Turner question still not answered
After two games Matt Turner is still something of an unknown quantity. By all accounts when he came in what had caught the attention of many across his time in the MLS was his shot stopping ability. This was on full display as he pulled off a sublime low save to keep out Amahl Pellegrino early in the second half. This, combined with a late show of quick reflexes to stop Ulrik Saltnes’ close range effort, was enough to ensure his first clean sheet in an Arsenal shirt.
However, when it comes to his ability on the ball, he still has some convincing to do. On Thursday night his pass success rate was a disappointing 63.3%, and perhaps more concerning is that half of his 30 passes in the game went long (as per WhoScored). In fairness to Turner he deserves credit for being brave enough to try some riskier balls that clearly appear to be outside his comfort zone, but the numbers represent a trend that may well worry Mikel Arteta.
The Spaniard wants his side to play high up the pitch and having a goalie in Aaron Ramsdale who is comfortable sweeping high and playing passes from anywhere on the pitch is essential to that. It’s only a limited sample size, but across his first two games Turner has done little to suggest that he’s capable of replicating what the England international does.
The reality is that if, for some reason, Ramsdale was missing for a Premier League game, then the front-footed aggression that Arsenal have played with in their early matches this season would have to be tempered in order to accommodate for the shortcomings of their back up goalkeeper. Much like when Bernd Leno was the number one goalkeeper in the 2020/21 season, if Arteta doesn’t have a ‘keeper capable of meeting his demands then playing his preferred style of football becomes more difficult.
In fairness to Turner it is still way too early to write him off. The American has admitted that he is learning all the time, and the progression he’s made from some rickety preseason appearances to the more solid display we saw against Bodo/Glimt is cause for optimism. But with Premier League games being paramount, the prospect of having to play Turner in a crucial match is probably not as worry-free as many would have been hoping for at this stage.
New season, same question for Nketiah
There is a weird hierarchy to Arsenal’s second string team. Some players know that if they play well in these Europa League games then they stand a genuine chance of pushing for a starting spot in the first team and with the displays of the likes of Kieran Tierney, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Fabio Vieira that showed. Others find themselves having to make peace with the fact that they are unlikely to graduate beyond a supporting role this season. Caught curiously in between the two is Eddie Nketiah.
Of course the 23-year-old will be aware that if Gabriel Jesus is fit, 99.9% of the time the Brazilian will start, but there have been instances this season that show Mikel Arteta is ready to use him in the Premier League side. Against Fulham for example, when Arsenal found themselves a goal down, Nketiah was the first person Arteta turned to in order to spark a comeback. Across the course of the campaign there will be more of those adverse situations so clearly he has a role to play.
But with that reality comes a familiar question for the Hale Ender. Is he content with continuing to be the bridesmaid but never the bride?
His protracted contract negotiations last season appeared to suggest that the answer to that was a resounding no. Throughout each interview he did after scoring in Carabao Cup matches in the early part of the campaign, Nketiah made it clear that game time was going to be the deciding factor in where he chose to commit his future to. A late run in the Premier League side was then enough to convince him that the minutes would come if he stayed in north London, but thus far the Europa League is where he’s had his only two starts since signing a new deal. Unsurprisingly as he was rolled out to do pre-match media duties this was the overwhelming topic of discussion.
“Yes, as a player everyone wants to play football,” he said in response to a question asking if he was disappointed with his lack of Premier League starts. “My aim is to be starting and helping the team, but I respect the coach’s decision. It’s down to me keep working hard and putting in the performances. It’s a long season and we’re only two months in. There will be a lot of opportunities for me to play, whether that be in Europe or in the League, and I’ll be ready whenever I’m called upon.”
Of course, any player is going to say that in Nketiah’s position right now, but the way he spoke at London Colney you got the feeling that he genuinely did mean it. He then backed up that up on the pitch on Thursday night as he grabbed a 12th goal in 15 starts as part of a performance that also demonstrated his much improved all round play.
It’s yet more vindication of the impressive job Arteta and Edu did in convincing the England under-21 international to stay when plenty were happy to see him go. As far as back up strikers go you can’t get too much better than what Nketiah is doing right now, and Arteta will be delighted to have him to call upon for the remaining seven games his side has this month.
