From Gtech Community Stadium – For a couple of decades now, Arsenal have been considered a ‘soft’ team in Premier League folklore.
They miss Patrick Vieira. They don’t like it when games get rough. They hate it when you kick lumps out of them. They loathe it when you beat them over the head with a lead pipe.
It’s a tag that is sometimes unfairly bestowed upon them, a sort of running gag which has been approved by confirmation bias even if there’s a hint of truth in the allegations.
But make no mistake, Arsenal aren’t that sort of ‘soft’ anymore.
Even last season – when they undid all their good work, imploded down the stretch and gifted fourth place to rivals Tottenham – the Gunners still represented their unwanted reputation. If they were to succeed and secure Champions League qualification this time around, they would have to toughen up and act smarter.
The signings of proven winners in Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko have helped Mikel Arteta in rounding out his vision, but the return and keeping of William Saliba has also been seismic.
Arriving back in north London following a spate of loans as a full France international, Gunners fans will have been eager to finally see their defensive prodigy in Arsenal red. They haven’t been disappointed.
Saliba has been one of the Premier League’s leading defenders upon his return to these shores, and his standing increased further in Arsenal’s 3-0 win at Brentford on Sunday.
The towering 21-year-old broke the deadlock with a deft, arcing header early in the first half, providing a tangible spark just as it looked like the Bees were growing into the game.
From there, Saliba owned the day and was the backbone behind Arsenal’s rout – very few teams will be able to silence Brentford with the various menaces at their disposal.
Saliba’s defensive staunchness made this the complete inverse of this same fixture from last season when Arsenal wilted under the lights and were manhandled by the Bees.
Where Ben White was roundly criticised for his failure to even put up much of a fight against Ivan Toney, Saliba joins a tiny list of defenders to have instead made his life hell.
Brentford’s talisman, the expected protagonist of the day after his England call-up and tweet saga against the Gunners, was smothered out of the game with a ruthlessness and professionalism that should be way beyond Saliba’s experience. It doesn’t make sense for a 21-year-old to be that dominant against one of the league’s most mischievous marksmen.
Because of Saliba, Gunners supporters were able to dance on the terraces of the Gtech Community Stadium taunting Toney (even if they misread what he actually said about them). It was his contributions at both ends of the pitch that allowed Arsenal to head into the international break as league leaders.
It’s still early days for Saliba – neither he or his team are the finished article – but his early promise reflects that of the team, rising in stature with every win, edging closer to a top-four return. It would be a shock if his trajectory towards the league’s summit doesn’t continue.
Chelsea drops Fofana update after initial tests on knee injury
Wesley Fofana’s knee injury is better than initially feared after the first set of tests returned positive results.
The defender suffered a knee injury in a collision with Rafael Leao in the 38th minute of Chelsea’s 3-0 home win against AC Milan, as his night ended in frustrating fashion having scored his first goal for the club earlier in the match.
There is hope that Fofana could return before the World Cup, with Chelsea’s final match before the tournament taking place away to Newcastle on November 12.
The centre-back is likely to miss this weekend’s clash against Wolves and the away match at San Siro against Milan next week.
Fofana was seen leaving Stamford Bridge on crutches on Wednesday night, with his right knee in a brace as there were worries he may have suffered a serious injury.
Speaking in his post-match press conference after Chelsea’s victory over Milan, Blues boss Graham Potter admitted he was unsure how bad it would prove to be for Fofana.
‘We’ll have to scan it tomorrow and see how he is but there’s nothing to report at the moment,” Potter said.
“That’s the one disappointing thing about the evening so we have our fingers crossed. We’re concerned but I don’t want to speculate on it now.
“These things happen. He’s a young guy and a strong guy but we’ll support him.”
Erik ten Hag explains decision to substitute Jadon Sancho in Omonia victory
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has confessed that he was unimpressed with the left side of his team in the first half of Thursday’s 3-2 victory over Omonia Nicosia, leading to him substituting both Jadon Sancho and Tyrell Malacia at half-time.
United were woeful in the first half and trailed at the break after Sancho and Malacia conspired to give away the ball for the cheapest of counter-attack goals, and both were hooked at the interval.
Sancho was replaced by Marcus Rashford, who went on to bag a goal and an assist, while fellow substitute Anthony Martial also scored just moments after being introduced on the hour mark.
Asked to explain his logic behind removing Sancho while his team were losing, Ten Hag said: “It [the goal] was not what I wasn’t happy with, it was the movement with our ball.
“The width on the left side, for me, was no good first-half – the movement from behind the defending line.
“So I hoped with Luke [Shaw] and Marcus we get more effect from that and so in my opinion that happens.”
Asked what he told Rashford and the rest of the team at the break to inspire a comeback, Ten Hag told BT Sport: “More runs, we are too static, we have to make the opposition move to get behind – that is why we made two subs.
“The subs really had an impact today.”
The boss added: “I would call it stay composed. It can always happen, football is a game of mistakes. I agree with you, first 30 or 35 minutes, we played quite well, the only thing we didn’t do was score a goal.
“When you score a goal you make your life easy, we didn’t. Then we concede a goal and it was the worst 10 minutes from the game from us. After half-time, we dealt well with the setback.”
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