“I’m really enjoying working with this group of players. It’s a process. I know everything has to be today or yesterday but in football it doesn’t happen like this. I’m seeing a lot of things I’m happy with but there is a lot of room to improve.”
It would be a major boon for Arsenal to collect a trophy so early in the Arteta era. The Gunners have claimed 13 FA Cups, more than anyone else in England. Manchester United is second with 12.
“There is a long way to go,” Arteta said. “But we’re on the right path. We’ll see what happens in the draw. We’ll keep going because we love this competition.”
Arsenal leader Luiz said the club is on the right track, especially given the fine performances from young players like Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli.
“We need to be humble and understand we are not there yet,” he said. “Tonight I was pleased with the team and the young boys, they have a great mentality and understand what is need at a high level. We need to be ready to react and understand football.”
Arsenal thoroughly outplayed the Red Devils in the first half before limping their two-goal advantage over the finish line in the second half. After the game, Luiz revealed the improved mood around the club since Arteta was appointed nearly two weeks ago — quotes from the BBC:
“We were great in the first half and showed a maturity in the second. We have to be honest and admit physically we are not ready, but you have to show heart and this team is ready to change a lot of things. We showed that today and we are going to do big things in the future.
“Mikel Arteta is a great coach, he was a great player. I think he can improve every player. And in life when you are happy results can be different. If you work with happiness and believing what you are doing it is totally different. Our season started very bad, but things can change.”
As for Arteta, all of the credit for Wednesday’s result goes to two groups of people: the players and the fans.
“It feels great, incredible. I’m so happy and proud of the players and the performance they put in.
“It was much better in the first half than the second. Everything we planned to do worked really well. We had enough chances to put the game to bed much earlier. Physically the level dropped in the second half but the commitment and desire was terrific.
“Right from the start I could feel a different atmosphere. Thank you so much to the fans because we really need them. The players play so much better when they are behind us. Hopefully we gave them something to be proud of today.
“I try to help the players as much as possible and give them the right structure to feel comfortable. But they have to deliver and I’m so happy they are doing that at the moment. The performances are getting better so I was desperate for the win and we got it.”
Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored early but saw his late winner pulled back by a controversial VAR decision as Arsenal threw away a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal sits fifth with 16 points, one more than sixth place Palace.
Three things we learned
1. If at first you can’t defend… Arsenal’s oft-criticized center backs took the goals into their own hands, and if you’re up 2-0 within nine minutes it’s gonna be hard to be the goat. Sokratis’ goal came with calm after Granit Xhaka knocked down a clearance off a corner, and he was back post when David Luiz poked home a Lacazette-flicked cross to make it 2-0.
2. …You’re still going to have to defend, though: Arsenal’s backs helped give the lead away within 40 minutes, with Chambers cutting down Zaha — or at least daring VAR to go the other direction — and Luiz losing track of Ayew. Chambers really struggled, picking up a yellow card in addition to some haphazard first half passing, as improved defense in recent weeks appeared to be a magician’s trick after multi-goal concessions to Vitoria and Palace within three days.
3. Xhaka’s Arsenal career meets flash point: Voted club captain to the consternation of many Gooners, Xhaka was booed off the field when he was subbed off at the hour mark. The Swiss enforcer motioned his arms to welcome more boos, then yelled to the crowd to expletive off, cupping his hand to his ear before ripping off his shirt and storming down the tunnel. Things are not good in North London.
4. VAR overrules Sokratis winner for… something? As of publishing time on this post, there’s no clarity as to why VAR found a clear and obvious error that Roger East missed on Sokratis’ winner. Chambers is battling for the ball with several Palace defenders, hands everywhere, as he pushed the ball to Sokratis for what would’ve been a huge winner. There’s a problem here.
Man of the Match: Ayew? Milivojevic? Sokratis? We’ll go with McArthur, who was quite good and supplied the match-drawing assist.
An early corner cause Palace problems and put Arsenal in front, with Granit Xhaka settling Gary Cahill‘s headed clearance for Sokratis Papastathopoulus to hit through traffic for 1-0.
