In an open night of football, Arsenal thrashed Standard Liege 4-0 at the Emirates.
The match was a one-way beatdown from start to finish as Arsenal picked up their second win of the group stage. What did we learn?
1. Arsenal’s Plan B prodigy
For years one of the biggest criticism of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal was that they had no Plan B, which was code for they lacked a big lad in attack who they could hoof it to when they were under pressure. Eventually these criticisms subsided when Arsene Wenger made the handsomest Plan B into his Plan A with Olivier Giroud, but since he left the issue came back.
Sure, thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette the Gunners haven’t exactly been hurting for goals. But neither man is good in the air – just two of Lacazette’s 38 goals were headers and none of Aubameyang’s 49 were, but here we have Gabriel Martinelli who has now opened the scoring with a spectacular header in his last two starts.
Against Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup and tonight against Standard, Martinelli has timed runs to perfection to meet crosses superbly. His headers have not been easy finishes, though he’s made them look that way with his bravery and technique. Tonight the way he fooled the defender with his movement and then managed to score from so far ahead of the near-post. It was sublime head play.
Martinelli is also just an excellent striker in general, as his second goal showed when he bent the ball in with a supreme shot and then created Arsenal’s fourth with a deliciously chipped cross. The Brazilian passed up four chances to get his hat-trick in the second half but his head never dropped; so his movement and mentality are on point too.
Where he could be truly useful for the Gunners, however, is in his ability to be their Plan B. Imagine shutting down Aubameyang and Lacazette on the deck only for this 18-year-old Brazilian to show up and kill you in the air.
2. King Kieran’s coronation
Before Andy Robertson stole everyone’s hearts at Liverpool, the most talked-about Scottish left-back was Kieran Tierney. He seems to have been around forever and has been linked with many top English sides as a result. In the end he didn’t move until this summer, joining Arsenal late in the window for a reasonable £25m.
The Scot had to wait for his debut due to injury, but he has been eased into things and his performance tonight showed just why Arsenal were so keen to sign him and why, in all honestly, he could be their signing of the summer. Yes David Luiz will help the defence, but he’ll hurt it as well. And Nicolas Pépé is an obscene talent but Arsenal have never hurt for young attacking dribblers (as tonight showed).
Kieran Tierney created more chances (3) than any other Arsenal player on the pitch against Standard Liege.
An assist to go with it. 🎯 pic.twitter.com/JM2m6B4udl
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 3, 2019
Left-backs, though? Since Nacho Monreal fell off (and left the club this summer) the Gunners have had no one there. Sead Kolasinac is a marauding wing-back, but in a back four his defensive weaknesses are too often costly for Arsenal. Tierney has no such weaknesses because he’s a natural left-back, and in attack he is ridiculously productive.
All three of Arsenal’s first goals came as a result of Tierney raiding down the left. The first was a direct assist as he jinked his way past a defender and bent a beauty of a ball into the box and onto the head of Gabriel Martinelli. The second was sparked by him driving the ball into the attacking third of the pitch, and the third goal again saw him juke by a defender then play it to Reiss Nelson whose shot deflected into Joe Willock’s path. He could have had a second assist when he sent a beauty of a cross in for Gabriel Martinelli only for the Brazilian to slip.
3. Captain Héctor
Arsenal’s “leadership group” has come in for a lot of criticism from fans. And admittedly it’s a strange way to organise leadership within a squad, but if it works for Unai Emery then maybe people should give it some time. Particularly if it leads to Héctor Bellerin getting more responsibility and stature within the squad.
It’s easy to make fun of Bellerin, but he’s a young man who is very much in tune with living life in London. He’s got a tremendous affection for the local area and whilst his sense of style can seen eccentric he is wholly living life to his own beat. He sets a tremendous example of acceptance in a sport that can be too often marked by bigotry. He’s also a pretty great full-back, which is definitely not incidental.
Having a player as good as Bellerin assume more responsibility is going to make Arsenal better, having a person as good as Bellerin assume more responsibility is going to help forge Arsenal into a united and happy squad. And guess what united and happy squads do? Play better football!
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4. Joe Willock is a dream come true
When Arsenal lost Aaron Ramsey to a free transfer in the summer, the Gunners would have been rightly worried about how they would replace him. After all, Matteo Guendouzi and Dani Ceballos are majestic footballers but neither possess the kind of hunger to get into the box and get goals like Ramsey did.
Enter Joe Willock. Now, the youngster had been around since the Wenger years. He has been a known prospect, but before when he played in the first team he always seemed to be a more considered midfielder, someone in the mould of Guendouzi even. But this season has seen Willock explode as a true box-to-box dynamo.
He came into the game tonight with two goals, only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had more than that. And whilst Martinelli moved ahead of him onto four goals, Willock is now officially Arsenal’s third highest goalscorer. He drove forward and constantly looked to score, missing one great chance before burying his next chance just before half-time.
Three goals in seven appearances at the age of 20? Joe Willock is a dream come true for Arsenal fans: a midfielder that has the energy, hunger and skill to get forward and score goals – a young, home-grown replacement for Aaron Ramsey.
5. The Unai Emery League
Unai Emery runs the Europa League. He won it three years in a row with Sevilla and even made the final last year with Arsenal, although he was undone there by Eden Hazard. This season he appears to be flexing his muscles by using the group stages to blood as many youngsters as humanly possible. Arsenal seemingly intent on outdoing Manchester United and Chelsea in terms of filling their middling side with exciting young talent, and whilst they are definitely the most volatile of the three sides (United are sturdiest, Chelsea are the best), they are also be the most fun with their young players who want to do nothing more than attack.
The veterans will likely come in as the games become more intense in the knockout rounds, but many of these youngsters have shown that they deserve to be included even when the big games roll around. The score was only 4-0 tonight but Arsenal’s young guns were so bright that the scoreline could have been six or seven. They’ve been that good.