did not include in my initial post-game tweet, but one that really needs to be included. He hasn’t gotten to start a game this season, but both games when Arsenal were in need of an extra gear — Crystal Palace and yesterday — Nketiah has come on and shocked the team onto another level.
Yesterday, down one after and recoiling from a surprise blow, Eddie was brought on, the system was changed, and his energy and verve was infectious. He was lively on the ball, taking on defenders, finding pockets of space, creating little openings and opportunities, and Fulham wasn’t sure how to adjust themselves to handle it.
In roughly 30 minutes, Eddie worked himself three shooting opportunities, completed 3 dribbles, unfortunately missed a big chance but was there to be a part of one, and won 5 of his 6 duels. Maybe we can’t yet label him a true ‘super sub’ but, boy does he feel like one at the moment. Spectacularly eye-catching yesterday.
Another player that received some criticism — right or wrong — for his recent performance. He’s been called erratic or inconsistent, he was at fault for Maddison’s goal, but today he came up huge when he was called upon.
Making a few fantastic high claims, and two or three outstanding saves to keep Fulham from scoring — including a great save on a Mitrovic headed attempt — he was consistent, solid, and looked much more like the Ramsdale people first saw when he arrived. His long range distribution was a little off the mark, but he was a good safety net for our defense to go back to when under pressure and he tried to spring a few Arsenal transitions. Overall, a really great performance, and when you make the huge saves he did, you get pegged as a standout.
A special call out here for the boss today. Could he have made his second substitution earlier than the 89th minute? Yes. But when Arsenal went down 1-0, he wasted little time in making a change, not only in terms of personnel but tactics and shape, as well.
If there is one criticism I have felt in the past about his substitutions, it’s less about timing, and more about what the subs do to our plan. They are often like-for-like subs that bring on fresh legs but do little in terms of demanding the opposition adjust to something new besides player profile sometimes. One thing, of many, that Arsene Wenger was good at was tweaking the formation, changing things up, and using fresh legs and different players to demand opposition try to figure out how to adapt.
Yesterday, Arteta brought on Eddie in the 61st minute and Arteta made bold changes with it. He shifted us to a 3-back system, then back to a 4-back system with Saka as the left back, then back to the 3-back system again. Finally, with his last two subs of Tomiyasu and Holding, the system took on that lockdown 5-3-2/5-4-1 shape. Everything worked, Arsenal won, and changes like that show the influence he can have on a game. Standout managerial work.
It’s a quick turnaround for the first time this season as Arsenal will see Aston Villa on Wednesday at The Emirates. It will be our first time seeing how this season’s side handles short rest.
Also a part of this series: ARS-FUL Standouts and Worries: Worries
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