Arsenal 3-1 Aston Villa
An inglorious start: right up until the announcer welcomed Aston Villa onto the pitch, I thought we were playing Newcastle. Middle age, my friends, is a barrel of fun.
We were, let’s get things straight here, definitely playing Aston Villa. And boy, did we play Aston Villa.
Where Monday was chalk, last night was cheese. All the things that we didn’t do against Palace – have a functioning midfield, attack with liberating pace, hustle and harry off the ball – we did last night from beginning to end. Maybe someday we’ll work out how to do this more often (young manager, young team – inconsistency is probably inevitable), but for now we can just bask in a satisfyingly potent performance.
A night like this was just what the doctor ordered. There was, as is becoming customary, a good buzz in the concourse before the game, and this transferred onto the terraces where for the second match running I never sat down. A proper safe standing solution has surely got to be considered, because people want to stand. Over to you, Arsenal.
Back to the functioning midfield. Thomas Partey was absolutely magnificent with Lokonga alongside him, and finally Jensened himself his debut goal. It won’t feature on many YouTube compilations, but it will have been a nice weight off his shoulders and he can now trade in his size nine sand wedges for a pair of one irons and go off on a scoring spree.
Why can’t I be you?
It feels frankly rude to keep singling out individual players, but I’m going to, because Emile Smith Rowe is something else altogether. Taller than you imagine, faster than you imagine, able to find space and players with consummate ease, I suspect his market value after Villa’s cheeky £35m bid was rejected with a smirk is now nearer £75m. Not that we’re selling, because that would be like sawing your right leg off to pay for a new trampoline. The lad is magic.
Lacazette, too, has fire in his belly. He’s playing for his career here – final contract on the horizon – and you can tell that he *really* wants to play. His energy was infectious.
Really though, from front to back, Ramsdale to Aubameyang, this was a high-tempo, aggressive, performance and I can’t praise the players highly enough. Arteta, too, because he’s been under huge scrutiny too.
A forest of pressing
This element of our game was, if anything, the most pleasing. As soon as we lost the ball we were back after it, and I lost count of the number of times we turned the ball over by biting at Villa as soon as they had possession. It’s so important: by being proactive like this we transform from being a team that doesn’t look like it will score in one hundred years to one that takes every opportunity to power forward. The off the ball stuff is perhaps the key to truly unlock things, so long as we can keep it up.
By giving them no room to breathe, the disintegration of Villa’s game plan was plain to see.
Confession: I was getting a round at the bar for the penalty, but please direct all your opprobrium towards the still-too-slow bars rather than at me for sliding off before the half ended. There are many more important things about the ground that need fixing, but it beggars belief that 15 years after opening you’ve still got two people pouring pints by hand. It’s 15 deep at half time. There’s got to be a better way, and at £6.50 a pint, it would be a real money-spinner too.
So given I only saw the penalty on the concourse screens, and the first was a bobbler, the third goal was of course my favourite. The pace, the flick from Aubameyang, the calmness of Smith Rowe. Wonderful.
I was still buzzing at 10:15pm, and I suspect I’ll still be buzzing at 10:15 Saturday night. It was just like heaven.
For one night, at least, Arteta found the cure.