Boxing Day always delivers

Coming away from Carrow Road with anything less than a convincing victory would have been disappointing, regardless of what kind of team Arteta put out. In the end, Arteta went full strength and with the Wolves game on the horizon at the time, I suspect the intention was to tear Norwich apart early and then keep them at arm’s length. In the end, we needn’t have worried but I’m glad Arsenal are getting some rest before City.

Getting an early lead was crucial for managing over-exertion and unsurprisingly, it came from the increasingly-dependable youth. Odegaard to Saka is a combination I hope I’ll never tire of seeing and both players are blossoming and enjoying their football. Although Saka is unlikely to face a worse full back than Brandon Williams this season, he still had some work to do in the first goal to find the gap. This match provided great insights as to why Saka is so difficult to defend against; with the ball never far from his feet, his subtle shift in weight and feints coupled with the defender’s knowledge that he’s happy on either foot means that Saka seems to be constantly toying with opposition, waiting for cues before he commits. As soon as there’s an opening, he takes it and more crucially, so often makes the right decision when he finds his space. I urge everyone to have a closer look at both of his goals to really appreciate the subtleties of his movement and control, because it’s what sets him apart from the rest.

Credit also has to go to his various enablers throughout the squad, with Odegaard constantly looking to feed the ball into him and Lacazette often combining well and providing a buffer to play off. Like Smith Rowe, statistical end product was the only piece of the puzzle still missing (even though the spark he often provides isn’t always captured by commonly-touted metrics) but those questions are quickly fading. So too can be said of Odegaard, who continues to grow into the role and I no longer have any fears that he has what it takes to be the long-term hub of Arsenal’s midfield.

It’s sometimes easy to overlook Arsenal’s progress behind that front line. I’m certainly guilty of this because I’m wired to look at the final third, especially when it was a worry for such a long time under Emery and Arteta. Now that things have settled on that front, I’m really appreciating the talent we’ve found elsewhere. Although Ben White has experience playing at right back, I was curious to see how he would perform after some time away and in many ways, he’s quite a close replacement for Tomiyasu. While he may not be as boisterous, he has a similar kind of presence and his technical security on the ball allowed for a different offensive outlet that utilised his passing range, more than making up for a reluctance to bound forward. Martinelli was unlucky to see his goal chalked off for offside, and that diagonal ball was on from White all afternoon.

He also has an edge about him, which I can’t not love and provided me with one of my favourite “non-football” moments of the season. After cleanly taking out ball and man in Brandon Williams, he stared him down for no other reason than to say “what are you gonna do about it”? Completely unnecessary because it was Placheta who had been mouthing off before, but in the context of the game, it was absolutely perfect. Yet again, Arsenal hadn’t been protected by the referee, with Norwich escaping bookings for two late tackles, one of which wasn’t even given as a foul. Xhaka was booked because he’s always booked but I appreciated his involvement in this instance. Norwich’s antics even riled up the purest boy in the footballing world, with the gentlest stamp you’ll ever see from Saka. I still think he was lucky to not be sent off, purely because there was clear intent, but I’m sure someone will have a quiet word with him because at the end of the day, he’s only being kicked because people can’t get near him. These sentiments were clearly universal and it’s about time Arsenal had a squad with some steel.

Norwich never looked like scoring and in Rob Holding and (hopefully), the impressive William Saliba, I think Arsenal finally have a group of defenders that can compete. I’m even wondering if Arsenal can get away with not signing another right back if they can sometimes lean on Ben White and one of Chambers or Maitland-Niles (but not both).

My only real concerns during the game was when and where the second was going to come from. I was acutely aware of the “risk” Arteta was taking in starting strong rather than resting players and only calling on them if he needed to and the longer the second evaded us, the more exposure Arsenal would have to injury and/or fatigue. That being said, I can live with waiting 30 minutes and seeing Kieran Tierney score is always an experience. He has less weight on his shoulders these days and after a slow return from injury, he’s finally looking himself again. Some of his final balls are still not quite there but in fairness to him, Arsenal missed an earlier second because no one was on the penalty spot (although I suspect if Smith Rowe had been on the pitch, he would have been precisely there). Still, he’s shown before he loves a diagonal across the goal and the timing couldn’t have been better.

From there, Arsenal resisted Norwich’s attempts to get a player sent off and maintained the same slick passing combinations and quality into the second half. I know I’ve already waxed lyrical about Saka already but the second goal is just a thing of beauty, one that Mo Salah would be proud to score. Toying, toying, toying… bang. If he can get that finish under wraps, he is going to be causing teams grief for a very long time because there’s nothing a goalkeeper can do about it.

At 3-0 down and already facing a sure-fire relegation for the umpteenth time, you probably don’t want to see a player like Smith Rowe come on. I’m glad he did, because he also has phenomenal ability that he’s able to flex even in cameos. The reverse, no-look pass to Lacazette for the penalty was effortless and it earned Lacazette a well-deserved goal (and fair play to him for stepping up again and putting it away). Those two are another pair that seem to have a real understanding and seeing these relationships light up all over the pitch is great to see because it’s so integral to progress. Naturally, Smith Rowe also found a way to score because he always scores. I’m hesitant to even look at his numbers now because I’m worried about who’s going to come knocking.

City next. Oh, goody.

Also, small point about Norwich, the yo-yo outfit – if Xhaka is showboating against you, you don’t deserve to ever come up again. I’m bored of seeing them win the Championship and then come back down after anchoring the table all season and their antics yesterday were embarrassing.

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