Well, that was more entertaining than it had to be, and, while we shouldn’t be too hasty in drawing conclusions from a EFL third cup win, even against another Prem side, it’s hard to find much reassurance from a match in which we conceded 17 shots, ten on goal. Ramsdale had quite a lot to do, but I’m not going to gripe much more than that. Brentford are a better side than their current form suggests, but we advanced all the same. Fringe players got some time on the pitch, and we got the result we needed. Let’s not quibble too much over the process; there’s been quite enough of that already. Let’s just get down to the post-match poll and rate the lads, shall we?Continue reading
Which player has the best minutes per goal involvement of any player with at least five goals + assists? Haaland? Nope. Salah? Not even close. What about Kane, Toney, or Rashford? Nyet, a’a, and አይ. (That’s Russian, Hausa, and Amharic for the Philistines out there). By now, of course, you have to know that we’re here to talk about none other than Reiss Nelson after his heroics at the weekend when his assist got us on level terms before his winner brought the house down. He’s played just 85 minutes of Prem football and has three goals and two assists. Making an entirely legitimate extrapolation from a very reliable data set reveals that he would scorely roughly 117 goals and add almost 80 assists. Serious questions have to be asked of Arteta here. I don’t think he even knows what he’s doing, leting this kid ride the bench.
Okay, okay, so the minutes per goal involvement stat skews things just a tad. Nelson did pad his stats in a 5-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest in which he had two goals and and assist. There’s no taking away from his assist to equalise or his goal to win against Bournemouth, though. That last moment could be a season-defining one for reasons we explored here. Before we give the lad a lifetime contract and statue outside the Emirates, let’s apply the handbrake a little bit.
You know what? I’m not quit ready to do that just yet. Instead, I’d rather engage in some comparisons to mock our rivals and those that wish they could still call themselves that but for their current position in the table. Antony, Mudryk, and Richarlison cost something like £230m in fees (and who knows what in wages and add-ons) but, put together, have contributed fewer goal involvements combined—three—than Nelson. They’ve played a combined 1,780 minutes compared to Nelson’s 85. Richarlison’s supposedly a Prem-proven scorer who was a smarter acquisition than Gabriel Jesus. Mudryk is apparently better than Martinelli because of one or two quick touches around the box. Antony is good at giving the ball away but at least looking almost as petulant as Bruno Fernandes when he does, so he has that going for him.
Ever since Arsène signed him for free at the age of 15 (Nelson’s age, not Arsène’s), there have been rave reviews about his potential—his skill on the ball, his explosiveness, his preternatural calm, and more—and Saturday gave him a chance to prove that it wasn’t simply click-bait hyperbole to boost pageviews (cough). He showed all of this in what was undoubtedly one of the most pressure-cooker moments of his career. With the clock counting down, the visiting fans whistling and jeering, the Emirates holding its collective breath, and defenders closing him down, he tapped the ball up and lashed a half-volley in for the kind of winner fans will tell their children about years and maybe decades hence. For myself, I hit my head on the basement ceiling when I left up off of the couch. It’s a low ceiling, but still.
With Trossard coming up lame, Smith-Rowe still working his way back to full fitnees, Nketiah nursing a niggle, and Jesus still some time away from recovery, Nelson’s emergence (nascent though it still is) couldn’t have come at a better time. While seemingly at his best on the left, he can also offer cover on the right, and this gives Arteta valuable options for these last 12 matches plus the seven Europa League matches we’ll also play (ahem). If he can grow into the talent that Arsène and so many others have seen in him, we could soon see yet another Hale End product establish himself, hot on the heels of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe. This would give Arteta a selection dilemma all too different and all too welcome to the one he currently has to navigate.
Nelson is just now 23, and for those who start to wonder if it’s too late, consider the fact that Ian Wright was playing for non-league Greenwich Borough at age 22. I’m not predicting a similar trajectory for Nelson; I’m only pointing that players develop and hit their strides on their own schedules. Saka’s 21 and is already one of the best in the Prem. Let’s not make too much of Nelson or hype his goal too much (yeah, that horse is already well out of the barn and over the hills and far away). Let’s just hope that this moment serves as a springboard that propels him toward realising his potential, getting more minutes, and making contributions.
