I don’t really understand this Arsenal side.
Barely two weeks ago, I watched as they tussled, toiled and, ultimately, capitulated against a woefully poor Everton. There was no fight in the team, no ambition or endeavour, only uncertainty and timidity.
Despite having taken the lead, the team retreated, sat back and invited a team utterly bereft of form and confidence to claw its way back into the game, making a contest out of a match that should have been over by half-time.
Fast-forward to Wednesday night at the Emirates and an entirely unrecognisable team took to the field. This team was intense, scrappy, gutsy and dangerous. This team gave no quarter, it was relentless…and it was triumphant.
How do you explain that?
From one of the worst performances of Mikel Arteta’s tenure to one of the best – it is as maddening as it is joyful.
Perhaps that’s just the nature of this young side, inexperienced as it is, or perhaps these last few weeks are a microcosm of our last 15 years – sometimes sublime, sometimes shocking.
There is comfort in the fact that, unlike most other sides of the last decade or so, this one seems to have a clear direction of travel – the project is there for everyone to see. This is a young side, a hard-working side, and a side sprinkled with some supremely-talented youngsters.
And it was those youngsters who were at the fore again last night. Gabrielle Martinelli, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka are the present and future of this club. They have all been challenged by the manager to move beyond the flashes of occasional brilliance we have seen in recent seasons and, boy, are they starting to do that.
Martinelli’s goal was evocative of Thierry Henry in his prime, a blistering burst and delightful curled finish past a sprawling goalkeeper low into the bottom right – sublime. Smith Rowe, meanwhile, just keeps adding to his game, with his latest trick seeing him carry the ball 30 yards before finishing neatly from the edge of the box with his left foot. A sixth goal of the season for the Hale End youngster (assisted by Saka) is an excellent return so far.
Around these young stars is a supporting cast of young talent – Martin Odegaard, Ben White, Gabriel, Aaron Ramsdale and Kieran Tierney, with a smattering of wiser heads to knit them together. It’s an excellent mix and, when it works, it makes a team like West Ham look like Sunday League amateurs.
The trick for Arteta will be getting something out of this side when things don’t quite work – when one or two parts aren’t clicking as they should. If he can raise their minimum level, we just be able to iron the Everton-esq performances out of our season and produce much more of the West Ham-esq ones.