I don’t know how many people have been left surprised by Arsenal’s excellent form since the resumption of the Premier League season. Nonetheless, I’m certainly not going pretend I expected Arsenal to come through a very challenging run of fixtures, including 4 of this season’s top 6, not just unbeaten, but having taken 10 points out of 12 from those games. We also played, and beat, West Ham.
I think, more impressive than the points tally, which has taken us to an incredible 50 points from 19 games, is the way in which those points have been garnered.
(By the way, I’m writing this in advance of our trip to Premier League champions, Manchester City, in the FA Cup so this is the first and only time I will be mentioning that game here.)
Away at Brighton has been a historically tricky fixture for us ever since they returned to the Premier League and we made a mockery of that fixture with a sparkling display of football, showcasing everything good about Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal.
In fact, we were so good that we could afford an incredibly wobbly twenty minutes as we’d already done enough damage to win the game. The highlight of the match surely Martin Odegaard’s sensational pass to put Gabi Martinelli away to score our 4th goal.
Third place Newcastle next and me and my cousin Josh were in the Clock End for an incredibly frustrating night. I’m not really any the wiser as to their prowess as a football team, although they clearly have a very strong defence.
Unfortunately, Nick Pope was intent (as he was last season with Burnley) on taking as much time as he could get away with out of the game. The referee let him do so and somehow managed not to spot two absolute stonewall penalties on Gabriel & Nketiah.
It’s also tough not to think that, had we been able to bring on, oooh a Leandro Trossard for example, he might just have tipped the balance for us.
The sight of the Newcastle players and all their staff giving it the big one in front of their fans in the Clock End corner as if they’d won the World Cup stuck in the craw a little (at least when we “over celebrate”, it’s because we’ve won a game, right?), but I guess it was ultimately a huge, if unintended, compliment to us.
Back on Premier League duty nearly two weeks later, after a brief sojourn to Oxford United in the FA Cup and one of the biggest games in our season, the North London Derby at Tottenham Hotspur’s toilet bowl.
Due to nerves, I avoided the majority of the build up but turned onto Sky Sports just in time to hear the Merse say, in characteristically understated fashion, “Oh, Arsenal are gonna run riot”.
Jamie Redknapp didn’t like this at all.
I looked at the two teams and thought, “My God, that Merse has got a point”.
And so it proved, really. Some Spurs fans were claiming the second half as some sort of moral victory, the more sensible ones knew just how big the gap was (I should know, I had one in my flat for the afternoon, poor guy).
A first half brimming with intent, power and control and a lot like our performance at Chelsea, except with one more goal to show for it. Partey nearly scored the goal of the season, Eddie could have had a hat trick and Martin Odegaard added to the collection of memorable NLD goals with a strike from distance.
Something else happened.
Us Arsenal fans have become so used to Spurs getting a penalty in this fixture, which is always converted by Harry Kane, we tend to see ourselves 1-0 down before the game’s even started. But something else has started happening too – let’s just call it the Hugo Lloris moment. He gifted us our winning goal in October and he did so again here, spilling Bukayo Saka’s right footed cross into his own net.
As it happened, Spurs did not get a penalty, and so Harry was denied the chance to level up the Spurs goalscoring record. Ahhhhh! Ramsdale made a brilliant save from Sessegnon early in the second half and that, more or less, was that.
Merse had a field day in the studio afterwards, with Redknapp insisting Spurs could still make the Champions League. We could afford to dream a little bigger. Joyous. The best Sunday ever?
Well, about that…
Of course, last Sunday saw the visit of Manchester United to the Emirates and what will probably go down as not just a defining moment for Mikel Arteta’s tenure as Arsenal manager, but also a defining moment in the history of the Emirates Stadium.
One nil down to a stunning moment of genius from Marcus Rashford, the omens were not good for Arsenal. United were unbeaten in something like the last 26 games when they had scored first – and of course, they beat us from such a position in September.
But we responded like the champions we may yet become this season. Pressing from the front led to an Arsenal corner, good play outside the box from Zinchenko (HOW good is this guy?) led to Xhaka floating in a cross from the left wing, Nketiah disappearing past Wan Bissaka to thump home the equalising header.
At half time, I felt we weren’t playing particularly well. Steve the Ref said, “you’re mad, you’re well on top here”. Second half, from 25 yards out, Bukayo Saka curls in what may well be his best goal to date in an Arsenal shirt and then nearly repeated the trick 5 minutes later. Unfortunately, the ball pinged off the post and out.
From nowhere, United equalised, Lisandro Martinez heading in what has to be one of the more ridiculous goals we’ve seen scored at the Emirates. Erik Ten Hag signalled his intentions then, Anthony making way for Fred and the hatches battened down.
Mistake. A big mistake, albeit one they nearly got away with. Maybe they would have, had we not been able to call on freshly minted new signing, Leandro Trossard from the bench. Amidst a gathering storm of Arsenal pressure and last ditch United defending, Trossard replaced Martinelli and played a decisive role in the winning goal.
Into the last minute, he drove forward, before feeding Zinchenko on the overlap (for once!), Zinchenko cut the ball back to Odegaard, challenged by Fred, the ball spun off his boot and would have gone out for a goal kick had Eddie not been lurking at the far post to lift a leg in the manner of a dog stopping to address a lamppost (well, that’s how my dog did it) and divert the ball past David De Gea.
Bedlam. Zinchenko disappearing into the midst of the fans with whom he may well have been standing, were he not out on the pitch, the stadium ablaze with passion and, probably, no little relief. The VAR check found nothing wrong with the goal, because, um, there was nothing to find and Arsenal had the three points in the bag.
Gary Neville is becoming a little Comical Ali in his refusal to accept that Manchester United are not going to finish above this Arsenal team, although he has now conceded that we could win the title. I’m not looking that far ahead, yet.
What I have noticed though, is that there was a scenario in which we could easily have been second by the end of this month, with United breathing down our necks. Not only has that not happened, but United’s win against City has allowed us to, just, extend our advantage.
So, whatever has happened in Manchester by the time you read this (okay, that’s the second time), strap in Gooners, because as we turn for home, things are about to get very interesting indeed.