There’s plenty of negatives to look back on from what was a frustrating display from Arsenal in their 3-2 defeat to Manchester United, but let’s start with a positive.
Gabriel Martinelli was always a likely starter once it emerged that Bukayo Saka was not going to be fit to start at Old Trafford.
We were all given a timely reminder of the Brazilian’s quality with his sensational volley against Newcastle at the weekend, but the concern going into the game was how he would fair on the right wing – his least favourite of the positions across the front line.
There needn’t have been any worries, however.
Martinelli was comfortably the Gunners man of the match on the night as he demonstrated his typical fight and skill, as well as contributing a vital assist for Martin Odegaard’s goal.
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When the 20-year-old is at his very best his sheer determination to create goalscoring opportunities as soon as possible is so strong that it is near impossible to stop.
Take for example the way he fashioned the best chance of the night for himself by wriggling away from the pressure of Alex Telles and Fred by the corner flag to surge into the box and fire a left-footed effort just wide.
This was noticed by Mikel Arteta who was rewarded for putting faith in the Brazilian above more experienced options like Nicolas Pepe.
“He looked a threat,” said the Spaniard. “He had a big, big chance in the first half and probably should have put it home.
“He created the assist, he worked really hard and had really good moments. He looked a threat.”
The question now is, does Martinelli keep his place for Everton?
This was the kind of performance that demands he retains his place at Goodison Park, but with Saka likely to be fit for that game and Emile Smith Rowe in fine goalscoring form on the left, you fear it may not be quite enough.
Perhaps the only spot up for grabs is that of centre-forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had yet another underwhelming display on the night.
If Arteta opts for Martinelli over his captain it will be a true sign that there are no sacred cows in this Arsenal team, but also, on form, probably the right decision.
Old habits at Old Trafford
This may have only been Arsenal’s second defeat since August, but in many ways the game followed a similar pattern to the majority that have gone before it.
The Gunners started fast and took the lead through Smith Rowe’s controversial goal.
While we’re on the topic of that strike, it’s worth dismissing the suggestion that Arsenal demonstrated a lack of sportsmanship in that instance with David De Gea – who had claimed to be stricken with an ankle injury – sprinted after referee Martin Atkinson in indignation immediately after the goal was given.
There appeared to be little wrong with the Spaniard, and given that he was ‘fouled’ by his own player, there was no reason the goal shouldn’t have stood.
After that bright beginning though, Mikel Arteta’s side repeated their usual trick of retreating towards their own goal, seemingly happy to defend what they had, despite the fact that there were still 77 minutes to play.
After breezing past Manchester United’s disjointed press in the early phases, Arsenal simply stopped passing.
In the first 15 minutes of the match they managed four passing sequences with over five passes, before managing just the same amount in the following 36 (as per oh_that_crab).
You could tell this isn’t what Arteta wants from his side by the way he was bouncing around the touchline in indignation at his team’s inability to keep up their early levels of performance.
“I think we were sloppy in possession,” said the Spaniard. “We gave the ball away to the opponent when we had no pressure there and that creates the pressure, that gives momentum.
“We had a structure to play and suddenly we started to give the ball away.
“We had so many unforced errors and that leads them to have the belief that they can do something in the game.”
This was perhaps typified by the fact that the usually unflappable Benjamin White hacked at a clearance gifting the ball to Harry Maguire, despite having plenty of time to take a touch to start his side off in possession again during the build up to Bruno Fernandes’ goal.
Were this a one-off we could perhaps put it down to Arsenal’s young squad struggling under the atmosphere of a cold night under the lights at a raucous Old Trafford, but Crystal Palace and Leicester to name but a few stand out in the long list of games were the Gunners have seemingly been spooked by the quality of their beginnings to the game.
When asked after the game how he plans to deal with the problem, Arteta seemed somewhat stumped as to how to control his player’s thought processes when on the pitch in the heat of battle.
“Well it’s very difficult because when you are on the ball you have to make decisions and I want to encourage them to play freely what they feel,” he told football.london .
“But you know, against those teams you get punished immediately with the quality and the amount of players that they can play here straight away.”
This is perhaps the biggest issue the Gunners need to overcome if they want to have a real chance of making that final top four spot this season.