Arsenal brought smiles to the faces of all their fans on Thursday night.
The 2,000 in attendance were treated to the most free-flowing display of the season, one littered with one touch play and offensive fluidity. Arsenal were, based on this season, not very Arsenal-like.
Even in the Europa League where chances have been easier to come by, this was the best example yet of Arsenal playing with freedom, one which brought with it a joy that was etched across all the players’ faces.
Nicolas Pepe, a different shade to his normally gloomy self, was bright and picked up positions all over the pitc, while the much-maligned Alexandre Lacazette was superb operating as one of the midfielders. Mikel Arteta has tried a variety of midfield partnerships in a bid to bring energy and progression in the middle third, but Lacazette and Ainsley Maitland-Niles? Hats off if you saw that one coming.
Coming up against weak opposition – deciding against playing a full strength side to instead leave themselves with a final day showdown against Molde to secure qualification – made matters easier. That decision played into Arsenal’s hands, even if they would have been nailed on favourites in any case.
The return of Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers added gloss to the occasion, the former netting his first goal for the club and the latter able to greet the fans who’d been missing from the stadium for almost as long as he had.
A fun day. One that is worth savouring until Sunday at least, when the ‘other’ Arsenal take the field and bring with them the chalk to our midweek cheese.
Regarding Thursday, the change in tactic paid off in fine style as Arsenal hit statistical heights never before seen under Mikel Arteta’s tenure. The formation tweak paid dividends.