Arsenal picked up a much-needed first win of the Premier League season, besting Norwich 1-0 at the Emirates. It wasn’t the best performance from the Gunners. You’d like them to score a few more goals. They’ve still got work to do. But they did score a goal, they didn’t let the Canaries score, and they won. Scoring and winning are good.
Often when it isn’t going your way, you need to catch a break — you need just a bit of luck to break the duck and get the ball rolling. And Arsenal got that today. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal would have been offside but for the ball hitting Nicolas Pépé’s leg as he was tumbling to the ground to put PEA back onside. Pépé didn’t know a thing about it, and somehow the caroming ball found it’s way to Aubameyang, but who cares? That’s exactly the kind of luck the Gunners needed.
The Arsenal defense played pretty well, especially for a bunch playing their first match as a unit. Takehiro Tomiyasu looked great. He’s a strong defender, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well he got forward today. His shift is even more impressive when you realize that played halfway around the world on Tuesday and has had just one or two training sessions with the club. Having Gabriel back in the lineup made a world of difference compared to Pablo Mari. The Brazilian has to be one of the first names on the team sheet going forward. Ben White played fine, although I think he’s still feeling out his teammates, learning their tendencies, and figuring out where he’s meant to be in Mikel Arteta’s defensive scheme. He looks like a guy who is thinking just a bit too much about what he’s meant to be doing rather than playing on instinct. That will come. And shout out to Cedric for a critical block late on.
The attack looks somewhat better, although the Gunners struggled to create chances until they had bungled in a goal to take the lead. It’s remarkable how much getting a lead opens things up. I think the midfield pairing of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sambi Lokonga (which is not a Premier League level partnership) had something to do with the lack of chances in the first half. Once Thomas Partey and Emile Smith Rowe came on, the attack looked better. Martin Ødegaard was magnificent today - he does the little things so well, including pressing without the ball and defending.
In a perfect world (and going forward this season, really), you’d like Arsenal to be more clinical with their finishing. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith Rowe, and Bukayo Saka all had great chances that they didn’t bury. Not putting opportunities away will come back to bite the Gunners at some point if they don’t improve their finishing. Especially breakaways and semi-breakaways. You’ve got to put those away, and Arsenal didn’t today. The Gunners have the attacking quality in the side, but they’ve got to get more comfortable with each other and improve the final pass / dribble / touch / whatever. I think that will come with more reps.
I was pleased by what looked like a clear plan from Mikel Arteta to press much more aggressively, especially onto Tim Krul. The Norwich keeper turned the ball over several times, and Arsenal managed some half-chances from it. I hope Arteta keeps setting his side up to press higher up the pitch.
There is plenty more to nitpick (and to praise) from today’s performance, but the bottom line is that Arsenal desperately needed to win today, and they won. I’m pleased with that and hopeful that the season will continue trending upwards from here.