Terrific Tomiyasu –
Let’s start by making sure that we praise a player who can easily go under the radar.
We knew that Takehiro Tomiyasu was good defensively. That was evident pretty much from the off as he dealt comfortably with the unique threat of Burnley in just his second game, before helping to largely keep Heung-Min Son quiet in his third.
What maybe we weren’t so sure about was his ability on the ball.
At times this season it has seemed as though side’s have been trying to funnel Arsenal’s attempts to play out from the back towards the Japanese international for his perceived relative lack of quality in this area of his game.
Southampton attempted to do this time and again in the first half, forcing the 23-year-old back towards his own corner flag often in the early stages. However, this was a tactic that would ultimately prove to be their undoing.
We could analyse in depth the sequence that led to Alexandre Lacazette’s opener, but the reality is that without Tomiyasu’s first time pass under pressure to Martin Odegaard near the beginning of the move, the goal simply does not get scored.
The former Bologna man is then agile enough to speed forward and control the return pass despite being knocked off balance by Nathan Tella, before playing the ball accurately down the line to Bukayo Saka.
The more you analyse Arsenal’s summer transfer window the better it begins to look.
People will argue that signings like that of Ben White or Aaron Ramsdale were among the most important, but there is a strong argument to suggest that Tomiyasu has them beat.
The Japanese international has transformed the Gunners right hand side and looks a bargain at just £18m.
After the game as a pitch invader ran on to the pitch to ask him for his shirt, the Japanese defender drew raucous applause from the Emirates crowd for obliging, and after being given his own chant, he’s deservedly becoming a fan favourite.
For much of this season a pattern has emerged in Arsenal’s matches, where they have played sublimely from the first whistle right up until the moment where they have scored their first goal of the game.
Think Manchester United, Crystal Palace, and plenty of others for evidence.
It has been highlighted as an issue by Mikel Arteta who has reiterated an insistence that he wants his teams to do the opposite.
On Saturday his team obliged, although perhaps not exactly in a way he would have been too happy with.
Instead of starting fast the Gunners were woeful for the opening 15 minutes seemingly carrying the baggage of their three consecutive defeats on the road when playing out from the back.
Passes were loose, and players seemed to be panicking and shouting at each other, with Gabriel and Thomas Partey exchanging words over where to stand at a throw in.
However, as the rain continued to pour at the Emirates the problems quickly swept away after Alexandre Lacazette’s goal.
From that point on Arsenal were confident and concise with their play, attacking with conviction and speed, as the confidence built up over their 10 game unbeaten run seemed to return.
After the game Arteta was willing to acknowledge the disappointing start, but also was keen to highlight how pleased he was with the recovery.
“In the first 15 minutes, we started the game a little bit nervy and we could not dominate the game,” the Spaniard said.
“After that I think we picked up the rhythm of the game, we scored a really good goal and after that, we started to dominate the game better and better.
“After half-time, we encouraged the players to keep going and be an attacking threat and I think we did that really well and we created more chances to score more goals.”
Perhaps this overcorrection may not have been what he had in mind, but as Arteta looks to steer his side towards Champions League football this season he’ll be glad that things are at least seemingly back on the right track.
Odegaard on form
Part of the reason people were arguing James Maddison should have been signed over Martin Odegaard in the summer, was the England international’s ability to provide end product.
After three goals in three matches though Odegaard is proving that he is more than capable of doing exactly that.
The Norwegian had a tough start to his permanent stay in North London and found himself somewhat unfortunately out of the team as Arteta experimented with a 4-4-2 formation.
It’s worth noting though that the blame for his poor form in the build up to that decision can only be placed at his door to a certain extent.
As Arsenal began to experiment with a 4-3-3 we saw Odegaard dropped into a deeper left sided role, and following the suspensions and injury of Granit Xhaka he began to drop back the pitch even further.
Now that the 22-year-old is back playing in his preferred number 10 role we are really starting to see the very best that he has to offer.
It is this that has been so key to his recent run of goal scoring form, with almost Aaron Ramsey-like late runs towards the penalty spot proving difficult for opposition defenders to pick up.
Speaking after the game Mikel Arteta admitted that it has taken some convincing to get the Norwegian into these pockets, but now he’s there he’s certainly reaping the rewards.
“He’s getting in the box much more and now he’s understanding why we encourage him to do that,” said the Spaniard.
“Then he is a match-winner and that’s the difference between a really good player and a match-winner. We need more players like that to win games.”
Aside from just scoring goals though, the midfielder is starting to show some of the leadership aspects that have seen him named captain of his national side before his 23rd birthday.
As Armando Broja was receiving treatment following an injury, many of the Arsenal players ran over to take instructions from their manager. In the meantime though Southampton were suddenly ready to start again, and with some of his teammates still out of position, it was Odegaard who raised the alarm, ordering Bukayo Saka into his right wing position to stop a quick restart.
This confidence to demand from his teammates seems to be coming from the increased security of a place in the starting XI, which is something the Norwegian has never really had in his career.
As the game went on he was trying back flicks and intricate passes that he is capable of when he’s at his very best. The hope will be that we can see them continuously across a crucial festive period for Arsenal.
Aubameyang creates captaincy dilemma
As much as we can analyse what happened in the game, in many ways the major talking point from Saturday’s clash with Southampton had been determined before a ball was even kicked.
We knew that Aubameyang was likely to miss out after missing training on Friday, but the news that his absence was due to another “disciplinary breach” came as something of a surprise before kick off.
There will be plenty of debate as to whether Arteta handled the situation correctly or not.
Many argue that the “non-negotiables” should be applicable to every player, but then others will say that special allowances need to be made for your biggest names. Think of how often Mesut Ozil would be missing from matches due to illness and back spasms so as to protect him from any media storm that the public airing of disciplinary problems may have caused.
Regardless of your thoughts on that though, there can be little arguing that Arteta took the decision to handle things this way, and after the game he also took the decision to further speculation over the club’s captaincy.
After what is now multiple issues with discipline, there is a debate to be had over whether Aubameyang should remain Arsenal skipper.
When asked about it after the game Arteta only served to add fuel to the fire by refusing to confirm or deny whether this would be the case.
“Let’s talk about the game guys,” he told press in his post match conference.
“I tried to explain to you what it was and I think I did it frankly. I’m not going to say anything else. I’m gonna focus on the performance and what happened on the pitch.”
The question now though is if you take the armband off the Gabon forward, then who do you give it to.
Granit Xhaka would be one of the most obvious candidates were it not for the incident at Crystal Palace that we needn’t go back into last time he was the captain.
Then there’s Alexandre Lacazette who is a leader in the dressing room, but far from a guaranteed starter.
Rob Holding has also worn the armband, but is far from a first team regular, while the same has been true of Kieran Tierney in recent weeks although the Scot could be a contender. beyond that your starting to scratch your head for options.
Thomas Partey is experienced, but not exactly captain’s material, while Gabriel may not have the communication skills to be skipper just yet.
You could look to Aaron Ramsdale who again demonstrated his leadership by yelling up the pitch to pull Lacazette deeper to defend on occasion in the first half, and pulling Takehiro Tomiyasu to one side to encourage him to play quick ball into the space behind Kyle Walker-Peters. However, placing such a burden on a 23-year-old who despite his bad start will inevitably struggle for form in an Arsenal shirt at some point, would be a massive risk.
Aubameyang will be available for selection again on Wednesday according to what Arteta implied in his press conference so a confirmation of a decision will be made then.
Until that time though the 32-year-old’s actions seem to have put the future of the club captaincy up in the air.