When Leeds scored from a corner, Arsenal’s 2nd goal conceded from a corner this season, I just had a laugh. It was Leeds’ first shot in the game, such was Arsenal’s dominance. Despite the goal I didn’t feel a single nerve jangle, and I know that makes me unusual because a great many people said that they were relieved when the final whistle went, but it just never felt like Arsenal were going to lose that game. And if they had, it would have been a fluke.
The game started off perfectly. Leeds are a high pressure team but they press more individually than other sides, even under Jesse Marsch, and that pressure caused Arsenal a few problems from the start but we managed to play through their pressure and get ourselves forward, getting an early shot off for Eddie Nketiah.
And Arsenal’s pressure is often different. It’s more of a selective pressure with one or two players allowed to press wildly. Eddie did that and closed down on Leeds’ keeper Illan Meslier, nicking the ball off his toe and scoring the opening goal. If you doubt that this is part of the Arteta way, I invite you to remember how often Auba did this exact same thing and also scored.
Arsenal’s second goal came from a dribble by Martinelli. He got past Luke Ayling and Raphael Dias Belloli (Raphinha) and played in a perfect dragback for Eddie, who was waiting on the penalty spot, unmarked, reading his copy of Ivanhoe. Eddie almost made a hash of the shot, but managed to score and fall over at the same time.
Martinelli was electric yesterday, easily the best player on the pitch. His dribbling gave Leeds so many problems that their frustration eventually bubbled over and Luke Ayling tried to break his ankle with a two-footed tackle. The ref needed to look at VAR to see the atrocious tackle which is odd since it was clearly two-footed in live action but that’s a minor complaint because he did eventually get it right. Raphinha was also shown a yellow card at that moment and again, this was all a direct result of Martinelli frustrating them.
Martinelli was also a bit unlucky. He had 4 shots and I counted two of them as really good chances, one when he cut through the entire team and only missed because of the pressure.
The only complaint I have is exactly this: that Arsenal aren’t more ruthless. We have a lot of players who need to go to finishing school. But as I have learned from listening to Ian Wright on his podcast (Wrighty’s House), finishing is a skill, and one that players need to learn. There is some luck to it, of course, but it’s not as capricious as some would have you believe. Finishing takes practice, touch, and creativity. You need to see how the ball spins, how to impart spin, where to place the ball, how hard to hit it, and how to make the ball do unusual things to trick keepers and defenders. Really good finishers, the guys like Messi, have this understanding of the ball and this creativity which they can conjure up in that final instant. And for one or two players that might come naturally, but for the rest, they need to learn it.
And Arsenal also need to be more ruthless in other areas of the pitch as well. Leeds were down to 10 men, we were at home. There was a bit of a handbrake on from the 15th minute to the 60th. We created some chances but they were half-chances at best. And in the final minute of regulation, Leeds sent Meslier up on a corner, and when Arsenal won the ball back, Nicolas Pepe was one-on-one with a defender and tried to nutmeg him on the half-way line. It’s pretty clear that Pepe is a player who is low on confidence but even still, he did the one thing that he shouldn’t have done. Just kick it and run, man!
After the win, Arsenal are now in the driver’s seat for 4th place. And 3rd place is actually in play as well. Others have pointed out to me that 5th place is also in play but that’s just stinkin’ thinkin’! Obviously, I won’t be mad if Arsenal finish 5th. That’s above where I expected them to finish this season. However, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be looking forward to 3rd place. Arteta has the team playing some really good football, finally.
The big test is Thursday. Arsenal play Tottenham on Thursday, at Wet Fart Lane. It’s a huge game. However, given Arsenal’s 4 point lead on Spurs, it won’t be the 4th place decider that everyone’s making it out to be. According to 538, Arsenal have a 77% chance of finishing 4th or higher! I guess it’s a 4th place decider in one way: if Arsenal win, it will decide 4th place. If Arsenal lose or draw then 4th place is still entirely in our own hands because we will still have a 1 to 4 point lead over Spurs. That’s why our odds are so high. In essence we have to lose two of the next three matches to finish 5th. Even two draws and a win gets Arsenal 71 points, which is what 538 have us finishing with. I think we are going to finish with 73 points: a draw and two wins.
If Arsenal should get a draw or win on Thursday, I hope the fans start singing “we won 4th place, at White Hart Lane, we won 4th place at White Hart Lane!” And I hope that they make little tinfoil covered trophies that say “4th place” just for all those folks out there who’ve long said that “4th place isn’t like a trophy”.
The fuck it isn’t.