Some days writing about The Arsenal feels like a proper chore. I’ve been – broadly speaking – writing about Arsenal for 13 years and so it has become habitual, which means I really do have to drag my carcass to the laptop and at this time of the year with over-indulgence a daily occurrence, it can easily be a situation in which I really struggle to tap away.
Not today though, my friends, not today. Today is a good day. I went to bed last night having travelled up to Northumberland to see The Management’s family, arriving just before kick off, setting up my laptop for a stream and settling in with a few Kronenberg’s to ease the nerves. This was an inferior opponent, but it was Arsenal away and this season our away form has been a cause for concern at times. But having seen us absolutely rattle Norwich to their core over 90+ minutes, I have a spring in my step this morning and happiness in the corner of my heart reserved for The Arsenal.
I even got up early having had too much to eat and drink last night! Such was the pleasing nature of writing nice things about The Arsenal this morning.
So, where do we start, eh? How about the news that a shuffle of the team was needed after all of our right backs seem to have contracted COVID. Tomiyasu, Cedric, Chambers and Maitland-Niles all out and as a result Bob Holding moved in to central defence with Ben White in at right back. He’s played there before, so it was less of a worry and because of his desire to often maraud forward, it felt like a more natural move there for us to slot the Englishman in. And I thought he did well overall. Positionally was good, had a couple of moments in which a few Norwich players tried to ‘get it up em’ as they might say, but he coped well and that enabled Bukayo Saka to focus on being his brilliant best in front of him.
And that he was. That he most certainly was. There’s nothing that will settle the nerves more than an early goal and after a fab sweeping move from our left over to Saka, he opened his body up and slotted beyond Gunn in the Norwich goal. If there’s one criticism you could lay at the feet of Saka this season it was perhaps that his post-Euro’s form looked a bit patchy towards the beginning of the season, but as the senior African players depart off to the AFCON this week, he and his fellow youngsters are stepping up big time. Saka has added goals to his game of late and so has Martinelli, Smith Rowe and Odegaard. But the second goal we scored was forged from the steely way in which Martinelli won the ball back in the Norwich half and then how Arsenal managed to find Tierney in acres of space on the left hand side. His finish was sumptuous and there’s something extra special about a goal that goes in off the post. Don’t ask me why, but I just love it and right on halftime it gave us the kind of lift going in to the break that we needed because we’d dominated possession, territory and play up until that point, but only had one goal to speak of.
The timing of that goal was crucial too. We battered Norwich yesterday but who knows how they might have come out in the second half if they’d have only gone in one down, so the fact that we got it just before halftime was fantastic for our confidence and terrible for theirs.
And the second half delivered even more juicy moments from an Arsenal perspective. Saka’s second goal was well worked to find some space and place it in to the far corner from the ‘keeper for number three, before the arrival on the scene of Emile Smith Rowe upped our gears with a great pass to him to set up Lacazette’s penalty, followed by a fine finish from the lad himself after a Pepe shot/cross had deflected in to his path.
There was just so much to like about that second half and there is becoming more and more to like about this Arsenal team and its crop of youngsters. It seems mental that Smith Rowe is bagging goal after goal from the bench and not getting on to the pitch right now, but in terms of our attacking quartet young can’t change it if you are Arteta. On the left Martinelli is bagging goals but his tenacity also is why we’re winning the ball back higher up the pitch. Nobody works back as much as him and the fact he’s added goals too means you can’t drop him. Saka is adding goals to his game as well as showing how much of a threat in running at players he has. He was imperious yesterday and Williams had no answer for him whatsoever at right back. But in between Saka and Martinelli we have an absolutely Rolls Royce player in Odegaard who is pulling the strings right now. He bagged an assist for the first goal, but his pass to Tierney for the second was sublime. He controlled the play yesterday and when Man City come to town in just under a week (after our game was called off against Wolves – might touch on that in a week), they will be acutely aware of how much danger Odegaard provides for this Arsenal team. He was superb in the rain last night and long may this form continue.
Long may the performances and confidence continue too. We now have a bit of rest before City and whilst as a fan you just want us to play and play, the fact that the Wolves game is cancelled due to COVID tomorrow might prove to be a blessing. Wolves have had about a week-and-a-half off and so would have been very fresh compared to us, but we’ve also got no right backs right now so getting some of them back will be good for us. The win yesterday – and by such a comprehensive margin – does so much for this team. It will engender more confidence and belief in the ‘Process’, it will give us something to back in for another few days, as well as upping that goal difference so it is looking a lot more normal for a team currently in fourth. Yes, the Scum could go above us with games in hand, but they are going to have to cram them in to their fixture schedules and that in itself may bring us advantages in terms of fatigue. There is also the old saying about “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. Well, we’ve got two birds in our hand and the Scum have three in their points-tally bush; I know what I’d prefer. We have done our job and with the Wolves game postponed you’d have to say the players across the whole squad have done theirs for the Christmas period. January is going to be a killer month and there will probably be some disappointments in there, but we have put ourselves in a great position at the halfway stage in the season and that is all we can ask for from Arteta and his charges right now.
Back tomorrow with more excitable Arsenal fan reaction. Have a good one.