Four games down: one goal, one win, three points. Arsenal ended their barren slump in front of goal with a vital 1-0 victory over Norwich to ease the growing tension in and around the club.
It feels fantastic. A weekend not ruined, for a change.
Taking on the side many tip to finish bottom of the Premier League come the end of the season, Mikel Arteta’s side got the job done in narrow fashion even if the gluttony of chances that went begging should have seen the scoreline finish far more respectably.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the difference maker with a simple tap in, one crafted in bizarre circumstances as Nicolas Pepe contrived to hit both posts before the ball kindly bounced into the captain’s path after 66 minutes.
3 negative points as Arsenal secure a vital 1-0 Premier League win over Norwich that sees the pressure on Mikel Arteta and his side ease ever so slightly
Given the way the campaign had panned out thus far, beggars couldn’t really be choosers. Yes, more goals would have been welcome against opposition who Arsenal are always favourites to beat, but the end result is three of the most welcome Premier League points.
It’s never the instant reaction to be negative about a win that was so dearly desired, and while any victory is a positive step towards righting the panoply of wrongs, there are still clear areas of improvement to be had.
The first of a run of favourable fixtures to come that have the scope to starting digging Arsenal out of this deepest of holes they’ve dug for themselves, when Arteta sits his side down to analyse the intricacies of Saturday’s showing there will be a few key areas he’ll look to point at.
1. The First Half Drop Off
It was a great opening to the game, the kind that was hoped for before kick-off as it would signal the intent and belief of the players to be fired up for an occasion that was more important than it should have been.
After the 20-25 minute mark, however, there was a noticeable drop off.
Few sides, if any, can sustain pressure and dominance all games. It doesn’t happen. Therefore, how the team reacts to not having total control has to be perfected in order to never lose grip of proceedings. It’s an area where Arsenal struggle.
Suddenly passes were being misplaced all over the pitch. All the calmness in possession that had been exhibited in the early stages evaporated as composure dissipated.
Instead of building passages or getting the ball into the right areas, the players lost their combinations from each other as the spaces widened and the choices on the ball became more haphazard than measured.
Maintaining control without being overly threatening is achievable so long as rushed decisions don’t creep into the individuals’ play. Do the simple elements right. That’s what happened on Saturday and it needs improving.
Of course, building confidence will help.
2. Arsenal Need to Show More Ruthlessness in Front of Goal
30 shots. 30!
It’s quite an astounding number and, unsurprisingly, the most Arsenal have produced to date under Arteta – it’s also the most in a game since that infamous defeat at home to Manchester United where Arsene Wenger’s side clocked 33 efforts.
However, on Saturday, only six were on target.
Some credit has to go to Tim Krul, of course, who produced a handful of superb stops, most memorably from Nicolas Pepe.
Yet in Arsenal’s case the volume of efforts at goal that weren’t converted made the end to the game more nerve-wracking than it had to be. Just like the first point, how much of that is down to a lack of confidence having failed to score at all in the three previous outings is up for debate.
The game should have been out of sight as Arsenal looked far more threatening after the break, with some of the failings in front of goal coming as a result of strange decisions in and around the penalty box.
Better sides won’t concede as many shots at goal as Norwich. A collective hunt for the shooting boots is recommended.
3. Ainsley Maitland-Niles is Not a Reliable Midfield Option
Watching Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Albert Sambi Lokonga alongisde one another, there was a clear difference in quality.
The Belgian had a fine afternoon in the centre of the park as he mopped up and dished up in equal measure, while Maitland-Niles is running out of opportunities to prove that he can be an option to call in that department.
He is a wing-back. He isn’t a midfielder.
Could he be a serviceable option for a club not chasing Europe? Quite possibly. Without setting the world alight at West Brom he still did a competent enough job as a No. 8.
However, he lacks the tools, awareness and intensity to play in an Arsenal midfield. Far too often he’s casual on and off the ball and his distribution regularly falls into the miss category more than the hit one.
Switching to right-back in the second half as Thomas Partey entered the fray, being the Rolls Royce midfielder that he is, turned the tide of the game. Maitland-Niles will never be Partey levels, of course, but he looked so far of Sambi’s levels, which is fairly conclusive.
His chances are running out.