Damien Kayat looks back on another weekend of European football action which saw the Gunners fire a warning shot to the rest of the Premier League, Atletico Madrid lose more ground on their cross-town neighbours and continuation of Serie A's renaissance
In Arteta we Trust?
As far as North London derbies go, Sunday’s 3-1 Arsenal victory was as close to a procession as you can get. This is going to prove a real challenge to the vast horde of Arsenal YouTube fans who use their platforms to ritualistically dump on Mikel Arteta.
For the record, I still don’t think that he is the right guy for the job. I think his pig-headed ego will trip them up at some point or other. But on Sunday they were simply glorious to behold. That second counterattacking goal was on par with anything from Klopp’s kinetic Liverpool side. However, let’s take a step back and look at the opposition for a moment.
Spurs were absolutely dire. Something is certainly rotten in Denmark. Nuno’s pre-match press conference was curt, bordering on rude. The Harry Kane hostage situation is becoming farcical. But perhaps the most disturbing facet of that performance was their woeful midfield.
Hojberg and Dele Alli are simply not mobile enough to police the midfield in a game of that pace. Honestly, I would have rather played Winks and Lo Celso alongside Ndombele. Hojberg has been quietly stagnating while Alli’s latest rendition of Where’s Dele was infuriating.
City the Big Winners
This weekend’s Premier League action was a soothing balm to the ridiculously reactive nature of most football journalism. Premier League champions City were essentially written off last week following their admittedly toothless display against Southampton.
I have to admit, Chelsea really played into their hands on the weekend. Flooding the midfield with Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic left them with very few outlets. Lukaku seemed to rediscover his Timberland boots on the weekend while Timo Werner was just insipid. He turned down a legitimate one-on-one chance due to his shattered confidence.
Dreams of a Lukaku-Werner partnership seem about as fanciful as a Koepka-Dechambeau hip-hop collaboration. One positive for Chelsea: United and Liverpool dropped points. When the fixtures were first released, Chelsea would have taken your arm off to be a point off top spot at this stage.
They have played Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs away. They have also played City and Villa at home. Their only bonafide ‘easy’ fixture was a 3-0 home win against Palace. Tuchel just needs to remind his side that the next five fixtures are Southampton, Brentford, Norwich, Newcastle and Burnley.
Total Football: Italian Style
Italian football has long been considered the bastion of arch-pragmatism. This isn’t supposed to be the arena of high-octane, pulse-pounding football. But it would appear that we are currently experiencing something of a sea-change in Italian football.
Inter Milan’s 2-2 home draw with title contenders Atalanta was a stunning advertisement for this growing trend. It had everything: goals, VAR controversy, missed penalties. Atalanta actually ended Inter’s impressive run of 18 consecutive home league wins.
Many spectators are laying the credit for this recent upturn in Italian excitement at the door of national manager Roberto Mancini. There has always been a tidy correlation between the exploits of the national side and fortunes of the domestic league. Italy’s Euro triumph was certainly uncharacteristically flash. But I think that Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini deserves all the plaudits.
His side has altered the fabric of Italian football over the past few years. His energetic 3-4-3 system is a high-risk, possession-based style that would have been considered sacrilege a decade ago. But their 2020 Champions League quarterfinal run seemed to actively encourage managers to step into bolder attacking terrain.
Atletico in Crisis?
It’s easy to forget that Atletico are reigning Spanish champions. Perhaps that’s partially a result of last year’s pandemic-plagued campaign. But I do tend to wax lyrical about the vagaries of both Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Diego Simeone has worked miracles with this Atletico side. In years to come, spectators will look back at his period in charge and wonder how he managed to break the hegemony of the two Spanish giants. But all good things do come to an end. Now I’m not saying that Atletico are there yet. But there are some troubling signs that the pugilistic fire that has driven this side in recent years is on the wane.
They have won only two of six games this season in all competitions. More disturbingly, they have failed to score in three of their last four games. Sure, they have never been a free-flowing side ala Messi-era Barcelona. They wear sides down and tend to nick results.
But there has been a distinct lack of creativity in recent matches. The combination of Griezmann and Suarez looks laboured while their entire squad lacks spark. Stalwarts such as Koke, Gimenez and Correa seem to have reached their respective ceilings. We could be approaching the end of an era.
Player of the Week: Gabriel
We know that Mikel Arteta has been harping on for weeks about the need to judge him on his first eleven. I’m sure that Gabriel was the central figure in that thought process.
Honestly, his effect on the team is comparable to Virgil Van Djik (though Arsenal aren’t suddenly title contenders). They just seem so much more compact with his commanding presence at the back. Ben White also seems more assured on the ball.
I have also been impressed with his magnificent distribution. He doesn’t just mindlessly thump the ball upfield in Sean Dyche fashion, he is always looking to send the Gunners into attack mode. His sustained fitness will prove vital to the success of the Arteta regime.