Arteta still not satisfied
On the face of it Thursday night couldn’t have gone too much better for Arsenal. A relatively comfortable win against a potential banana skin of a side in which they scored three goals, conceded none and went top of their Europa League group was a resoundingly positive outcome for the Gunners. If you solely watched Mikel Arteta throughout the 90 minutes though, you would never have known it.
The Spaniard spent much of the match prowling furiously around his technical area, turning constantly in frustration to his coaching staff at Arsenal’s inability to do what he wanted. The team made it nine wins from 10 which should have been grounds for popping the champagne corks of celebration, but Arteta’s post-match assessment of the performance was a sobering wake up call to anyone getting too carried away.
“I’m really happy with the result, scoring three goals and keeping a clean sheet,” he began. “But as well, I’m very conscious that there are things we can do much better, especially the way we dominated the game in certain periods.”
When pressed on what exactly he hadn’t liked about his side’s performance Arteta was frustrated that his team had been opened the door just an inch for Bodo/Glimt to play their way into the game. “We had spells that we were too rushed, we didn’t win enough duels, we didn’t manage the ball when we won it back well enough so it became a really open game with a lot of transitions,” he told football.london in his post match press conference.
“When you have the results in your hands you have to manage the game much better. We didn’t put 10, 15 passes together enough times to try and get in to the final third. We were effective in the final third and we looked a threat, but in terms of composure and timing between the units because we haven’t played together that much, it was lacking a bit and in football, timing is everything.”
This is nothing new from Arteta. When his side won less convincingly than they could have done at Watford last season, the Spaniard spoke about how his side needed to make “300,000 passes” to hose down any embers of an opposition come back. Even in a game when Arsenal were never truly in trouble, these are the standards he continues to demand from his players.
There are some who could view this as a negative. ‘The team have won, so why put a dampener on the upbeat mood?’ Well the reason is that this is the stuff that sustainable success is built upon. Arteta is vigorously demanding of all those he has chosen to keep around him and if you are not up to those standards then he has shown that he is more than willing to cut you adrift. This is how winning cultures are formed, and as Arsenal prepare for a crucial clash against Liverpool on Sunday it’s how Arteta ensures that the levels remain high.
Vieira impresses but still has more to do
The fact that no one seemed to notice this was Fabio Vieira’s first ever start at the Emirates Stadium is probably as good an indicator as you’re likely to get of how well he has settled in north London The under-the-radar nature of the Portuguese midfielder’s arrival in the summer meant that many slept on him in their assessment of Arsenal’s recruitment, but since recovering from a foot injury that saw him missed preseason, he has fit the Gunners squad like a glove.
Across his limited minutes Vieira has shown why Mikel Arteta was so keen for the Arsenal fans to get to know him and Thursday night was no different. He was at the heart of almost everything the Gunners did offensively in the first half, grabbing one assist for Rob Holding’s header, and providing plenty of goal threat himself. That performance continued into the second half where he was eventually rewarded with a goal after fine work down the left from Gabriel Jesus. After the game Arteta was effusive in his praise of the 22-year-old’s attacking work, but was keen to highlight that improvements still needed to be made when it came to his all round game.
“You saw the quality every time he’s around the box,” Arteta told football.london . “He’s a real threat, real intelligent player, really brave.
“In defending he still needs to do more. [He needs to understand] more because organisation is key when you play against good teams in ball possession.”
Throughout the game Arteta could be seen yelling animatedly at Vieira to get into position, and there were times where he was a little slow to the press. It may seem harsh to say for a man who now has two goals and an assist in three starts for Arsenal, but if he is to overcome the daunting task of displacing one of Gabriel Martinelli, Granit Xhaka, Martin Odegaard or Bukayo Saka from the first team then he will need to iron these kinks out of his game.
Before this comes across as a criticism of Vieira, it’s worth mentioning what a superb addition he is to this Gunners squad. His is the kind of signing that moves the needle upwards in so many ways by not just providing cover for a multitude of positions, but by offering a viable starting option in them as well. Perhaps because that talent is so clearly there though Arteta seems set to hold him to very high standard while he is an Arsenal player, and if Vieira’s capable of meeting them, then the Gunners have a heck of a player on their hands.
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