Gunner Thoughts

To the Arsenal One Nil: A Comfortable, Composed Second Response

After beating Aston Villa, Arsenal made another stride toward regaining their best form with a serious, dominant win over Leicester City

As the clock ticked toward a final whistle, away fans’ voices rang out, filling the air with Arsenal’s iconic chant “One nil to the Arsenal”, in case any viewers were unsure where the scoreline settled.

We must give this Arsenal team credit though, the fashion in which they achieved their one-nil victory was not in line with the sides in which that chant would be minted. No, this Arsenal side set forth a dominant display of possession and territory to squelch Leicester on their own turf. While it may not have been the high-flying, high-octane, attacking prowess, the Gunner’s structure rigidly controlled every aspect of the game with steadfast commitment to consistency.

Gabriel and Saliba commanded the back and remained unfazed, even in the face of the Foxes pushing forward at the death the try and grab some last breath success. The fault lays in Arsenal’s lap for even leaving that chance and not killing the match, but never did the team itself seem all the concerned with a threat.

“I think we dominated the game from the start almost to finish,” said Arteta after the match. “We had a difficult 10 or so minutes where we gave so many balls away that we lost a little bit of control, but in general, I think our play and understanding of the space, how they were pressing, how we got into final third positions was excellent.”

In fact, it was Arsenal fans online that seemed far more agitated with the performance than the team every showed. Charles Watts commented that following the match through Twitter — presumably because of the viewing restrictions that exist within the UK — had aged him 20 years.

But from my perspective, it’s confused why Arsenal fans felt so concerned and agitated by the match. Yes, one goal is erasable in a single action, but there are flows to matches that foreshadow lapses. The commentators brought up City’s late concession to Nottingham Forest last week. I watched that match, Forest had few shots but actually had created on the day before scoring. They even produced almost 1.0 xG. Arsenal gave Leicester City, literally, nothing for seventy minutes, and nothing after a single long-range effort.

Sure, in the world of possibilities, anything was possible, but Arsenal set the tone of that match from the first whistle and it was a dominant character that carried through to the final whistle. Even after the first seven minutes I could feel this was a day Arsenal were going to leave with all three points.

Play was connecting, Arsenal had ~75% of the ball, Leicester City were already forced into a deep block and showing a desperate willingness to put nine players in their own box, and it felt like it came down to Arsenal needed to steer a shot through the thicket of bodies.

Hard to say that wasn’t how eighty minutes of the match felt. Within the first half I counted five occasions, not counting set pieces, that Leicester City had nine players in their own box. They were penned in and Arsenal were showing control on pre-World Cup levels.

There were two contentious calls in the first half. After a corner kick is punched out, Trossard unleashed an unbelievable curler from top of the box like a top-corner-seeking missile. Arsenal celebrate the goal but have it chalked off by VAR who use the in-goal camera to show Ben White holding onto Danny Ward’s unused arm, making the punch more difficult. Six minutes later, Leicester’s defender clumsily topples over and drags Saka down in the box after a cross is delivered. This goes to review and is confirmed as no foul.

My view feels simple, but maybe I’m in the wrong. I think VAR is rarely that eagle-eyed in their reviews and there have been two occasions in the last two seasons with Leno and Ramsdale that we have been told our keepers need to be stronger. Having said that — and setting aside that VAR should be that diligent every time then — I think it’s a foul. I think it’s a little tiki-taka, but he’s holding his arm and keepers get protected. However, that should set the precedent for the match.

So just six minutes later, when Saka in prevented for contesting a cross by a clumsy, toppling defender, the bar for a foul should match. It’s clear it didn’t and every time you look at the replay it looks more and more like a foul. Defenders are punished all the time for clumsy errors and this should have been no different. Saka is clearly fouled.

On a different day, I believe Arsenal get one of those two calls at least.

Instead, the teams head into half-time level at zero and the fan anxiety was on full display. People were calling the first half performance horrible, quoting the zero shots on target, nitpicking minute details; it would seem my message of confidence and patience was in the minority.

I eagerly await for when fans rewatch this game and start to send out the message that Arsenal were actually better than they thought because the team was good. They controlled every aspect, they had 7 shots, buy, yeah, when you’re trying to steer a shot through nine bodies, it’s often not going to make it. Add in the handful of passes that would have lead to tap in goals if a defender didn’t get a touch on it and it always felt like Arsenal would find the net.

To me, in a game like this, just because you’re not ‘testing the keeper’, if you’re a last-ditch leg away from a tap in and trying to find those back post runners, you’re giving yourself as good a chance of scoring as just hauling off a shot and trying to smash it through bodies.

Fortunately for everyone, there wouldn’t be long to wait to see the net bulge. Trossard gets on the end of a ball in the left channel— something we haven’t gotten as much of since Jesus was hurt —gives a shake and shimmy, slips a ball through the defenders legs into an onrushing Martinelli run, who tucks it past an outstretched keepers leg. Just one minute into the 2nd half and Arsenal have their reward.

The next thirty-five minutes felt very much the same. Arsenal weren’t creating a lot of shots, but they were the only team looking to score. Leicester City couldn’t keep hold of the ball and anything that leaked through was scooped up and controlled by Jorginho, Saliba, or Gabriel.

Whether by design or desperation, Leicester got a little more adventurous in the closing minutes which came with some degree of erratic play. There are the moments I believe Arteta is referencing in which Arsenal’s passing let them down a little bit, but still, Leicester managed no attempts on goal.

Arsenal win a second game in a row and when they needed to follow up their win over Villa with another win, they followed it up with a serious statement win of composed, clean play. After being served a feeling of creating their own demise against City and Brentford, winning a game in this fashion — especially the through performance from the center pairing — returns a lot of confidence in being able to navigate the upcoming pressure of closing months.

“Set plays, sloppy goals, and individual errors, it’s part of football,” says Arteta, “sometimes you are going to concede in games but the fact we are not conceding and giving chances away is really important if you want to be constantly winning matches.”

“[Winning the last two away games is] really important obviously, it creates more belief, more belief in the players, more belief around our club, and externally.”

“In the last two games, especially today, we’ve done those things much better.”

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