He could’ve had two had Luiz not also been at the back post to poke home a ninth minute corner, as Arsenal had Palace at sixes and sevens.
Lacazette had an effort saved moments later, and Palace fans were right to be concerned for the score line.
Aubameyang missed a chance, too, as Arsenal really should’ve had a massive lead when Zaha won a penalty off of Calum Chambers. Palace penalty usually equals Palace goal in Milivojevic’s world, and this time was no different.
Palace leveled the score just after halftime, as James McArthur‘s cross hung in the air for days. Neither Luiz nor Leno could get there as Ayew headed home.
As poor as he was defensively, Chambers was nearly again an offensive hero before sweeping a shot wide in the 62nd.
Arsenal thought it went ahead through Papastathopoulous, but VAR found a hard-to-pinpoint foul on Chambers as he won what would’ve been a match-winning assist. Baffling.
Wayne Hennessey made a nice stop on a Lacazette header as the match headed toward its final half hour. He’d late stop Luiz in the 89th with a result-saving stop. Zaha came close to equalizing when he turned a Christian Benteke flick toward goal and burned Chambers.
The way he plays reflects his personality. Courageous, full of energy and a little unpredictable. Chatting with him is both enjoyable and full of surprises.
Ahead of their trip to Sheffield United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) his attitude is very much: ‘Why not me? Why not us? Let’s do this!’
Over the international break Luiz, 32, traveled with his fiancee and mom to Rwanda, in partnership with Arsenal’s sponsor Visit Rwanda, as he visited the African country which has transformed itself over the past 25 years after it was torn apart by genocide in 1994.
Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Luiz was humbled as he paid his respects to the victims of the genocide against the Tutsi. He was in a reflective mood as he discussed the work Rwanda has done to get to this stage.
“After 25 years you can see how things have improved and how people have love for their country and you can feel love from the people,” Luiz said of Rwanda’s rebuild. “I am in love with this country and I will recommend Rwanda to all of my friends to take a trip, and I’m going to be here again, for sure.”
Luiz is a people person. There’s no other way to put it.
From leading celebrations with teammates during and after games, to sticking his head out of his car window as he drives through London to sign autographs and pose for photos, he just loves life.
“I feel a connection because I’m a guy who likes to feel a connection from the people. They are so friendly, they respect you and the way they look at you, they want you to feel at home,” Luiz said of his trip around Rwanda.
During his time in the African country he also visited Volcanoes National Park and planted new indigenous trees as he was mesmerized by its beauty.
The boy from Brazil had never stepped foot in a jungle before, and he and his family got the chance to meet the endangered Mountain Gorillas up close in their natural habitat after a long trek through Rwanda’s jungles.
“I am Brazilian, but I never had the opportunity to walk in a real jungle!” Luiz said. “To see the gorillas so near with my family and experience the wildlife, the culture and do something completely different. It was amazing to see all of the gorillas with their babies, their families. It was incredible. For me it has been an emotional trip in a positive way.”
Luiz is an emotional, thoughtful person and his passion for not just football but life shines through when you chat to him. He has a keen interest in helping the environment in any way he can and wants to leave behind a better world.
His summer arrival at Arsenal raised plenty of eyebrows and he has always been a bit of a wildcard, but his experience was supposed to gel the defensive unit together. It was a big deal for him to leave Chelsea, where he was expected to be a key player under Frank Lampard, but he is certainly glad he swapped London giants.
“I really love the spirit of the club. Everyone loves the club and loves to work at this club. I love people,” Luiz explained. “To see everyone who works in the kitchen, everyone who works on the pitch, they are all in love with the club. This is amazing because this is what I enjoy and I enjoy to be with these kind of people.”
The people at Arsenal aside, have the Gunners got the players to improve things defensively and finish back in the top four after a three-season hiatus?
Luiz bristles a little when asked if Arsenal can improve enough defensively to finish in the top four this season.
“We talk about this with every single club. Arsenal is no different,” Luiz said. “I think Unai is working very well with the plan to defend and then the plan to attack. I always say, defending starts with the strikers and through the whole team, and you can see with modern football that the goalkeeper is now like a No. 6. We are going to try and improve, we are already doing well and the last few games have showed that we are stronger in a defensive way. I want this club to improve in every part of the game.”
