Arsenal booked their ticket to the next round of the 2020 FA Cup with a pretty convincing win against struggling Bournemouth. The win capped off a run through January that didn’t see the Gunners lose a match all month.
The match continued to show the progress the Gunners have made under first-time head coach Mikel Arteta and provides hope for the Arsenal faithful that want nothing more than to see the club get back to being among the league’s elite.
Let’s take a look at the three things we learned from last night’s win
The Kids Are Alright
The Arsenal lineup featured an attack that consisted of 3 attacking players who would in some clubs still be fighting for spots in a club’s U23 squad. It also featured an 18-year old who hasn’t even been promoted to the first team yet, filling in at left-back.
And in each case, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, Gabriel Martinelli, and Bukayo Saka were the engine driving the Gunners forward at the Vitality Stadium.
Much has already been written by Gabriel Martinelli and his impressive turn in the Arsenal side. He is beyond a doubt a bona fide star in the making, while the others have their own stories.
Arsenal are a club right now that needs the return on investment of its younger players. While trying to maintain a model of self-sufficiency, they also need to hope that more than one youngster comes good.
The FA Cup tie showed that they might be okay in that aspect. Saka wound up with a goal and an assist and could have had another. Eddie Nketiah scored his first goal since returning to the team. Willock’s creative engine drove the team forward in the attack and it was his excellent run with the ball in the 5th minute that actually made it possible for Saka to get his goal.
Add to that the best performance by Matteo Guendouzi in an Arsenal shirt and it’s proof positive (at least for now) that the hope in our youth development isn’t unfounded.
Head coach, Mikel Arteta put it this way:
In the first half I think we were really, really good. I think they executed everything that we planned in a really good way. They have courage to play, they have courage to make big decisions. They are important in this side. They are not the icing on the cake, no no, they are probably the core of that team at the moment and to play with that accountability and decision, I really like it.
It shouldn’t escape anyone’s notice that Willock, Saka, and Nketiah represent a group of young talented Englishmen. Who can ever forget the picture of Arsene, with Ramsey, Gibbs, Jenkinson, Walcott, and Wilshere and the promise of greatness – that never came. The hope is now we will see it once, this time paying off in this current crop of youngsters.
Bukayo Saka’s Light Shines Brighter
It was a man-of-the-match performance worthy for some of the great named players. But it wasn’t – it was 18-year-old Saka who wound up as the match’s man-of-the-match. According to WhoScored.com Saka ended the night with a rating of 8.2
Saka finished the night with an 88% pass success rate, an assist, a goal, 2 key passes, from 73 touches. Every time this young man got on the ball, he was a threat.
It’s also worth considering that he wasn’t playing in his natural wing position. He’s taking the opportunity provided to him by playing in as a fill-in left-back and he is running with it. It doesn’t hurt that Arteta is tactically setting up the team so that it plays to Saka’s attacking strengths.
On the ball in the match last night, Arsenal would shift to 3 at the back with Xhaka dropping in on the left alongside Sokratis. Saka would join the attack and push forward either running with the ball or establishing a connection with Brazilian wunderkind, Martinelli.
He’s also not afraid to do the dirty work either on the defensive side of the ball. In the second half when they were 2-0 up, Arsenal ceded some of the ball, looking for attacking opportunities on the counter. It required a commitment to defend and Saka did not shirk from it as he dropped deeper and worked effectively, again with Martinelli, and shut down that side of the pitch.
The headlines are still being written about Martinelli, but Saka is showing that he is every bit the star in the making as his young teammate.
Matteo Guendouzi’s Best Night in An Arsenal Shirt
When Matteo Guendouzi debuted under Unai Emery over 18 months ago it was clearly evident that the young man had talent. It was raw and untapped and, well, under Emery that was all it ever seemed to be.
Whether it was down to Emery’s tactics or an inability to coach the young man appropriately, Guendouzi looked nothing more than an extremely talented player. However, due to poor positional sense, poor vision, and lack of situational understanding, it looked like he would never progress.
Fast forward to Mikel Arteta’s tenure. One of the key attractions of appointing Arteta was the credit he received in developing players at City. Last night it was clear that Arteta’s message may just be getting through to Guendouzi.
There will still moments when his running and pressure seemed haphazard and uncoordinated but there were more moments of solid play, forward passes, and basically getting under the skin of multiple Bournemouth players and all their fans.
While we jest at some part, it was clear that he was beginning to understand the role Arteta wants him to play and he played it smartly. By the end of the match, he finished with a 7.8 rating on WhoScored (2nd to Saka) and had 90% pass success rate, won 3 aerial duels, completed 5 dribbles and defensively had 4 tackles and 1 interception.
If this is the progress he can make after a few weeks under Arteta, Guendouzi is going to be another “youngster” whom Arsenal can entrust to its immediate future.
If you were listening closely then you witnessed/heard what can only be described as a once in a lifetime event – the away fans chanting Shkodran Mustafi’s name – twice. And it wasn’t because of his injury. It was because our fans were getting behind a player who needs to have the fans behind him.
He is rightly criticised for his haphazard mistakes but he never hides and often times has gone on to play quite well.
Let’s hope his injury isn’t a long one.