After making an otherwise stellar showing against Wolves a nervy affair, Arsenal take a Tuesday night trip to newly-promoted Luton Town looking to win their 4th Premier League match on the trot.
The history between the Gunners and the Hatters is surprisingly long, but largely ancient. They have faced off 48 times, and the majority of those matches occurred before the advent of the color television. The last time the two sides faced off was before the majority of the current Arsenal roster were even born, as Arsenal lost 1-0 at Luton on Boxing Day in 1991 when both teams were in the League Division One.
Fast forward nearly 32 years later, and the clubs are finally facing off in the same division once again, albeit in noticeably different circumstances. Arsenal are on top of the league, vying for their first title in over 20 years, while Luton are basking in what looks to be a short-lived visit to England’s top flight. Regardless, the Gunners have the usual task at hand, which is to beat the newcomers and keep their lead atop the Premier League table.
Here are five talking points ahead of Tuesday’s match.
Health & Injuries
Saturday’s victory over Wolves only produced one potential new injury issue when Takehiro Tomiyasu went down late in the 2nd half massaging his calf. The Japanese defender, a revelation this season, had fans holding their breath before walking off the pitch on his own. Post-match, Mikel Arteta, ever forthright with his reports, was quick to say that the sub was precautionary only. Forgive my cautious pessimism, but…we’ll see. Tomi’s history of calf injuries can’t be overlooked, and with the need for rotation only increasing as December rolls on, this is something to keep an eye on.
The rest of the injury list remains unchanged, as Fabio Vieira, Emile Smith Rowe, Thomas Partey, and Jurrien Timber remain out.
Know Your Enemy
Luton are in their first ever Premier League season, and boy does it show. If it weren’t for Everton’s 10 point deduction, the Hatters would be third from last with 9 points. Luckily for them, Sheffield United and Burnley have both had worse seasons, but just barely. The Hatters notched their first PL win in late November against a middling Crystal Palace before losing to Brentford 3-1 on Saturday. They are plucky and fun to watch, but their inexperience at the top flight has shown in their inability to close out matches despite a series of close 1-0 losses to sides like Tottenham and Manchester United. They rarely lose by more than a goal, and have only lost by more than one goal three times this season. They may be new to the PL, but they certainly don’t shy from the bright lights.
Speaking of goals, Arsenal finally look like they remembered that scoring goals is fun. They battered Lens 6-0 at home in the Champions League on Wednesday before looking equally as lethal against Wolves on the weekend, but with only two goals to their name. Therein lies the issue that Arteta will want to fix - being clinical when it counts. The Gunners scored enough to take all 3 points, but they could have easily had two or three more goals on Saturday. They fluffed their lines on a few 1v1 chances and looked like they lost their focus in the 2nd half. It was frustratingly reminiscent of some of their performances last season where the Gunners would race off to a 2-0 lead before letting other teams creep back into the match. The Gunners will need to address that if they want to stay on top by New Year’s Day, let alone season’s end.
It’s foolish to look ahead, but that really only applies to the players and managers. Arsenal head to 4th placed Aston Villa on the weekend, a match that could have major implications as the Gunners are ahead of 2nd placed Liverpool by 2 points and Manchester City by 3. Arteta will surely have that match at the back of his mind, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he rotated a few players on Tuesday ahead of the weekend. Considering Arsenal’s form and quality, it isn’t totally unreasonable for them to be expected to win this match without some starters. But they need to make sure that they put the match to bed convincingly to keep from any further late-game stress.
Return of the King
The lack of production from Martin Ødegaard in the early phase of the season was a point of concern. Arsenal’s captain’s influence on the attack took a marked step back, and so did the team’s goal output. Between the inconsistent midfield, more possession-based tactics, and the hip injury he had apparently been carrying, it all added up to a fairly mild first two months. But since the end of the last international break, he has been back to his silky, smooth best, seen in his goals against Lens and Wolves as well as his line-breaking through balls on the weekend. The return of swashbuckling Martin was a sight for sore eyes, and the simple fact remains that when he is at his best, the entire attack just looks better.
I rather like Luton Town. Between their cozy grounds that needed 11th hour upgrades to meet the PL standards and their rise from the depths of the English football divisions to the top flight, they are a likable bunch. It’s almost a shame that Arsenal will look to turn the screws on them on Tuesday. But, if you want to play in the big leagues, that’s the price of admission. Come on you Gunners!
WHAT: Arsenal at Luton Town
WHEN: Tuesday, December 5th, 3:15pm EST/12:15pm PST/8:15pm GMT
WHERE: Kenilworth Road, Luton
HOW TO WATCH: Streaming live on Peacock.
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