Gunner Thoughts

Becoming Champions: Every Touch Matters

Arsenal play their way to a nauseating, thrilling, 3-2 win over Manchester United and show another lesson learned in becoming champions.

Arsenal have spent the season overcoming the tests put in front of them and breaking out of the boxes that people in the game have tried to put around them. When people questioned whether they were capable of being a top team, they responded by showing their time at the top is begins now, this season. And throughout the season, as we have learned so much more about these players, the players are slowly learning what it takes to claim the title of ‘champion’.

Few players in this Arsenal squad carry this wisdom to impart on the teammates around them. Perhaps this is why, as the going has gotten tough and the reality has become more clear, Zinchenko has risen to the top as such a crucial member of this team. Beyond what he brings as one of the most versatile players Arsenal have ever had, he has looked so composed in how he conducts himself in the heat of this competition’s kiln.

Yesterday’s win over Manchester United stands as the toughest test this side has faced this season. Credit to Manchester United who came in with a plan to fluster and press this Arsenal side higher up the pitch to create mistakes and deny outlets in the first half. Over the course of ninety minutes, Arsenal were undoubtedly the better team, but the better team doesn’t always win — especially if they find themselves punished for mistakes… twice.

However, stand up Zinchenko, Saka, Xhaka, Partey in the second half, and Eddie Nketiah. An outrageous finish from Bukayo Saka was only shadowed on the evening by Eddie’s decisive performance that etches himself into a section of Arsenal folklore. The boy from Hale End that defied people’s beliefs about him as a backup and scored a brace to win Arsenal a match against Manchester United.

A gargantuan moment that will only grow larger in stature if Arsenal continue their march and achieve immortalization.

Apologies for the overused maxim, but big matches demand big performances. And when the team performance as a whole is off the mark, and the opposition are finding ways to put you off your game, it falls to individuals to pull together and make the difference. 

It was a match that demonstrated so clearly that every touch — good and bad — matters.

Aaron Ramsdale stands with hands on head. Arsenal flags wave in front of him.

Arsenal’s backline has been the jewel in the club’s crown this season. From having the second best defensive record in the league to how much of the attack starts with them, yet they were uncharacteristically sloppy. Miscontrol, slow play, and haphazard touches put them in unfamiliar dangers. 

It was a loose pass from Partey and lethal finish from Rashford that put United in the drivers seat, and gave life to ten Hag’s clear vision for the evening. 

Arsenal leveled the score at the half, but the game felt like it hung in the balance. Arsenal had created more, they had better chances, but they were allowing themselves to be their own worst enemy. In the same breath, it felt so simple for Arsenal to clean up the touches that were putting themselves in danger, rediscover their identity of control and composure, and elevate their play to the dominant level they are capable of. They simply needed to learn, and learn quickly.

For the most part Arsenal did. They controlled more of the ball and were retaining possession in United’s half. The reward came in the form of an outrageous finish from Saka. It was a goal that should easily win Goal of the Month and be in contention for Arsenal’s goal of the season. A smashed hit, with curl, nestles into the side netting past de Gea. 

And yet, unfortunately, a miscommunication with Tomiyasu and insecure touch from Ramsdale let United back into the mix six minutes later. Should Ramsdale have simply punched it away to safety? Probably. Every touch matters.

The end was an exhilarating nightmare as a fan. Sixty-thousand fans barking to the players as if they themselves were Mikel on the touchline. Urging the team forward, truly believing in them to get the goal and save the points. The energy hasn’t been this unified in a long time!

The match reached a point where Arsenal forced Manchester’s hand and dictated they be content to shell up, short of clear transition opportunities, for the final twenty minutes of the match. The play got sharper, the passing crisper, and the likes of Zinchenko was marshaling the team’s control.

The analysis of these closing moments wouldn’t be complete without talking about Trossard. He’s barely been in the building more than 24 hours, but he was signed for two jobs — provide depth, change games. He’s already checked both those boxes off.

When Trossard came on, he slotted in beautifully. One of the perks of his signature was being able to hit the ground running and it showed. 

On the game winner, it’s Trossard that picks up the ball, drives at the defense, and touches it wide to Zinchenko for the cross. Zinchenko’s slot back to Odegaard gets the faintest of touches to redirect to Eddie waiting like the fox-in-the-box he can be. Every touch matters. A final goal that pushed Arsenal across the finish line and it involves two of Arsenal’s top performers on the day. 

Trossard in Arsenals red and white home kit versus Manchester United

The top of the table is tight margins. All year we’ve talked about how the demand for consistency is relentless. Those margins get even tighter when you’re top of the table. You know whoever faces you on that field is bringing their best fight.

Arsenal made so few punishable mistakes and created so many opportunities to potentially blow things wide open. It was difficult to accept this could be a game in which a few bad touches were going to cost Arsenal 2 points, yet to be champions Arsenal have accept these are the margins within which they play.

The script flipped on its head when Arsenal reigned in their sloppy touches. The composure returned and the Arsenal identity came with it. Instead of taking the extra touch and being closed down, the ball movement was sharp. Instead of trying to force the transition and hitting United’s counter press, Arsenal took what was given to them and manufactured great goals. 

The end result wasn’t just a win, it was a stat line that backs up just how much Arsenal deserved it. 25 shots, 3 goals, 3.25 xG (.36 xGA), and a 15% increase in possession totals in the 2nd half to demonstrate the chokehold that came with Arsenal’s second half performance. 

If every match for the remainder of the season is going to feel like that, I fear I won’t make it through. Heart stopping, energy sapping, nervous stuff. The idea of coming up against Manchester United two times, playing better than them, creating more, and being stumped twice is too much to handle; it’s enough to make me ill. 

But in this league, league winners CLAIM wins. They earn the right to win. With 20 minutes left, in a level game, Arsenal had all the motivations a team could ask for: top of the league, at home with fans bellowing their full belief, out-creating a rival — they had to find a way to get all three points, and they did. This win felt different. It marks the halfway point and its impossible not to feel as though it sets a tone for the rest of the way.

Eddie took his opportunity to carve out a small section of Arsenal history and I can’t help but feel as though it’s a moment that feels gargantuan now, but stands to be season-changing when reflected upon in the coming months. Trossard makes his debut, and has already made his stamp on the season after being involved in Arsenal’s onslaught and the seamless movement with Zinchenko at the end of the game. It’s almost enough justify his whole signing. Saka stepped up with an outrageous finish and a performance that has become this norm, and Arsenal climb back up to 5 points clear with a game in hand over the pack. 

A few touches stood to make life difficult for Arsenal and jeprodize their season’s standing. And a simple touch to direct the ball past de Gea for a third righted the whole ship. Arsenal truly earned their win and the belief that comes with it.

Every touch matters. 

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