Arsenal resume their Premier League campaign on Boxing Day when West Ham visit the Emirates. In case you forgot (how could you), the Gunners are five points clear at the top of the table. They’re enjoying the best start in club history. They’re tied for the fewest goals against (with the best xGA) and have scored the second-most (third in xG). It’s no fluke. They’re a really good team that was playing great football before the World Cup break.
I thought about picking a player of the first half, but honestly, it’s an impossible task. Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhaes, and William Saliba have all been fantastic. That’s 9 out of 11 first choice players. Alex Zinchenko doesn’t make the list because he’s been hurt too frequently, but when he’s played, his on-ball abilities have been a key factor in Arsenal controlling matches. Aaron Ramsdale has been fine but hasn’t been asked to do that much because the defense in front of him has been so good.
A quick look back at how we got here:
- Crystal Palace 0 - Arsenal 2: a solid win to open the season in a slugfest of a match. Palace struggle away but are really good at Selhurst Park.
- Arsenal 4 - Leicester City 2: probably more open of a match than Mikel Arteta wants to play. The Gunners twice struck back within a few minutes of conceding.
- Bournemouth 0 - Arsenal 3: a match bossed pretty much from start to finish. Gabriel Jesus instrumental in creating Martin Ødegaard’s opening 11 minutes brace. William Saliba’s goal and performance spawned the SALIBA! song.
- Arsenal 2 - Fulham 1: a comeback win, which equaled the total number of comeback wins from last season. Played without Alex Zinchenko and Thomas Partey, and it showed. The attack wasn’t as good. Ødegaard instrumental. Gabriel Magalhaes made a mistake to concede a goal and made up for it by scoring one himself.
- Arsenal 2 - Aston Villa 1: this match was the clincher for me that Arsenal had “it” this season. Villa played an extremely physical match, including that Tyrone Mings bodyslam on Bukayo Saka that somehow wasn’t a penalty. They equalized in the 70th minute only to have the Gunners retake the lead three minutes later through Gabriel Martinelli to secure the points.
- Manchester United 3 - Arsenal 1: the Gunners’ only Premier League loss this season. Had an opening goal wrongly disallowed (the PL recently admitted the mistake). Got hit on the counter because they were pressing for goals. Kitchen sink match for Manchester United after a dreadful start to the season.
- Brentford 0 - Arsenal 3: a bit of payback for the opening match of last season. It was dominant from Arsenal, a complete win. The players had a bit of fun bantering back at Ivan Toney for his “kickabout with the lads” tweet last year. Granit Xhaka had a standout performance. Ethan Nwaneri’s (15 years, 181 days) cameo appearance made him the youngest player in Arsenal, Premier League, and English top flight history.
- Arsenal 3 - Tottenham 1: Thomas Partey scored a worldie to start. Spurs equalized on a penalty (shocker). Arsenal scored five minutes into a dominant second half and never looked back. Emerson Royal got a straight red for going studs up into Martinelli’s ankle, and that was that.
- Arsenal 3 - Liverpool 2: the Gunners finally got that Liverpool-kit-wearing monkey off their back — they hadn’t beaten the Reds in the Premier League in years. The scoreline flattered Jurgen Klopp’s team. They had two chances the entire match and converted them both. Arsenal repeatedly cut them to shreds and were deserving victors on the day.
- Leeds United 0 - Arsenal 1: one of the few (only?) games where Arsenal were not the better team and shouldn’t have won. Leeds’ energy was a problem for what looked to be a tired Gunners team. The match featured a 39 minute delay where the teams went back into the locker rooms because a power issue caused the referee communication, VAR, and goal line tech to go dead. Patrick Bamford put a penalty wide. Gabriel Magalhaes had a very late red card and penalty rescinded by VAR. It was a strange match.
- Southampton 1 - Arsenal 1: St. Mary’s Park feels like a bogey ground for the Gunners. The Saints were allowed to play extremely physically, and it absolutely helped keep them in the game. They probably should have had a man sent off, and Arsenal had several penalty shouts not given. Arsenal were fine, not great, and couldn’t find a winning goal.
- Arsenal 5 - Nottingham Forest 0: this match was exactly what the doctor ordered after a slight dip in form from the Gunners. Reiss Nelson, only on the pitch because Bukayo Saka was forced off with a knock, scored a brace.
- Chelsea 0 - Arsenal 1: a scoreline that flatters the Blues. The Gunners amassed about 2 xG and held the home side to less than .5 xG. Zinchenko returned to the lineup and made the attack look so much better. The defense was fantastic. It was a statement win at Stamford Bridge.
- Wolves 0 - Arsenal 2: Ødegaard’s second brace of the season sent the Gunners into the World Cup break on a high note. Arsenal looked a bit off, especially at the back, but Wolves didn’t (and don’t, generally) offer enough going forward to capitalize on that. Their structure, combined with Granit Xhaka being forced off after 15 minutes with a stomach problem, meant the Arsenal attack wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
Arsenal topped their Europa League group with five wins and one loss. The Gunners were as good as they needed to be and not much better in the midweek competition. The loss at PSV in the fifth match made for a bit of drama heading into the final match, but Arsenal took care of business. For the most part, Mikel Arteta did well to rotate the side and rest players as needed while not sacrificing too much quality.
A heavily rotated and mostly disinterested Arsenal side went out of the Carabao Cup to Brighton at the Emirates. The match wasn’t broadcast, so as far as I’m concerned, it never happened. It was Mikel Arteta’s side third loss of the season to go along with one in the PL and one in the EL.
Anything in particular you remember from any of the matches that I forgot to mention?