Reiss, we don’t expect dramatic game-winners every week. Once in a while, you can simply score a goal that adds gloss to a win. Deal?
How did we go two behind to a side that had scored just 22 goals in 24 matches? It scarcely matters, but let’s give Bournemouth credit. A trick-play from kickoff resembled an onside kick in American football, with five players lining up to the left only for the ball to be played wide right and then crossed in and tapped home. 9.1 seconds in, and it felt like our title hopes had been smashed into a milllion pieces, and we just couldn’t pick them up. We crashed again and again against their eight and nine and ten men in the box, flashing shots and spurning chance after chance after chance. By the time our visitors went up 0-2, it felt like time to console ourselves with a top-four finish. And then… and then…
Well, we all know what happened. Smith-Rowe headed back in from Neto’s weakly punched clearance and Partey nipped in at the back post to poke home. Scenes. Game on. Eight minutes later, it’s White tapping home from—let’s face it—what felt like an overhit cross from Nelson. Neto pawed it away beut only after it already crossed the line. Even Kavanagh, who had given us little else all day, had to confirm it. Well, that’s a point saved, then isn’t it? That will be enough to keep us level with City, at least on points…right?
Wrong. This young squad, around which has swirled a tempest of skeptical questions and dubious punditry, refused to quit. Not a single player gave up despite the endless rejections of various penalty shouts of varying degrees of legitimacy, despite the innumerable seconds and minutes lost to time-wasting, despite the gnawing sense of doom that had to be rising. While I don’t there are many of us who can honestly say we knew our lads would find a way to win, it’s starting to feel more and more like both we and those lads know something else: we refuse to quit. Down 2-0, it might have been easy to heave a sigh of relief, sense the ebbing energy in our own legs and lungs, and reconcile ourselves to a hard-won draw against a desperate and determined opponent.
Wrong again. It felt and sounded like every last fan in that stadium shouted and chanted and cheered until their throats bled—and then went to to double and triple the volume anyway. When was the last time the Emirates was this loud, this long, after we’d conceded twice? If anything, those fans got louder. Bournemouth’s players, instead of feeling bold and resoluted, looked more and more like panicky Uruk-hai and Orcs as the Rohirrim charge at them. Crosses were flimsy, passes misplaced, nerves were jangled. Once we found that equaliser, a win did start to feel almost inevitable.
Karma works in mysterious ways. Every time he had the ball, Neto took as many as 25 seconds before a punt, throw, or goal-kick. His teammates were just as bad with throw-ins and mysterious injuries that seemed to never need treatment. The whistles rained down because Kavanagh just wouldn’t use his. By the time he finally booked Neto (for dissent, mind, not for time-wasting), the sarcastic cheers flowed.
It’s only just then, for the second time in as many matches, that we’d score a winner in the very stoppage-time the keeper created in his desperate, cynical attempt at wasting time in the first place. Our players are either too naïve or too brave or both to believe that they’ll lose. Elsewhere around the league, rivals and their fans had to be licking their lips at the prospect of Arsenal’s failure. For more than an hour, they could savour a scoreline that would surely end with Arsenal dropping points at home to relegation fodder. The schadenfreude would be immeasurable.
Well, that part is at least true. I daresay that I haven’t scales or measuring tape or buckets capable of measuring the schadenfreude we’re feeling after Reiss Nelson (Reiss Nelson? Arsenal must be desperate) came on to assist White’s goal and then score the dramatic equaliser.
You want to talk about how young, naïve, and inexperienced this squad is? Go back and watch Nelson chests the ball down and, with two defenders rushing at him, coolly takes a touch and then just lashes the ball home, leaving Neto no chance. It would have been easy to panic, understandable even, for a young player who’d played only 80-odd minutes all season. He didn’t. No one did.
