I know there will be bigger challenges for this Arsenal team to overcome this season and I know that Crystal Palace are on a wretched run of form that sees them winless in 2023, but gosh darnit, it this crucial stage of the season this Arsenal team keep overcoming the hurdles put in front of them.
Caveat time: We may not win the league. Man City are certainly capable of winning every one of their matches and that means we probably need to win nine of our next ten games if that happens, but up until this point in the season when it comes to The Arsenal, this team have responded so well to any setback.
Ours of course came on Thursday night, but the mindset of the players was not to go in to their shells or feel sorry for themselves. The mindset was to get out there on that pitch and take control of a football match that could easily have been one of those narrative busters. Palace winless in 2023, Palace have a great record at The Arsenal, Palace without their manager, Palace losing their best defender Andersen in the warm up before the game; sometimes when so many things seem to fall in to place the outcome ends up being the complete opposite. In this instance it would have been Crystal Palace having the game of their season and when Zaha hit the post early on in the match I have to admit to fearing we are going to potentially get an upset here.
But, as we have seen this season, this Arsenal side is made of sterner stuff. After the initial scares Arsenal took control of the ball and whilst for the first 20 – 25 minutes we had all ball and were probing, I can’t remember us making their young ‘keeper Whitworth make a ton of saves. And in reverse I thought that Palace set out quite well defensively, whilst looking to break on us in transition, probably knowing that in Rob Holding you have a defender who you can get at if you have pacey forward players. Which Palace have in Zaha and Olise. However, as soon as we got that first goal, it was pretty much all Arsenal from then on in and you could see that Palace didn’t have that much of a game plan for once they eventually went behind.
Martinelli’s shift and strike was brilliant. On his weaker left foot too, but kudos for Saka must go for working the space and then finding his fellow winger. After some questioned Martinelli’s form a few weeks back he now has six goals in his last six games and he is hitting form just at the right time. We are in squeaky bum time territory and when that happens you need your best players stepping up and he did just that with the first goal.
Then, likewise, did Bukayo Saka with the second after being brilliantly found by White – who again I thought was excellent – and then slotting the ball home to give the score line a bit more of a comfortable feel about it. From then on in it was pretty much all us and whilst you’re always nervous with a 2-0 scoreline, the dominance we showed on the ball and continuing to create chances made it feel a lot more comfortable. The fact that Xhaka (fourth Premier League goal of the season) was able to make it really comfortable after just 55 minutes was good too. It really meant we could settle in to the kind of swagger this season that we’ve shown when in a commanding lead and after last week’s 3-0 win against Fulham, suddenly I was looking at the table for that goal difference tally to be whittled away. That it has indeed and despite the fact Palace got a slightly fortuitous goal (in that I don’t think Schlupp knew much about what he was doing as the ball hit him, then it just falls to his feet to tap in from the corner), when Martin Odegaard restored that three goal cushion, we could once again look at the table not just smiling as a result of the eight points, but smiling because we’re also catching City up on goal difference too. They have now scored one more than us and conceded one less, meaning there are just two goals in it as a differential. I remember about a month ago looking at that and wondering whether at the end of the season that is going to have a massive bearing on where the title goes; I felt a month ago as though it was almost as if it would need a scoring miracle for us to catch them on the goal difference front. Indeed, just a few weeks ago at the beginning of March (matchweek 26) City had a goal difference of +41 to our +34. Now it is +42 to +40 and whilst a win for their extra game in hand will of course make the difference a little more and put a bit more daylight between them and us on the scoring front, right now it feels like a little cherry on the top that within two games we’ve been able to close the gap quite well.
Back to the game, however, and there were plenty of positive performances to speak of I thought. Martinelli and Saka obviously, but Odegaard once again ran the show and the way in which he weaves his body one way or the other, or the ground he covers with or without the ball, really is impressive. And he bagged himself another goal for our fourth which means his goals and assists tally now stands at 16; he’s bagged 10 goals and six assists all season and from a midfielder that is an impressive tally with 10 games still to go.
But we’re spreading responsibility across the whole team and whilst Xhaka also scored yesterday to bring his contribution of goals and assists up to nine, we’ve also got the likes of Leandro Trossard pitching in and doing the business, which of course he did again with Xhaka’s goal as he laid the pass in to him to flick it in the net. Trossard now has one goal and SIX assists this season, which is a remarkable feat given that he has only joined us on 20th January – two months to the day. His acclimatisation period has been rapid and that has had a big impact on the run we have just gone on that has seen us bag six wins in a row. What a signing he has made and with Jorginho also able to come in and give Partey some rest time, it is absolutely fantastic to see that we have options.
The only word of caution I have is that when one or two drop out of the team, you can see the step down in quality, because whilst Holding was relatively untroubled, for the Zaha chance off the post he did try to win the ball far too high up the pitch and there was also a long diagonal in the second half that he was just never in a million years going to catch his man for. Likewise too, Jorginho coming in for Partey is fine when you’re a few goals up and you want to give him some rest, but we cannot afford to have him break down at any stage between now and the end of the season. We coped without Saliba yesterday, we have copied without Gabby Jesus for a large chunk of the season and for a game or two – as Villa away showed – we can cope without Partey. But in those big games that we have coming up, he has to be fit, so I am praying that we can keep him available for the rest of the season. It could have a big bearing on our final league position if we do.
Another win, another three points, another happy day at The Emirates. Let’s hope for plenty more.
Catch you all tomorrow.
Lay off Holding , for a guy who has not played a league game in ages he won everything in the air most of the stuff on the ground . he is a very good squad player and for two million quid a bargain.