Benny's Column

ARS – NFO: Call and Response, Standouts and Worries

Arsenal heed the wake up call and recapture the performance levels that have now earned them 31 points in their first 12 games by thumping Nottingham Forest 5-0.

In the lead up to yesterday’s game I wrote that we were likely to learn a lot about this Arsenal side during the course of their ninety minutes versus Nottingham Forest and that the match would say a lot about this still young, budding side. It wouldn’t be the same type of learning that comes with this statement wins against top 6 teams or those all in, chips on the table wins in knockout stages. No, a match versus Nottingham Forest presents none of those opportunities. But after five consecutive performances that fell beneath the level of play this team has shown they can play at, questions had to be asked about what Arsenal’s median level of play was and how they would recapture form.

“Big teams have to respond as quick as possible,” said Arteta after the match, “and we did that after the disappointment of Thursday night, you don’t have time, you go here Friday evening. One half training session and be ready not only physically but mentally again to another demand against a team that beat Liverpool and the pressure is on, you lose the first place and you are there. And we need to get used to that.”

Big teams do need to respond quick, and while big teams don’t go through extended runs of poor performances, when they find themselves in the midst of a rough patch they still win games. After yesterday’s 5-0 domination of Nottingham Forest, it’s certain that fans will feel a bit better considering it’s a results driven business. The five games previous to yesterday’s was some of the worst this side has played, but they still managed 3 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss. Add this recent demolition of Forest, and Arsenal’s worst period to date was 4 wins in six. Not so bad.

There’s plenty of reasons to breathe a little easier after Arsenal not only score 5 goals, but control 69% of the ball, created 24 shots, and 5 big chances. Not to mention, they played better in the second half than the first one? Weird.

I said statements would be made and I believe they thoroughly were.

  • I saw a team that proved that could reset themselves and recapture form without having performances result in a run of losses. Backs were up against the wall to get a result and they did it emphatically.
  • I saw a team prove that the levels of performance and ceiling of play they set their bar at was not a fluke and that this team intends to compete at that level, even in the face of adversity
  • I saw a team whose depth may not be as consistently reliable as we want, but is capable of coming in and impacting a game. Good teams carry that “next man up” mentality, and part of Arsenal’s development has to include purchasing depth and developing that notion. A huge statement from Reiss Nelson.

A return to the Emirates for a Premier League match never hurts the cause when you’re trying to rally the troops, and I think young side feeds off that infectious energy. I think The Emirates has been a great place for this team and the fans are embracing this side wholeheartedly — of course table-topping results don’t hurt.

But table-topping results only come with standout performances and Arsenal had quite a few in yesterday’s win.


Reiss Nelson

Saka’s injury will have had every Arsenal fan’s nerves spiking, but in stepped Reiss Nelson and he collects MOTM for me! Partey (below) makes a good argument for this award given how complete his performance was, but I have to give it to the kid that walks in cold and comes up with 2 goals and an assist in the 49th, 52nd, and 57th minute. That’s crunch time and emphatically sealed the win for a team that has struggled in the second halves of matches.

But it wasn’t just the goal contributions. He was on the ball with 52 touches, created 2 chances, had 3 shots, 5 recoveries, 89% passing accuracy, and while it’s so easy to say he’s not Saka — thanks, edgy take — as a deputy right wing for the day he’s gone well above anyone’s expectations to help this team win.

What does this mean for future minutes? While Arteta does like to reward good performances with more minutes, it feels hard to imagine he threatens any regular starters. However, with Saka carrying a knock or two, there is a chance we has earned his way into the lineup for Zurich. Arsenal are likely to go very strong in that group, but maybe he has earned his way into minutes.

Thomas Partey

There were a few passes and giveaways in the middle of the park that maybe would be punished by a better side, but all in all, Partey was as dominant as you could want. He was a major facet the Gunners’ ability to possess the ball for 69% of the game, he completed 104 passes with 126 touches, 7 recoveries, created 1 chance, and had 4 shots including a second absolute thunderbolt that was identical to his goal versus Spurs earlier this year.

It was a performance that shows why some put him in contention for being one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. For a transfer that wasn’t cheap and has at times been questioned, it’s these games that leave no room for doubt.

Gabriel Jesus

After the match, there was a small contingency of fans that were really disappointed with Jesus’ performance, some even going as far as saying he had a nightmare, which I have to emphatically disagree with. First off, and maybe most obviously, if you’re a striker for 90 minutes and your team scores 5 goals, you probably didn’t have a nightmare. Everyone wants to see Jesus convert his shooting shooting opportunities, at the very least at a higher level than he has lately, and watching him have 7 shots and remain unable to find the back of the night, was frustrating, but it shouldn’t cloud our analysis.

The guy was everywhere you want him to be for the build up play, he was linking with people, and he got two assists for his work — could easily have been three if Reiss Nelson converted his first shot instead of the rebound. He created 4 chances, had his seven shots, and had 72 touches which is immense for a striker.

Even without the goals going in, he’s showing that he can be the guy to link up and create in our build up AND get himself into scoring positions. I have to believe that if he continues to make himself available like this, work shooting opportunities by the handful, and fulfill his responsibilities in creating for others, the goals will come. He raises his tally on the Premier League season to 5 goals and 5 assists in 12 matches.

Wing Support

I already mentioned the contributions made by Reiss Nelson on the wings, but it’s worth mentioning that Saka AND Gabriel Martinelli were fantastic themselves. Certainly everyone in attack looks good after a win like this, but the Gabriel and Saka combine for the opening goal and I really believe Arsenal needed that for a little jumpstart. Arsenal at home, they know there’s added pressure to perform, it’s a game they game they have to win and one against a team that plays a low-block. In the past, Arsenal have gotten stumped by these teams. They have been great this year, but getting off the block early and having Saka and Martinelli combine in the opening minutes of the game was huge.

Arsenal’s ability to work down the wings is always crucial to their success and when it’s working we look marvelous.


Fabio Vieira

I think it’s fair to say that things have not yet clicked for Fabio Vieira. While he hasn’t gotten extensive minutes, nor the most consistent of minutes, performances like yesterday make me feel like he’s further than we maybe hoped. It’s clear he is capable of brilliance and at the age of 22, his potential is still incredible, but it does seem like it make take some time.

He has been quieter in his recent Europa League matches and wasn’t at it during his minutes against Nottingham either. He has time to grow and I’m still confident the tame it takes will all be worth it, but I had hoped things would click a little more seamlessly with him.

Reffing Saka

I’m going to say this tipped into a slight worry the moment Saka had to leave a match after being thoroughly kicked out of it. As a winger everyone knows he wants to run at defenders to come more central and lately defenders have been allowed to clip at his ankles and kick him with little consequence.

Thankfully after the match Arteta stated his belief that this was a matter of being kicked in the ankle an leg, which would suggest it shouldn’t be a long term absence, if any at all. But the concern remains that one of two things will and won’t change: how he’s officiated and his game.

If he stops forcing the issue and running at defenders because he is denied protections it would alter his game, but it’s hard to expect him to keep allowing himself to get kicked around unfairly. Something that is become more noticeable and frustrating by the week.

Arsenal clean up on the day and walk away with all three points. They remain at the top of the table for another week and hopefully use this return to form to propel this forward. An outstanding win on the day as attentions now turn toward getting the job done in the Europa League against Zurich. A lot at stake for winning that group and getting extra rest time during a busy second half of the season.

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