The Arsenal projects has undertaken many evolutions during the course of Mikel Arteta’s tenure. From scraping the team to overhauling, followed by slow refinement. It’s been seven transfer windows worth of work — still too slow in the minds of some quick-fix believers — and during that time, different aspects find themselves under the microscope.
From the period where windows felt entirely about moving on from “deadwood” players and contracts to watching our youth starlets shine to watching this project ‘bang” — to use Mikel’s words — much of the focus has understandably been centered around finding fast and sustainable ways to drastically elevate the levels of the first eleven. It’s a task that will forever be ongoing, as you’d expect in every football team, or sports team really. But the performance levels of Arsenal this season have seen a fairly clear “first eleven” surface and stabilize.
Before the Manchester United match, when lineups were announced, I joked saying, “The Arsenal streak continues! 19 PL matches and I’ve not seen a single lineup meltdown”.
This clarity has brought with it an understandable shift in attention to the thin squad that Arsenal possess in order to navigate their Premier League season, plus domestic cup competitions, plus the Europa League competition. A topic throughout the season has been the state of Arsenal’s depth, and in the similar vein, what happens to this team if key players pick up injuries.
As Arsenal head toward a congested end of winter/spring schedule, many are concerned about how this squad juggles their immense workload while maintaining the legs needed to perform as well as they have. Or, how Arteta flips a game on it’s head with key substitutions that can push Arsenal over the finish line and grab extra points.
The fear was heightened earlier this month when Arsenal came up against Newcastle United, played 90 minutes as the superior team, but were forced to settle for a draw after only using one substitution to bring on a defensive player. Grabbing a point against the third place team should feel like an alright result, but on the day it wound up feeling more like two points lost.
Fast forward to yesterday, with one attacking signing completed a few days before and one defensive signing awaiting completion, and Arsenal fans entered the Emirates stadium buzzing with the opportunity to earn another statement win. The taste of revenge pungent in the mouths of each and every one of them.
And if they didn’t expect it before the match, they certainly should have left believing that the whole win proved to be a statement for the advancement in Arsenal’s depth. Just when Arsenal needed another dose of belief in their side — and three more points to the tally — the depth provided.
In a bold move, albeit smart and needed one, Mikel Arteta made a substitution at halftime to bring on Takehiro Tomiyasu for Ben White. White was on a yellow card, he looked off the mark with the ball in possession, and his first forty-five minutes were unusually inconsistent for the the man that has been reliable all year.
Tomiyasu come into the game and immediately handled Marcus Rashford, United’s main source of attack in first half. It was clear that United’s plan was the force that ball into Rashford’s feet as their outlet and he had arguably gotten the better of White in the first half.
It’s really unfortunate that United’s second goal comes from a miscommunication between Tomiyasu and Ramsdale in dealing with a United corner kick. Ramsdale should probably put his fist through the ball like it’s Bruno Fernandes’ face, but the ball was lofted enough to be claimed. Likewise, Tomiyasu should probably hear the call and know Ramsdale is claiming it, but there was a play to be made and I can understand a defender wanting to ensure someone in the area gets to the ball. Instead, they collide, the ball is spilt and then headed home.
It’s a big error but shouldn’t take away from the second half performance. Having the ability to see your fullback in trouble, and the guts to make the switch early in the game is a tougher decision in real life than many fans may believe. Having the personnel to confidently do this, it’s a statement for Arsenal’s defensive depth.
The man had only been wearing the red and white for a few hours. His knowledge of the system – limited. His chemistry with teammates – likely non-existent. Signed to provide depth and change the course of games: Achieved.
On arguably the biggest stage, Arteta recognized the need for a real lift and injection of fresh legs into the attack. He could have easily looked toward Emile Smith-Rowe, a player that contributed his own stellar bench contributions last season, but instead pushes on Arsenal’s newest signing. The effect: a force-feeding of impetus to the crowd and team.
It’s what new signings can create.
When Trossard’s number came up on the board, the crowd fed off the emotion and excitement and rode it through. If there were nerves, they were embodied through further waves of bellowing encouragement. Only Leandro could tell you if he felt that energy, but the result was a new player looking incredibly comfortable in a side he’s hardly familiar with.
He played within himself, he displayed some very evasive footwork, he worked well with Zinchenko, who was already marshaling the attacking at that point, and he showed a willingness to run at defenders and create openings for those around him. If Arsenal had United up against the ropes, he helps orchestrate the one-two punch for the knockout.
He may have been in the starting lineup, but on the whole, he’s depth behind Gabriel Jesus and making his time in the spotlight count. A brace against Manchester United stands tall. His status of Arsenal’s lead goalscorer across all conceptions, immense.
At the beginning of the season, many people — myself included — would have place Jesus on the list of players that Arsenal could not afford to get injured. In true Arsenal form, he was the only player to suffer serious consequences for participating in the World Cup. With an injury that sees him out at least three months, it became Nketiah’s time to shine.
Every champion team must find the ability to adopt a ‘next man up’ mentality, and Arsenal seem to be proving their young side has it in them.
Nketiah has walked onto the field, gotten the goal, and provided all around play on the level of a talented, starting striker. For it to be him that gets the two goals, including a game-winner, suggests Arsenal’s depth at striker is in a better place than many believe.
Three depth players, three outstanding contributions to the team’s biggest win. A win for The Arsenal to go to 50 points in their first 19 matches, and a statement win for Arsenal’s depth and ability to alter the course of matches.
The depth within the squad continues to grow. This article didn’t mention the rock-solid usage of Rob Holding to see out another match, it didn’t venture into the fact that less than 24 hours after the match, Arsenal accounted Jakub Kiwior to provide depth and competition at left center back, and nor did we talk about what Arsenal may still do in the final week of this January transfer window.
Bask in the warmth of this incredible Arsenal win. Feel the belief in this side coursing through you. Embrace the climb toward greatness this project is in the midst of.
It was a gigantic win for the club and a statement win for Arsenal’s depth.