The roar that went up was deafening, the celebrations frantic. No, we haven’t won the league. In the end, we only beat the team that sits 19th in it. Our lead over City is still a very fragile five points. Winning this match doesn’t mean we’ll win the league, although it certainly does help. What it does do is fuel an ever-deepening belief among everyone associated with this club, that something very, very special is that much closer. This is the kind of win that forges champions. They can’t all be 3-0 cakewalks. Not in this of all leagues. If we do end up hoisting that trophy for the first time since 2004, this is one match that will stand out as one in which we learned just what it takes to be champions and just much of that we have in this young, determined, wonderful squad.
Can you believe it? Can you?
Greetings, Gooners—I’ll do what I can to post highlight clips as they become available. Ødegaard has already opened the scoring; let’s hope that there’s plenty more where that came from!
- 21’—Martin Ødegaard scores a brilliant curling free-kick (Twitter).
- 42′ —Reiss Nelson scuffs one home to make it 2-0! (Twitter). This one might get credited to Ødegaard; it looks to have deflected off of him and in.
- 77’—Tomori makes 1-2 with a glancing header from a free kick (Twitter).
- Full time—Arsenal win 2-1! That’s seven points taken from seven available. On to penalties now to see if we can pick up this point-after. We’ve won the Super Cup!
- Cedric steps upand coolly sends the wrong way and scores.
- Hein guessed correctly but couldn’t reach Milan’s first. 1-1.
- Big Gabi makes it 2-1.
- Hein saves a tame one! It stays at 2-1.
- Marquinhos squeezes it past to make it 3-1.
- Hein came close to saving from Tonali, but it gets past. 3-2.
- Elneny steps up and scores. 4-2..
- Cheeky panenka there to keep Milan alive. 4-3.
- Matthew Smith can’t beat the keeper, and it stays 4-3.
- Milan miss way wide, and that’s the end of that!
Okay, um, in order for that title to work. I’m going to have to ask you to mispronounce Reiss so that it rhymes with “trees.” Otherwise, the brilliant play on words just doesn’t quite come off right. Saka was fouled twice in one moment (without referee Simon Hooper bothering to award us a free kick) and had to come off minutes later, and doubts that we’d be able to defend or build on Martinelli’s early goal set in. When it was Reiss Nelson who replaced Saka, those doubts deepened. However, the lad silenced those doubts by bagging a brace and assisting our fourth goal as we waltzed past our visitors and back to the top of the table. I guess my prematch post was unnecessarily bleak.
Martinelli scored early on, nodding in cleverly at the near post from Saka’s cross, and it looked like we’d be off to the races. Forest barely looked interested in getting forward, keeping nine or ten behind the ball and hoofing it upfield in hopes that Lingard or Awoniyi could chase it down, but Saliba was always faster to it than either of them were. Despite that, however, we had to wait until early in the second half when Nelson blasted home his own rebound from deep inside the box and then added a second minutes later with a clever tough in the box to slip past Henderson. Partey blasted one home from about thirty yards that I will say, with hand over my heart, was better than de Bruyne’s free kick on Saturday. And we weren’t quite done. Martin Ødegaard popped up to make it five, and the only downsides were the injuries to Saka and Xhaka and the fact that Jesus couldn’t get on the scoreline. We’ll have to revisit that last one later on.
Back to good news: Arteta got a chance at reviving the “Cedric pops up in the celebration” by subbing the defender on for his first appearance, and even Tierney found some time on the pitch after Tomiyasu against started at LB. The result makes it nine straight at the Emirates (but only the first clean sheet!) and is good enough for us to avoid the calamitous collapse so many had predicted after the setback against PSV. We’ll take a closer look at what went right (hint: Forest are not so good at the football) in another post. For now, enjoy it all, and, if that’s not enough, have a glimpse at the league table. That should cheer you up as well.
There’s a busy week coming, with an important visit from FC Zurich offering us a chance to win our Europa League group followed by what could be a tough trip to Stamford Bridge. Something tells me that we can’t count on Chelsea gifting us two goals and collapsing as they did against Brighton, but a performance like this one should put a spring in our steps for both matches. Well, that’s all for now. We’ll circle back to revisit some other takeaways tomorrow.
Before you go, have a go in the comments section: who’s your MOTM?