In the first home game of the season, home debuts for Ceballos, David Luiz and another flashy cameo from Pépé made a tight 2-1 victory feel anything but. There was a renewed vigour amongst the crowd that was embodied by the players on the pitch. Although the collective cohesion wasn’t quite there yet, exemplified by a somewhat aggressive pass across the box between the two centre-backs, the encouraging individual displays gave me a lot to admire.
Dani Ceballos has been rightly attracting most of the attention. Some wondered whether he would sink or swim in the Premier League, but his first outing certainly proved he was Seaworthy. Many will be drawn to his two assists, but the more indicative stats to me are his 4 key passes and 25 final-third passes. This shows, although not playing most of his game as a number 10, he is able to find a way of progressing the ball into dangerous positions. It’s easy to be hyperbolic after one impressive game, but the comparisons to Santi Cazorla are almost too obvious to avoid. Since Cazorla’s departure, Arsenal have lacked a midfielder capable of sitting deep and progressing the ball, be it at his feet or with a cutting pass. Although Ramsey was great at the former, his positional play was different; in terms of spatial awareness, Ceballos knows his onions. Like Cazorla, he has the ability to shift his body weight and attract fouls from the opposition (although that’s pretty easy against Burnley). Partnered with two dynamic players like Guendouzi and Willock, and suddenly an Arsenal midfield that lacked vibrancy has it in surplus. Of course, the absence of Granit Xhaka and Torreira’s lack of match fitness made Emery’s decision easier, but has perhaps shown the way forward for the Arsenal Head Coach.
In comparison to Ceballos, you’d have thought Pépé and Luiz were vegetative given their lack of coverage. On the contrary, both provided the Gunners with something sorely lacked in previous campaigns. The difference Luiz provided from the back was evident early on, as he pinged a pitch-spanning pass that found Aubameyang. His ability to not only build from the back, a theme Emery is insistent on, but to bypass the press entirely with a raking long ball counters a key opposition tactic. The understandable clamour for record signing Pépé to be given his full debut will only have increased after his 45 minute display. A human highlight reel, his shimmy and nutmeg on Ben Mee made me realise (as in me, Adam, not Ben Mee the player; I’m not sure he’s been seen since ‘the incident’) how much Arsenal have missed a powerful, technical dribbler since the departure of Alexis. He had other moments of promise too that showed some of the goal output he could offer. A burst from the Arsenal half ended in a cross that if more accurate could have seen Willock on the scoresheet, and a pass into the box for Aubameyang later that should have been converted both illustrate his potential impact. I think we will have to wait a few more weeks until he is given the start. Both Emery’s comments and the way he began to fade in the latter stages show he will need more time on the training ground before he is fully up to speed. When he is though, the prospect of him dovetailing with Aubameyang and Lacazette should worry any defence in the league.
With all the new boy love-in, it can be easy to overlook the performance of the more established Arsenal players. Despite his age, with 50 Arsenal appearances already Guendouzi should be considered one of them. Over the first two matches he has attempted 126 passes, completing 113. Replacing Xhaka in this fixture as the player responsible for picking the ball from the defence and instigating moves, he insured Arsenal did not miss the experienced Swiss international. Despite being involved in the U21 European Championships over the Summer, he doesn’t appeared fatigued as he bustles around the centre of the park with his usual vigour. In my opinion, he has almost cemented himself as one of the ‘first names on the team sheet’ due to the variety of midfield roles he can play.
The two strikers once more demonstrated their class in the crucial moments, despite being relatively quiet otherwise. Aubameyang looked a little uneasy on the right flank, and was often not as diligent as you’d hope in covering for Maitland-Niles. Once switched to the left flank, he was much more at ease. Interchanging positions with Pépé and Lacazette, he demonstrated greater awareness. More able to pose a tangible threat, his threats to cut incise pose a material threat to the opposition; this was evident with how he excellently he took his goal. Lacazette demonstrated an often overlooked skill of his – the ability to shield the ball from opposing defenders – for his goal. Similar to one he notched at Cardiff last year, he turned an average delivery from Ceballos into an Arsenal goal. Because of his smaller frame, people often don’t appreciate the strength he has. Combined with a delicate touch and lethal finish, he possesses all the qualities you need in a modern centre forward. With 40 goal contributions (28 goals and 12 assists) over the last two seasons for the Gunners, his input into the attack will no doubt prove invaluable in the coming campaign.
Burnley will be misjudged many times this campaign – here they proved not the ‘sit deep and break on the counter’ side many have characterised them as. Earning 3 points against them is unlikely to be an easy venture for anyone outside of the Etihad, and so doing just that whilst bedding in new signings should earn Emery credit. Allowing 18 shots at home doesn’t appear great, but the position of chances Arsenal allow this campaign has improved. The goal came from an unfortunate deflection, and Leno was only tested 3 times in the 90 minutes. Overall an encouraging but imperfect display. It showed Arsenal have areas to improve upon but that they are ready to do so.