Thursday, June 1, 2023

Gabriel leaves Arsenal crowd in shock

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After several rather dour performances, if you could ask for the perfect response in the Premier League the 5-0 win over Nottingham Forest was arguably 99% perfect. The only thing lacking was a Gabriel Jesus goal but a Jesse Lingard tantrum evens that up for me.

Goals have been the real issue over the last few weeks and in fairness, despite the five-goal scoreline, Arsenal could have certainly scored even more today had their Brazilian No. 9 had the confidence he possessed in the early part of the season.

Yet seeing Gabriel Martinelli score after arguably his worst performance in an Arsenal shirt last Thursday was the best start to a game the Gunners have had. That said, the first half felt frustratingly similar to the Southampton game; plenty of opportunities, very little threat from the opposition, but no clinical finishing.

The second half though could not have been more different to the Gunners’ performance on the south coast. Arsenal have needed to find additional gears when they have halves as we saw at Southampton, and that is exactly what we saw yesterday.

Protect Saka

Kick after kick after kick. Mikel Arteta refused to be drawn on whether the referees need to be offering more protection in the form of yellow cards as the blatant kicking of Arsenal’s star boy continues.

There is a softening stance to stronger challenges and then there’s just carelessly managing a football match. Teams have also got savvy to the idea that strong challenges early on in games simply won’t be punished, effectively giving them a free hit at kicking the opposition.

Arteta, despite knowing little of the full extent of Saka’s issue, spoke optimistically about his chances of avoiding World Cup heartbreak in his post-match press conference. Despite his replacement Reiss Nelson doing brilliantly when he came on, it did again highlight how potentially thin the options in the forward line are if the side were to lose any of their starting front three for an extended period.

Like London buses, you wait for ages for one and then two come along at once. It has been 837 days since Reiss Nelson last scored in the Premier League and against Forest, he bagged two in the space of just four minutes.

I have been very critical of the minutes allocated to Nelson, admittedly. The argument being that with his current deal expiring come the end of the season, perhaps time would be better invested in players like Fabio Vieira and Marquinhos who will be with the side for the long term.

But take nothing away firstly from Nelson, whose second-half performance was inspired, determined and full of commitment, and secondly to Mikel Arteta who made the decision not to bring on Vieira, who played right wing in midweek, but instead brought on the 22-year-old Hale End graduate.

Whether this changes things for Nelson’s future is impossible to know and a lot can happen between now and the end of the season from both the player’s and the club’s point of view. However, for me, it changes nothing in my view of the January transfer window and the desperate need remaining to sign a wide forward with the ability to compete in a central striking role too.

Gabriel’s annoying moment

I am a big fan of Gabriel Magalhaes and pieces highlighting his strengths certainly back the view he is a very good defender, it can also shoehorn you into a camp that are perceived as defending a player no matter what. Just see the cult followings of Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to have an understanding of what I mean.

However, despite what was another strong defensive performance, there is no defence for an action quite like Gabriel produced in the first half. It was a moment that could have changed the game and the result of the fixture entirely.

A mindless pass not only across his own box but directly to the awaiting Jesse Lingard who, if he had been able to finish from around eight yards, should have levelled the score. Gabriel is beginning to build a reputation for having a shaky moment not in every odd game, but in every game.

He will be under the microscope even more going forwards. He needs a run of fixtures of competent and composed play, just like the man next to him, William Saliba, who was excellent in the win.

Kieran Tierney remains absent

Even after Arsenal dropped points to Southampton, Mikel Arteta picked Takehiro Tomiyasu at left-back once again. This caused a stir amongst Arsenal supporters, who had grown somewhat frustrated with the lack of offensive capabilities on the left in the Scot’s absence.

However, Tomiyasu was directly involved in the turnover of possession that led to the first goal. He also whipped in a delightful left-footed cross at the start of the second half to show what quality he can display in the second half of the pitch; remember he also assisted Granit Xhaka in the Europa League win over PSV with a cross from the right.

It is almost certain therefore that Tomiyasu will play there again against Chelsea. It’d be a real shock if the coach suddenly dropped the Japanese international against a side of a similar level to Liverpool, who sparked the tactical selection in the first place.

For Tierney though, what must he be thinking? He expressed a calm reaction when quizzed on his lack of minutes ahead of the game against Leeds United, which he came on in the second half of to see out the nervy 1-0 victory.

He has come on in every Premier League game since then too and started at left-back in the 2-0 defeat to PSV, a performance which did little to back his case to overcome Tomiyasu and reclaim the left-back slot.

He will almost certainly start against FC Zurich in the Europa League on Thursday as the Gunners look to wrap up top spot in the group. But there will no doubt be discussions amongst supporters about his long-term future at the club, and that’s even before Oleksandr Zinchenko returns to the ranks.


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