Yes it is a truncated season. Yes it is only 14 games. Yes we are up against a financially doped nation state who will probably end up winning the league. But by gum, I’m one happy Arsenal fan this morning, because my team are top of the league and will be right up until we celebrate Christmas at the end of December. In fact, because of the way that the fixtures fall, it will only be until New Year’s Eve when City play Everton at home at 3pm, that we could potentially be knocked off that perch, if we don’t win our Boxing Day game against West Ham at home, of course.
What we’ve got as a result of the 2-0 away win at Wolves yesterday, is some kind of mega Interlull situation; you know when the league shuts down for a weekend because of internationals and you don’t want to head in to that with the sour taste of defeat in your mouth? But conversely, if you win, you can do a little bit of basking? That’s where we’re at now. Arsenal sit top of the tree, five points clear of Man City (beaten by Brentford – thanks Ivan Toney!), which enables us to have the occasional glance at the table over the coming weeks and have a little smile to see this Arsenal side at the top having been the best team in the league so far this season. Yes, it is only 14 games and yes because of the World Cup it means that it is different to being top of the league in any normal season, but who cares? I don’t. And I’m seeing plenty of non-Arsenal fans giving it the ‘yeah buts’ this morning. I’ve seen people even say that every team we’ve played so far have been out of form when we played them, so we’ve been lucky. The Caveat Brigade are still going it seems, as yesterday we knocked down another opponent with a decidedly assured performance that ensured we were worthy winners against a Wolves team who have struggled all season. They have struggled to score goals all season and yesterday you could see why. We held them at arms length and were only occasionally troubled, but Wolves have played like that all season against 13 other teams, but I wonder if the same caveats applied against other opponents like Chelsea, Man City or Tottenham? I don’t remember reading much from people about “yeah but it’s only Wolves” then, so why does that apply now?
Because some people are still struggling to rectify in their minds that this Arsenal side have, so far been this season, quite good. Really good actually. And yesterday we showed that with a performance that was controlled pretty much from start to finish. Wolves set up in a low block, with a back five most of the time, looking to hit us on the counter. They looked to swing balls in behind Zinchenko pretty early on in the game as he took up his usual advanced and central position and it was clear a game plan to try to catch us on the counter because they knew that we would have most of the ball. And ultimately it didn’t work because we kept another clean sheet through a back line that, with every week, I am becoming more and more calm about when they play together. We’ve switched it around a bit in left back this season, but that partnership in the middle of the park of Ramsdale, Gabriel and Saliba, has remained consistent and has looked as strong and comfortable as I’ve seen in well over a decade.
So building from that base, we have the foundations to go on and get results like yesterday. The first half was a pretty drab affair and we struggled to break down a low block opponent, but that’s what happens when you are at the top; teams aren’t going to come out and play you and so it becomes incumbent on your side to remain wary and ready for a counter attacking trap to be sprung, but also that your creative players step up and get the goals needed to turn games which for teams lower down the league might end up as dull 0-0’s, but for the best teams they find a way to break down a stubborn opponent.
And that’s what we did, courtesy of Captain Odegaard in the 54th and 75th minute. He hadn’t scored in a while and much like Gabriel Jesus – who was excellent again yesterday without scoring – perhaps that had been playing on his mind. But this Arsenal team has a togetherness about it and that is evidenced as well by the sharing of the goals this season. If one isn’t banging them in, another steps forward. yesterday it was Odegaard, last week it was Gabriel, KT did it against Zurich, then Martinelli, Nelson, Partey and Odegaard did it in the Forest game. The team is all contributing and as I said on the Same Old Arsenal pod last night if Gabriel Jesus doesn’t get another goal this season but keeps playing well, and we keep winning football matches, then we’ll all be celebrating a league title and as we all know that is what we are all here for, not individual accolades for specific players.
The two goals we scored were really nicely worked too. Gabriel Jesus’ reverse pass to Fabio Vieira – on for the ill Xhaka who came off ill after the first 15 minutes – was grand and Vieira’s flick over the ‘keeper to give Odegaard a tap in was excellent. Vieira didn’t have the best of games but made a telling contribution and that will be important for a young player still trying to find his form in a new team and a new country. The second goal was another well worked finish and Martinelli needs to be given props for his hustle to win the ball back off the Wolves right back, then a grand back heel to give Zinchenko time to pick out a pass in the box. Ok, it didn’t go in first time from Martinelli’s shot, but what we are doing this season is getting more bodies in the box and when you do that you increase the probability of a loose ball falling to a red shirt. That it did and Odegaard found the net through a crowd of players to basically shut the game down.
That second goal was very welcome and it’s something we haven’t had in recent matches like the Chelsea game, the Zurich home game, or Leeds and Southampton away, for example. So to bag that and effectively put the game to bed goes to show that this team are learning and more is being done to secure points and leave the end of games just a march to the final whistle.
It’s job done for the boys and now they can sit back and relax for a bit. I suspect for those not going to the World Cup there will be a week or so of rest offered by the club, before some warm weather training in Dubai or similar will be laid on so we can effectively start a mini pre season again. There is still a lot of the season left to be played, we still have so much more to do, but if you are going to rank this first chunk of the season as an Arsenal fan, then the expectations of being in with a shout of the top four spots have been well and truly exceeded. And for that we can all be thankful.
Catch you all tomorrow.