We’ve finally got our Arsenal back! Passing, moving, and attacking through the middle? Check. Dominating the possession? Check. Questionable defending? Check. Conceding against the run of play? Check. Drawing eminently winnable matches? Check.
It’s like seeing an old friend after years apart.
Jokes aside, Arsenal’s 1-1 draw away to Bournemouth was full of positives for a side and a fan-base woefully short on things about which to feel good. Here’s an incomplete list of them:
- Mesut Özil looked a man reborn. He had the freedom of the center of the pitch and had room to run at the defense on the ball and create chances.
- Lucas Torreira looked like the star-in-the-making he seemed to be at the start of his Arsenal career. He was all over the pitch today, making himself available as an outlet for the defenders, disrupting the Bournemouth attack, and generally being a pest. He had the most tackles, interceptions, and ball recoveries of anybody on the pitch.
- Granit Xhaka was picking progressive passes (try saying that three times fast) to unbalance the Bournemouth defense. He has his limitations, more on that coming below, but the strengths on display today illustrate why three managers (Wenger, Emery, and Arteta) have spoken so highly of him and why he is such a divisive player. Is he good enough at those things to justify his place even with his limitations?
- The three central players (Xhaka, Torreira, and Ozil) linked the play from defense to attack and moved the ball up the pitch through the middle more effectively than in any match under Unai Emery.
- Bernd Leno made two key saves, as he has all season, to keep the scoreline level. He might be the most underrated/overlooked keeper in the Premier League.
- Nicolas Pepe looked dangerous and caused trouble for the defense when he replaced Reiss Nelson in the 82nd minute. It has to be his lack of defensive capability that is keeping him out of the starting lineup, because you can definitely see the attacking qualities for which the Gunners paid so highly.
But Arsenal giveth and Arsenal taketh away, just as all the clubs not named Liverpool or Leicester have done this season. Some familiar low-lights cropped up and continue to plague the side.
- Alexandre Lacazette looks lost; the man is so far out of form that we need a search party for the search party. If he is sharper on the chances he squandered or the attacks he killed, Arsenal win comfortably. They say the only way for a striker to regain his confidence is by playing, but at what cost to the club?
- Granit Xhaka is borderline immobile. He does not have the range needed to play as a holding midfielder in a system that wants to play fast and press hard. He’d be able to mask that gap in his game if he had better positional awareness, but his defensive acumen and decision-making is still lacking. Does his excellent passing make up for that? I honestly don’t know the answer.
- David Luiz and Sokratis are a below-average centerback pairing. They would have made a great pairing in the middle of the decade, but at the end of the decade, not so much. Sokratis was one of the three or four Arsenal men who made mistakes on Bournemouth’s goal.
- Bukayo Saka is not a left back. That’s not so much a personal failing as it is an unfortunate reality that Arsenal face with Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac on the shelf with injuries. I think Saka is going to be a good player for Arsenal for years, just not as a fullback. He was also not at his best on the ball today, but that happens. I’ve got patience for that.
Patience is the word for the rest of the season. Things looked better in Mikel Arteta’s first match in charge, but the progress isn’t going to be continuous or linear. There will be more disappointing results, perhaps even some bad ones. As long as the overall trend, from Arsenal at the end of the Emery era to the club in May, is an upward one, I’m happy. For the first time in a while, I have confidence that things are moving in the right direction.