Arsenal closed their Premier League campaign with a nervy 3-2 victory over Watford at the Emirates Stadium, a result that sent the Hornets down to the SkyBet Championship.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck from the spot early on before he set up Kieran Tierney for his first goal in Arsenal colours. The Scotland international returned the favour from a long throw-in that Aubameyang acrobatically volleyed home.
A Troy Deeney penalty gave Watford hope before Danny Welbeck pulled another back after the break but a mixture of superb goalkeeping, poor finishing and last-ditch defending ensured all three points went to the Gunners.
The victory was the first time we got to see the new Arsenal kit for the 2020/21 season in all its glory.
The design, which was only officially released last week, has a two-shade red tone on inverted arrows, which is inspired by the iconic East Stand of Highbury and is made from 49% recycled polyester. The Fly Emirates logo has also been replaced with Emirates Fly Better.
Normally, new kits are released during the off-season ahead of the new campaign but with COVID-19 interrupting the season and deals and deadlines still having to be met and completed, Adidas and Arsenal opted to reveal the new strip on the final home game of the season before another showing at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup Final against Chelsea, who are also donning a new strip.
Hopefully the winning start will continue and the new style can be the start of a new era at the club.
Back three or four
Having used a back three for the majority of games since lockdown, Mikel Arteta opted for a more traditional back four with David Luiz and Rob Holding in the centre and it didn’t really work with the Hornets enjoying 19 shots and several other missed opportunities.
Whether it was down to a lack of options or a tactical rethink, reverting back to a central three seems the best way to go for the FA Cup final. With Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí and now Shkodran Mustafi all unavailable, the best options look to be Holding, Luiz and Kieran Tierney centrally with Bukayo Saka operating at left wing back.
I think Arteta wants to play with a back four going forward and the addition of William Saliba, and perhaps another CB, may help that but this game showed we need to stick with a back three for now.
This isn’t something you didn’t know already but we are incredibly lucky to have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. As long as he is in the team we have a chance of scoring a goal no matter how badly – or well – we are playing.
Playing on the left he has the ability to use his pace and expert movement to stretch defences and get him in good goalscoring opportunities and his clinical nature in front of goal normally sees him put them away.
He has a range of finishing to his game. I’m not very confident when Aubameyang takes penalties and I think both Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pépé are better from the spot but he dispatched the penalty with aplomb against Watford. He then showed his ability to think on his feet when Tierney’s long throw-in reached him with a fantastic overhead kick.
Against Manchester City he took his chances well on the counter, particularly his second when his pace set up a one-on-one with Ederson and he planted the ball between the Brazilian’s legs. He has even added headers to his game.
That means that no matter the set up or opposition, Arsenal will always carry a goal threat as long as Aubameyang is on the team sheet.
No man’s land
When Mikel Arteta joined Arsenal in 2011, he joined when Arséne Wenger’s poetic football was still in motion. Having spent the last three-and-a-half years under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, that philosophy will only have intensified and I think that is the image that Arteta would like to imprint on this team.
Right now he doesn’t have the players to cause damage in the centre of the park. Arsenal’s central midfielders – including the maligned Mattéo Guendouzi – are more defensive or are deep-lying playmakers rather than attacking midfielders that run beyond the strikers or who can pass their way through a defence.
Mesut Özil and Joe Willock are the only players in the current squad who are effective in that area of the pitch but the former isn’t showing the standards that Arteta expects while the latter is too young to be the relied upon to be Arsenal’s sole creator.
That leads to an over reliance on wing play. The ball gets passed from left to right and back again until someone swings in a cross or gets dispossessed. There is no Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere or Tomas Rosicky to play that killer pass or trick their way past an opponent and that can make Arsenal predictable and easy to defend against.
This summer a creative midfielder, or two, should be high on the list of priorities.
The end of the season is a time for reflection and although we still have a massive game against Chelsea to come, this is a good time for Arteta to sit back and assess his squad and plans going forward.
I think the game was a perfect representation of what a crazy season it has been. A stonewall penalty, a lucky deflection and a piece of innovative thinking saw us cruise into a 3-0 lead and normally that should be that.
However, it is never that simple at Arsenal. The defence never seemed to get to grips with the pace of the game and the Watford forwards had a field day. How they didn’t score more is a mystery and we had Emi Martínez to thank once again.
Going forward we need to find the personnel and a system that works defensively but that doesn’t hinder us going forward. Mikel Arteta has been schooled by two of the very best managers in the world and he will have learned a lot. Hopefully he can translate that into lessons of his own and propel Arsenal back to where they belong.