On the surface, I can understand why there are a lot of fans that find the Europa League group stages to be a bore. It’s not the regular team you’re used to cheering on, with the rotation of seven to ten players the quality often dips, and given Arsenal’s level of talent, its mostly a forgone conclusion what the outcome will be. Yet, I cannot help but really love these occasions.
Sure, I don’t get the same excitement, buzz, or bundle of nerves that come with a serious Premier League game — or any Premier League game really. But, there’s something different about tuning into an Arsenal match and watching a different set of players don the red and white to put on a performance for the club. Something intriguing about really seeing and understanding the depth the team has, the potential mix and match options the manager has at his disposal, and see players out on the pitch looking to impress and revel in, what’s likely their limited time in a competitive match.
The atmosphere can feel a little subdued but it’s special to welcome in a new opposing team and see fans in the stadium that you don’t run into year after year after year. Arsenal face different tactical styles and systems, and often opposition that isn’t afraid to try something daring. While the Premier League is getting so competitive and the level of play is sky rocketing, you have to admit there are some games where it feels like the goal of the opposition is to bunker for a point and stay in the league for more money.
Bodø/Glimt brought none of that attitude, and while it didn’t pay off for them, it was a respectable mentality. It was a mentality that aligned with their vociferous fans. An idea that even in the face of better opposition, away from home, they were going to make some noise and give it their all — entirely respectable.
In the end, Arsenal walked away with a comfortable win, and it was the same level of pressure, the same intent, a slightly reduced quality at times, but a mostly rotated side of different players. Were Arsenal good or Bodø/Glimt bad? Maybe a little bit of both but there were a lot of good Arsenal moments and I refuse to be one of those people that views a game and have “this is probably the worst Arsenal have played this season” be my big takeaway.
Give me a break. Give yourself a break! You’re making no revelations when you stand upon some weird, purist pedestal to state this viewpoint. You’re not smart or clever to take some stance that “all Arsenal games are Arsenal games and should be compared equally”. Blah blah blah. Move on, you’re missing the key takeaways of a night like this.
These are games centered around rotation and still getting the result to move us onto the next round, but it’s also about options; about knowing that there are preferred starters, but the team has options during the year to rotate in quality players. It’s about keeping players in form for when they are called to play in the big moments. It’s about fans and Mikel having faith in the full squad being able to be mixed and matched and moved without having a severe dip in results or without having your season fall off the tracks at the end of the year when you have a few inevitable injuries come your way.
Arsenal delivered that yesterday. They took care of business and had a fair amount of players that often make the bench for Premier League matchups show us what they are capable of.
Eddie Nketiah looked great once again up top, and for a guy that will likely be called upon in the near future when Gabriel Jesus has to sit out for a one-game yellow card accumulation ban, I find myself not worried about it for a minute. Opposition matters, of course, but he has looked sharp and decisive, physical and effective every time he’s stepped on the pitch this year. He got his reward once again after a quick bit of reflexes put away the rebound from an absolute thunderbastard of a shot from Kieran Tierney came off the woodwork.
Tierney is another player that has looked on his game whenever he has had minutes. His first match back from injury was a little unclean, but since then he has gotten better and better. It does appear as though Mikel is attached to the vision of having the technical skills of Zinchenko invert into the midfield from left back, but Tierney is putting together the best case possible to try and get the manager to reconsider. From a fans perspective, this is excellent. I know how hard it is to not get attached to players and have favorites, but having two brilliant options at left back and loving them both is a great thing.
Another position that is appears Arsenal have two option in is the attacking midfielder role. Fabio Vieira hasn’t established himself in the significant capacity that his potential suggests he will, but that time is coming. With a goal and an assist to his name, he continues to show Arsenal fans just how dangerous he is. Plenty of people saw what he could do when he was in Portugal with Porto and it’s beginning to translate here.
His assist is outstanding. The way he shimmies his way to create just enough space to curl in an absolutely outstanding ball for Rob Holding — a player I always have a soft spot for — is incredible. The ball is picture perfect, but Vieira wasn’t done.
I think one aspect of his game I am starting to become so intrigued by is how similar, yet entirely different he is to Martin Ødegaard. Vieira had just 37 touches in the match. He created 3 chances (2 big chances), 5 shots, 1 assist, and 1 goal. At half time, he had 9 passes and 4 shots. You don’t need to give this kid permission to shoot, but these stats show the type of positions Vieira wants to get himself into — dangerous ones. The type of positions that get himself into the box to be the one to score. The pockets of space that enable him to settle and ball and hit a quick shot.
His whole game makes me dream about a lineup that see him and Ødegaard operating in the same side. Both like to occupy similar spaces, but we caught a little glimpse of Arsenal working toward this dream late in the game. It’s hard to imagine Arteta turning away from Xhaka who is steadily producing the best season of his career, but given Arteta’s proclivity for “firepower” and technically sound, attacking quality, it’s not unrealistic to venture that is the direction of travel Mikel dreams about.
These three aspects, plus some solid minutes for Marquinhos, a very complete performance from Lokonga in the center of the park, good minutes for Tomiyasu, and a relatively simple stroll through a midweek matchup are the little nuggets of gold you have to mine for in these games. Some are obvious, others are smaller like Reiss Nelson getting minutes and looking like a viable option for rotating into the mix, or Mat Turner having little to do but rising to the occasion every time the call game to put on a very respectable performance.
Some people questioned the substitutions that Arteta made to bring on Saka, Ødegaard, and Jesus, and it seems like I may be in the minority that was very okay with it. People were looking for this trio to have a day off but I think we often forget that these players put more than 30 minutes of playing into their legs most Thursdays without a game. Add on the fact that Arsenal are unlikely to have a full session today or Saturday, given yesterday’s game and Sunday’s, and tonight stands as a final opportunity to stay sharp.
Arsenal got the job done, more or less, in the opening thirty minutes. 2-0 isn’t fully finished, but Arsenal were hardly pressed or challenged. The game became an opportunity to test a very attacking front and see how Vieira and Ødegaard played together in a real match. I think the Europa League’s final thirty minutes presents a real opportunity to test these sort of things out first hand. I understand that people get very concerned about injury, I do too, but overall I can’t get worked up about this decision.
Arsenal get their second win of the Europa League, they have 6 points in 6, they got some minutes into Saka, Ødegaard, and Jesus’ legs to stay sharp and ready for the weekend’s big date with Liverpool. Arsenal are hot, they have started their season in excellent for, it’s hard to imagine what a result against Liverpool could do to catapult Arsenal’s season forward.