You’d have thought by now that the mighty Topspurs would know better than to tempt fate so early into a new season but they just can’t help themselves.
Fortunately, they never do learn and a mere 3 games later, Arsenal have edged ahead in the table and figuratively leapt ahead of their rivals. Spurs looked beleaguered from the first whistle to the last and that isn’t intended to downplay Arsenal’s performance in the slightest. It reminded me of Arsenal’s final games under Emery when the players downed tools and looked entirely unconvinced of what they were being asked to do. Nuno is only 6 games into the job and while he was far from their first choice coach, the real issues lie in their ramshackle squad and a certain wantaway superstar (although “white dwarf” would have been a better descriptor for his performance yesterday). While I may not have always seen the light with Arteta, his players’ commitment has never openly faltered and now that he finally has his team, the players are doing his bidding with a real sense of unity.
After the game, Aubameyang spoke of “having a chat among the players” after the loss to City and as it coincided with the international break, something now feels different. For the first time in a long time under Arteta, I feel like I’m understanding what his intentions are and the slender victories against Norwich and Burnley were slender not because the games were close but through a lack of finesse when it mattered. The ball is moving quicker now and the right players continued to pop up in the right places. I’m sure the fixture and venue helped but that first half performance was simply a continuation of the last few weeks of football.
It should be difficult to pick out individuals in a performance where no one was less than an 8 out of 10 but there are somehow still front-runners in the race for plaudits. Saka looked nothing like the player that had been on the fringes of our opening games and came away with a goal and an assist. Smith Rowe continued his impressive start to the season with the end product that has often escaped him and I love everything about his game. Gabriel picked up where he left off in man-handling Harry Kane. Tomiyasu is still yet to be dribbled past in the Premier League and had more ball recoveries (8) than any other player, as well as the most touches and the only joy Son found all afternoon was made possible by leaving his shadow. Aubameyang worked tirelessly, did two things he supposedly can’t do in linking up play and winning first balls, scored in front of the The King with his own celebration and made sure his money was where his mouth was with that statement trim. Ramsdale with a Seaman-dubbed “worldie”, utterly livid at failing to keep out Son’s rocket from close range, instrumental in beating the press and marshaling the back line (as well as the ball boys). Ødegaard, the metronomic workhouse that continues to bring shape and drive and Partey looking back to his best.
The only omissions are White, Tierney and Xhaka and each of them still played their part, and that’s exactly what you want going forward. That’s not to say that there’s no room for mistakes and this performance was the exception rather than the norm for the time being, but doing the basics and winning games is a great foundation to make those mistakes less costly when they come around again. Given the age of this squad, it’s an inevitability and the crucial aspect is having the patience to weather the storm.
When Arteta’s vision was most difficult to understand, it was in there being no tangible or obvious benefit to the negatives. It’s why I would use words like “delusional” and “stubborn”, because he looked out of ideas and unwilling to change. He seems to have undergone some personal growth where he has actually taken a step back and reevaluated his options. For what it’s worth, he also seems to be enjoying the little things if his celebrations were anything to go – you can’t not love that. Speaking of putting your money where your mouth is, to his credit, Arteta is another who has done just that. I don’t think anyone expected Tomiyasu to walk off the plane and into the team but he’s done precisely that and plugged a leak that many other right backs and inverted left backs had managed to do. When upwards of £30m for a “back-up goalkeeper” was thrown around for some double relegation reject, most, including myself questioned the logic when there were other supposedly more important areas to address. Who’s laughing now? It was one thing to sign him in the first place but for him to usurp Bernd Leno so quickly is unprecedented. For now, being bolder has been paying off for Arteta and now that he can apply his structure to a committed and at long last – balanced squad – he can continue to nourish their potential.
Strangely, I’m not going to labour the points of the match too much because they speak for themselves. The goals were all sublime and fell to the three players most in need of some confidence in front of goal. They were all well-taken, distinctly Arsenal and sufficiently devastating for the local tourists.
Seeing their crestfallen, slobbering talisman halve his transfer value in one afternoon was a thing of beauty and watching him stand on the ball like some sort of bedraggled tribute act to their badge paved the way for Saka’s goal. In case anyone needed a By The Numbers…
Some may point to some contentious decisions going Arsenal’s way and to that I will say.. “I didn’t see it”. In all seriousness, the most they could complain about is Xhaka perhaps fouling in the build-up to the second but if VAR wants to wave play on, so be it. The “penalty” claim on Kane is classic “3 goals down Harry” behavior and there was nothing in it, nor would it get a second look if it was anywhere else on the pitch. After the number of times both he and Son have taken a flop in this fixture, it was about time they got their comeuppance anyway. If you leave yourself clutching at straws after such a performance, I suspect it’s because you have nothing else to cling to.
After they were blown away in the first half, it was no surprise to see some proper game management come into play and for all of the possession Spurs were afforded, little came from it. They might have squandered some opportunities but besides Son’s goal, nothing felt clear-cut and the result was never in danger.
Going forward feels like uncharted waters. With momentum underfoot, and the first win against a team Arsenal appear to be in direct competition with, they now go to Brighton who finally seemed to have escaped their xG disparity. It’s another huge step in the right direction but to improve on last season’s finish, Arsenal need to find a way to dig in and grind out winning streaks throughout the season – not just when their backs are against the wall. As we’ve seen, a few wins on the bounce can make the world of difference but there’s a long way to go yet and we’d be fools to fall victim to the same mistake as the chickenheads.