First and foremost – happy new year to you all. This is a slightly delayed match review post, on account of the fact that yesterday I wanted to do nothing more than lie on the sofa and slowly vegetate. But having watched the game on New Year’s Eve and seen all of the results so far in this round of fixtures, I felt absolutely compelled to write a match review and also talk about some of those other results, because it really has turned in to one heck of a weekend, hasn’t it?

  • Man City drew and dropped points
  • Newcastle drew and dropped points
  • Chelsea drew and dropped points
  • The Scum lost and dropped points.

I know Liverpool and Man United both win, not quite making it the most epic weekend ever, but as they go, that was pretty tasty this weekend, wasn’t it? It means we have seven points on Man City, nine on Newcastle, 11 on Man United, 13 on the Scum (with a game in hand!), 15 on Liverpool and 18 points on Chelsea!

It’s really quite something and just goes to show how great that result ended up being. I saw a few Arsenal fans at the end of the game asking one or two questions about the second half against Brighton, some of the mistakes, etc. But sometimes I think it is valuable to start at the end and work backwards and with the benefit of a couple of days now behind us since the result, that performance and result was EXACTLY what I think we needed. Brighton is a really tough place to go. I wrote about it on New Year’s Eve in the morning; we’d managed two wins out of 10 on all comps home and away to them in recent seasons. De Zerbi has them playing good football, they are sitting in the top half of the league in ninth.

Going to Brighton was never going to be an easy match. They have started to score a little more, evidenced by the fact they went away to Southampton and bashed three past them, so they were always going to get chances. You rarely get a game in the Premier League where you have all of the possession, limit an opponent to barely any chances, whilst having it all your own way. Especially away from home. So to head to a ground that has been tough for us in recent years and put four against a tough opponent, well, that takes some doing and I was over the moon with the performance.

Yes, we have Brighton some impetus by letting them in with the Mitoma goal and yes, the second goal we conceded left some egg on the face of a rusty looking William Saliba. But when I take a helicopter view of the game with a bit of distance behind it, if that’s what we want to pick holes in, then I’ll take that every week if we’ve got results like that. And I think given our defensive record this season, we can put it down to an outlier, rather than a regular occurrence. Arteta himself said afterwards that he was pleased that when he got in to the dressing room after the game it pleased him to hear the players talking about what they need to do to improve. There’s a drive and determination about this Arsenal team – probably forged in the fires of the disappointment of missing out on the top four last season – that is pushing this team down a continuous improvement mindset approach. They want to keep striving to get better, keep learning, keep on working on how they can iron out any kinks. And that is the perfect mindset to have. That’s the mindset of the elite teams in world football.

I’m not sure we can call our Arsenal team ‘elite’ until we have won one of the big trophies. That sounds harsh because we’ve been brilliant all season so far and this is far beyond any of our wildest expectations, but you aren’t a champion until you cross the finish line and our race isn’t even half run yet.

Having said that, and back specifically to the game against Brighton itself, boy hasn’t it been a fun race so far. Sometimes the best things in football are early goals. There’s a lot to be said for a last minute winner; the transformation from point gained/two dropped in to all three points added to your total tally for the season, but I myself love an early goal. So when Saka stroked his home in the first minute to calm the nerves on the South Coast, I was over the moon. It was a well worked goal in build up, but as well as the impressive finish, we need to give some flowers to Thomas Partey, whose tackle in the Brighton half in the middle third of the pitch was crucial. Partey has been a monster for us this season and honestly he is one of our most important players we need to be keeping fit. It feels a big ask given he hasn’t managed it since we signed him, but if by some miracle he can play 90% of the matches we have between now and the end of the season, we might have a real good shout at competing for this league properly.

But Bukayo Saka too, eh? What a footballer this young lad is turning out to be, bagging yet another goal to take his season tally to seven in all competitions, with six assists too. We aren’t even at the halfway stage in the season yet too. That’s 13 goal contributions and I think if we’d have all set a target for a good season for our wide forwards at the beginning of the season, I personally would have said 20 goal contributions each as a minimum means we’ve had a great season from our wide forwards. Based on this trajectory Saka is going to smash that.

But so will Martinelli on the other flank too. He also added to his tally yesterday with a very impressive run and finish for the fourth goal after the pass of the season from Ødegaard (oh don’t worry, I’ll get to him alright) that brings our Brazilian up to seven goals and two assists (nine goal contributions in total). Again, he’s on track to beat that 20 mark for sure, which if it happens will mean we aren’t just fighting for a top four spot, but a bit further up the table too.

But it isn’t just the wide forwards who are doing the business at the sharp end of the pitch. Everyone is stepping up. The continuous improvement mindset is happening with young and older players. We talked earlier in the season about Granit Xhaka and his goalscoring exploits, Partey has more goals than he’s ever had in a season for us, but the man really stepping up right now is Martin Ødegaard, who I am absolutely loving watching this season. He bossed the game on Saturday. The moves flowed through him, he keeps us ticking over, he’s always finding space in between the lines and his vision is something else. He scored a scrappy but important goal to double our lead by picking up a great position in the box, but let’s take a minute just to talk about that pass for the fourth goal. Blimey. I’ve seen an angle from behind Ramsdale’s goal in which he just appears from the right hand side, bends it around the player in front of him and the way the ball curves round means that Martinelli has the most perfect ball to run on to and score. Our captain is bossing not just football games, but the league right now, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

There’s players stepping up all over the pitch and that is the makings of a great team. Even Eddie, who we all wondered about whether he’d be able to fill Gabriel Jesus’ boots adequately enough, has shown so far that he is more than capable in this Arsenal team. That’s two in two for him and goals since the restart and the poachers goal we saw against Brighton on New Year’s Eve is exactly the sort of thing I think we’d all hoped we’d see from him. We know he’s got that in his locker, we saw him bag goals when he was brought in for that bum Lacazette, but the worry was whether he could recapture that form.

He absolutely can.

The goal against West Ham was a nerve settler, but the goal against Brighton will be a massive confidence booster, and I’m not talking about Eddie himself. I’m talking about the fans. I’m going in to tomorrow nights game against Newcastle knowing that if he’s given space in the box, he’s putting one away for us. But I actually think his link up play has improved massively too. I saw him drop a little deeper on Saturday to pick up the ball and bring others in to play. He’s adapted his game – continuous improvement again – and we are benefiting from that.

I was also pleased to see the rotation from Arteta yesterday too, even if we seemed to lose a little bit of rhythm with the changes, particularly as Brighton exerted a little more pressure in the latter stages of the game. Being three up with 30 minutes to go isn’t a luxury Arteta is going to have every week and it gave the opportunity to get minutes in to the legs of players who we will need in the coming months. Arteta himself talked about not being able to field the same team every week and he knows we will have to dig deep in to the squad, but you can’t just chuck cold players in and expect them to hit the ground running. 30 minutes in Tierney and Tomiyasu’s legs will do them the World of good and with the Oxford FA Cup match coming next weekend there will be another opportunity to get more minutes in to those rotational players’ legs. But not only that, it means that Zinchenko and White only played 60 and should be fresher, with Partey also only playing 74 and also a little fresher for Newcastle too.

So despite the concession of two goals, despite the nervy moments at the end of the game, as I reflect on the performance and impact of other results in the Premier League this weekend just gone, I can only conclude that it was a superb one for The Arsenal.

Catch you all tomorrow.