In a season that’s been filled with many great weekends of football and a few perfect ones, this one ranks high in the list. Chelsea continue to be just horrible, 31 points behind us. Spurs blow their 3-1 lead to bottom of the table Southampton, and to make it even better, the Conte interview that followed was, *chefs kiss* mag-ni-fique!
If you havent watched it, I urge you to spend a few minutes to laugh at their misery.
Hopefully Conte remains at the helm these final 10 weeks, and hopefully it goes poorly so we can see further escalation. But before we could fully laugh at Spurs’ misery — and the fact that a win meant we were 20 points above them — Arsenal had to take care of business.
Just 72 hours after being booted from the Europa League, this team needed to find another response. They have been good all season at bouncing back from flat European performances, and with the international break just on the other end of the final whistle, this one felt extra important.
“Eleven cup finals” many are calling the remaining matches. Arsenal only have the Premier League to contend with, and the title is within reach.
The first final? A resounding 4-1 win with plenty of highlights and talking points.
You think there’s only so much you can say about the kid, and then you realize there’s more worth saying. He’s simply incredible. This season, he hasn’t just made another leap in his game, he’s made a leap to superstardom. Adding 2 goals and an assist yesterday, he wins another Man of the Match and brings his PL season tally to 12 goals and 10 assists. He is the first in the league this year to have a double-digit goals and assists!
22 G/A ranks him third in the Premier League, one behind Harry and eleven behind Erling Haaland. This puts him ahead of remarkable scoring names like Marcus Rashford, Mo Salah, Son, and De Bruyne. What’s remarkable is ranking 8th, 9th, and 10th are Saka’s teammates Martin Ødegaard, Leandro Trossard, and Gabriel Martinelli (respectively).
Even more remarkable is that, at age 21, Saka is just 3 G/A away from producing a season as good as Bale, Mane, and Sane’s best tallies. He has also already surpassed names like Ryan Giggs.
He was phenomenal on the day. His weak-footed pick-out for his assist demonstrates how two-footed of a player he really is. His movement for his first goal is spectacular, bordering on un-defendable, and the finish is oh so tidy. Currently leading the way for my Arsenal POTY vote.
Is he Arsenal’s greatest January signing ever? He continues to add to his already convincing case. I remember writing his transfer was worth it after he came on versus Manchester United and played a role in producing the game winning goal and helping us grab two extra points.
Maybe that was premature to declare, but the league is tight and grabbing two extra points at the death feels like it could be the difference-maker. He came on, was bright, tidy, and pushed Arsenal across the finish line. That’s been the summary of just about every minute he has played since.
“Bright, tidy, pushing Arsenal”, he has been spectacular. Shortly after that, he stepped into a central role and I wrote about how his play brought Arsenal’s attack closer to what the get with Jesus. There’s a comfort to his movement, dynamic play, tidy technical skills, and ability to involve others has been a staple of Arsenal’s attack. Trossard has now accrued 1 goal and 6 assists in 10 matches. All six of those assists have come in his last five Premier League appearances.
His assist to Granit Xhaka is exceptional false-nine forward play. He makes a sharp move toward the ball, creates the give-and-go wall pass, and splits the defense open for Arsenal’s third.
He’s been instrumental in Arsenal’s may success, and with Jesus returning from a length injury and Nketiah still injured, it will be interesting to see how Arteta continues to use Trossard’s exceptional play in a thriving attack. Personally, I think the role will be returned to Gabriel Jesus after the international break, but when each game carries the magnitude it does, Arteta will have to be willing to consider the hot hand. Right now that IS Trossard. Worth thinking bout.
Next Man Up Mentality
After the match, Arteta was asked whether the outlook on Salina’s injury was proving more positive than Tomiyasu’s.
“We hope so,” he said, “and we hope Willy is going to be better news but again we have to wait until tomorrow to understand a better picture. We have lost players – we lost Gabby for four months, we lost Thomas for one and a half months, we lost Alex Zinchenko for one and a half months, we lost Elneny for six to eight months, now we lost Eddie and now we lost Tomiyasu and Saliba.”
It’s the exact right response and all season Arsenal have had an incredible “next man up” mentality. Despite what Ten Hag would believe, Arsenal have had a LOT of injuries to contend with, and at key positions. Yet, their ability to overcome them is borne from this team’s drive and depth.
Rob Holding, the latest key figure, was spectacular against Crystal Palace. He wins the most duels in the match (11), 91% passing accuracy, 5/5 long balls, 5 clearances, 7 recoveries, and put on a performance worthy of a clean sheet. Who knows how if he’ll be tasked to play against versus Leeds, but it feels a little more comfortable if he is.
But the list goes on of players that have had to step up for injuries.
- Trossard for Nketiah and Jesus
- Tierney earlier in the season and came in today and was excellent
- Elneny earlier in the season
- Jorginho since January
The focus for winning teams often is on their starting eleven, understandably, but often when you reflect on a side that wins league titles, you’ll find this aspect to their campaign. It’s the mark of a champion-winning side and Arsenal have got it this season. Now, they just need to maintain it if Saliba is to miss more matches.
Set Piece Struggles
It was just about the only issue with a near flawless match, but Arsenal concede from a set piece again. This has been a talking point this whole second half of the season, and I’m beginning to fear that it will cost us when we can least afford it. Already Arsenal have conceded off a corner to Everton in that resulted in their loss, but the dam has yet to be plugged.
A month that has been on my radar since January first is here.
Even before Arsenal reach these four, they will have to play Liverpool at Anfield.
It’s the type of month, late in the season, that as a fan you sort of dread. You just want your team to coast in an claim the title. But if they can navigate this with grace, no one can deny they have done more than enough to earn this.
I mean, I don’t give a shit if people don’t think they have – they have – but the pressure these final matches will be more than real. The margins for error will be tight. Any of these matches can just as easily be a win, draw, or loss. Two on the road, two at home.
A performance to leave us all smiling for the coming weeks. A weekend that nears perfection. Plenty of positive takeaways for a team that continues to blossom into one of the best squads in the world.