Luiz’s game has evolved over the years. His marauding runs from center back aren’t as often as they once were but that doesn’t mean his swashbuckling style has disappeared forever.
We have already seen Luiz take chances on the ball and bring his Brazilian flair to Arsenal’s defense, especially on the ball with goalkeeper Bernd Leno. Is Luiz, the oldest player in Arsenal’s squad, going to change his game now?
“It is the same. But this year my game depends on the team. I have to be someone who can adapt in a quality way, especially because I am a specialty player,” Luiz said. “You have to feel the moment. We need to play games, we need to win trophies. Everything was good where I was at clubs winning titles, so I can’t think in a different way. I want to win titles with Arsenal. I want to improve and adapt myself for the style of Arsenal, as a club and how the manager wants us to play. I think we can do that together.”
Luiz has settled in very quickly at Arsenal.
He is popular with his teammates and scored the winning goal last time out in the Premier League, a deft header as the Gunners edged past Bournemouth 1-0.
“I’ve had a good relationship with players at all of the clubs, big clubs, I’ve been at during my career. I’m trying to do what I’ve done everywhere. I am working hard to improve myself and the team to have the ambition to win titles. I think this club deserves to shine again,” Luiz said. “We have an amazing team, amazing coaching staff, I think we can have this ambition and this as a goal. And then to achieve these kind of things you need to work hard.”
The hard work never stops for Luiz. He comes across as a professional, humble man, even if his lively demeanor on the pitch and off it can be misconstrued as overconfidence.
When asked if Arsenal can win the Premier League title this season, Luiz’s tone changed from being the fun-loving, mercurial defender we all know to being all business.
The man who has won the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, Europa League (twice), three FA Cups and French and Portuguese league titles wants more silverware.
He wants it with Arsenal and after starring in Chelsea’s surprise title win in 2016-17 under Antonio Conte, could he help the Gunners pull off an even bigger shock to launch a title push as extreme darkhorses this season?
“For me, if you start something, and we’ve just started the Premier League and all of the competitions, if you don’t think you can win the competition then you won’t start anything in your life,” Luiz said in a defiant manner. “The ambition has to be there, the dream has to be there. Also, you have to be humble and have the humility to understand how you can achieve this kind of thing. This is what you have to do every single day. To understand the plan, to work hard and understand that if you have the opportunity you have to give your best. After that, if you don’t achieve you have to understand why you didn’t achieve these kind of goals. But my vision, my ambition and my will is always to fight for the title. And between the club, the players and the coach, we have the possibility to fight for the title.”
Luiz is a many of many layers. He can be the joker, the thinker and the ultimate professional. All at the same time.
Arsenal will need him to be all of the above, and to be at his best on the pitch, if they’re going to seriously challenge Liverpool and Man City for the title this season. That may not happen, but with Chelsea, Man United and Tottenham all in transition, the Gunners all of a sudden seem to have the edge in the top four battle.
Luiz is up for the challenge and his distinguished career proves he will often prove you wrong and surprise you at the same time.
Just like in Rwanda, Luiz is eager to be a big part of the process and help the development and progress of Arsenal’s youngsters any way he can as they currently sit in third.
“I think we’ve started really well and we just lost one game in the Premier League. I think the team is improving and now we are in third in the table but we want to finish this season fighting for the title,” Luiz said. “This is our goal. I’m trying to my best for the team and for every single player and I’m so happy to be here with all of the talent we have in the club.
“Myself, as a senior play, I have over 600 games in my career, so I’m going to help the young players develop a lot and help the team… I think I’m continuing that role. I’ve been doing that the last few years already and to have the pleasure to do that. I’ve been doing that because it’s a pleasure and I like to see them enjoy improving and finding out the importance of how to play the game. I’ve played a lot of games in my career, and the only game I haven’t played in is the World Cup final, so I want to enjoy this as much as I can.”
Watching Luiz play is never boring, and Arsenal aren’t either.