Monday night produced our first win under Freddie Ljungberg, and there were plenty of talking points. Throughout this week’s article, I will examine three of the main things that I feel we learned from the game.
Pépé is a high-risk, high-reward player.
Since signing for Arsenal for £72m, Nicolas Pépé has struggled to adjust to the English game as quickly as we were all hoping for. While his performances certainly haven’t been as poor as some would have you believe, he is capable of much, much more. Nico himself has publicly addressed this and claimed that the only person to blame is himself. Personally, I think this is being harsh. The system mixed with questionable team selection have limited his opportunities to show what he is capable of.
Nonetheless, I admire the fact that he is not attempting to shift the blame onto others. He recently stated that it was up to him to prove the doubters wrong through hard work and perseverance. On Monday, we saw a glimpse of just how good the Ivorian can be. Pépé scored for put us 2-1 up against West Ham United and provided an assist shortly afterwards to secure the victory.
He received the man of the match award post-game, but it wasn’t exactly a standard Arsenal MOTM display. In recent years, we associate great displays with possession-based play. The likes of Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil have earned many awards due to their ability to control a game and have success with everything that they attempt. Players like this often finish a game and they have only lost the ball on one or two occasions. However, this is not the case for Pépé.
In my opinion, as a fanbase, we aren’t accustomed to having a player like Nicolas in our ranks. Often, our wingers are shoehorned into the side, and are suited to a more central role. We have seen Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Alex Iwobi. Players like these are very gifted at keeping possession and one of the greatest strengths of all those mentioned is their ability to combine with teammates.
Pépé has a completely different play-style. While it would be completely unfair to claim that he is incapable of interplay, it isn’t the main focus of his game. His biggest strength is his ability in one-on-one situations. Due to the fact that we are not particularly accustomed to this, fans are often frustrated when he tries a trick which doesn’t quite come off, but if you take it away from his game then he simply is not the same player.
In the first half at the London Stadium, he looked by far our most dangerous player. Not everything he attempted came off, but he constantly looked a threat. While many others were content with playing the simple pass to avoid a potential turnover, Nico tried to beat his man on numerous occasions. Similarly, in the second half, he was equally as adventurous. Thankfully, he had more success this time round. He proved to be the difference between the two sides and earned his team their first Premier League win in 64 days.
Personally, I would encourage fans to remain patient with him. He appears to be a player who is much, much more effective when he has confidence. Monday night is a prime example of this. He hadn’t been directly involved in a goal since our away tie vs Vitória. However, once he scored, he went on to provide an assist just a matter of minutes later. If a trick doesn’t come off, don’t resort to harsh criticism. Get behind him.
Every side needs a mix of players. Those who retain possession, those who win possession, those who commit opposition players, etc. We have been deprived of dribblers in recent years, so we aren’t entirely accustomed to it. He might lose the ball 15 times during the game, but make the difference nonetheless. When Serge Gnabry scores 4 goals against Spurs earlier this season, he still gave the ball away on 15 occasions. We all know what Nicolas Pépé is capable of from his time at Lille, and he has shown glimpses since his arrival, so hopefully Monday’s game can truly allow him to kick on and have a successful season.
Martinelli is the real deal.
In a season with very few positives so far, Gabriel Martinelli has been a shining light. Signed for just £6m from the fourth tier in Brazil, the 18-year old has managed 8 goals and 3 assists by mid-December, despite having to adjust to a new culture, a new language and a new league. Not to mention the fact that his opportunities have been limited due to the presence of both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
Up until Monday, his starts had been restricted to the cup competitions. In that time, he scored two on his League Cup debut. When he was included in the Europa League for the first time, he scored yet another brace and also provided a phenomenal assist for Dani Ceballos. His cup opportunities have understandably been much more common since those performances, and he has added further goals/assists vs Liverpool, Vitória and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Obviously, it is important to keep everything in perspective. The League Cup and Europa League are of a significantly lower standard to the Premier League. Many were curious to see whether he could make the step-up or not, and so far, he has been effective. In a recent game vs Southampton, he provided an assist for Lacazette’s late equaliser. This was the final league game of Unai Emery’s tenure, and he was only used sparingly during Freddie Ljungberg’s opening two games in charge.
Following the horror show against Brighton last Thursday, the Swede made numerous changes to the team that we saw on Monday night. Among these changes was the introduction of Gabriel Martinelli for his first Premier League start. He had a regularly quote first half, as did almost all of his teammates, but he burst into life after the interval.
When his side were up against it, he opened his domestic account and levelled the score at 1-1 in the 60th minute. From here, we managed to secure the three points. He looked a threat throughout, and what was arguably more impressive than his goal was his mentality. When you consider that he has gone from lower league football in his own country to scoring in the biggest league in the world within the space of seven months, it would have been very easy for him to get carried away.
This wasn’t the case. His immediate reaction was to pick the ball up and sprint back to the half way line, fully aware that a draw still wouldn’t have been good enough. This mentality can’t be taught, you either have it or you don’t. It is a similar trait that fellow-South American Alexis Sánchez displayed during his time at the club. A similar willingness to win could be seen in the latter stages of the game. In injury time, he was still chasing down lost causes, determined to give his all, regardless of the fact that the game seemed all but won.
It is important for us not to get carried away. He hasn’t even played 1,000 minutes for the club, but the potential is certainly clear to see. Hopefully he can continue his form and become the player that we all know he can be.
Excluding Lacazette from away games could be beneficial.
Firstly, it is important to clarify something. Alexandre Lacazette certainly is not a poor footballer. The Frenchman was voted our Player of the Season for the 2018/19 campaign, and while it is fair to say that he has had an underwhelming start to this season’s campaign, he certainly still has a lot of ability.
Nonetheless, I personally feel that he isn’t suited to Arsenal’s style of play on the road. At The Emirates, we generally control the ball and he has a phenomenal home record since signing. However, his fate on the road is the polar opposite. He is often ineffective and gets very little service. This is down to the fact that we are often forced to play on the counter-attack, and this doesn’t suit his game.
When the opposition are controlling the possession, we rely on quick players on the break. Lacazette is technically solid and a decent finisher, but this simply isn’t him. Shoehorning him into the XI also forces Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to play out wide, where is far less effective. Due to our captain’s best position undeniably being through the middle, he often drifts infield and makes the team very narrow. This clutters the space between the lines and gives the likes of Mesut Özil far less room to operate.
It also reduces our outlets and allows our opponents to commit more and more men forward without the fear of being caught on the break. Our defense is leaky at the best of times, so this unnecessary extra pressure is certainly problematic.
I feel like the front three we saw on Monday is much more suited to fixtures on the road. Due to the threat of Pépé and Martinelli on the break, West Ham were extremely reluctant to allow their fullbacks to venture forward, while a Aubameyang’s pace forced them into dropping their defensive line 5-10 yards deeper. This may seem like a minor detail, but it undoubtedly contributed to Özil’s solid showing in the second half and Torreira’s best display in Arsenal colours for months. Potentially, this was just a once off, but I would like to see the trio given further opportunities to show what they can do.
Those are my thoughts from Freddie’s first game in charge. If you have any additional thoughts or questions, feel free to leave your comments below and I will get back to you as soon as possible. As always, thank you for reading.