What a glorious weekend of Barclays Premier League football.
Newcastle lost, and their fans got into a verbal with Kieran Trippier. Peak Geordie.
Spurs were 1-0 up at 90 minutes, then exited the game on 97 minutes with ZERO points. WE GOT OUR SPURSY BAAACK!
Chelsea vs Manchester City was a 4-4 thriller of a game, closed out with a late Chelsea penalty scored by Cole Palmer.
So that leaves Arsenal 2 points off City heading into the final international break.
A pretty good run.
Arsenal also has the joint best defence in the league – and the best expected goals against. Not bad when you consider we changed out a keeper very early on in the season and some people were crying that Arteta was destroying the club.
What I like about stats like that is they point to a clear objective and a clear output. Arsenal were too loose towards the end of last season defensively, so we’ve added players into the mixer that have transformed us into the sort of team that can limit Erling Haaland to zero xG.
Declan Rice, for me, has been the best addition. He gives us height, power, speed, and that 6th sense for sniffing out danger. He’s the everywhere man. An elite specimen of top tier midfielder we’ve been begging for since Vieira left the building. He’s settled at lightspeed and he already looks like he could compete with Rodri for #6 of the season.
Our keeping situation is settled when it comes to personnel, though I’m not quite sure we’re where we need to be output-wise. That said, David Raya has come in, largely stabilized the position from jitters, and his command of distribution is delivering on the pitch. We have the joint best defensive record in the league and the fans are split on the keeper. That’s progress baby!
I also think we have to look at Kai Havertz and the steel he’s given to our midfield. Attacking-wise, it’s John Jensen-levels of pony, but his defensive output – the output we were concerned about most – seems to be top-level. I know we don’t like to talk about the foundational parts of midfielders – but work-rate, off-the-ball movement, and ‘GET STUCK IN’ has been really good. For all the people writing him off – it’s hard to avoid the fact we’re doing pretty damn well with him in the starting 11.
We also need to be clear about where some of those goals have come from: individual errors. Those are the easiest to fix if you have great players. The system is top, top, top level… when the players in it really do click, it’s scary to think how robust we could become defensively.
At the start of the season, Arteta made it very clear he was going to put a lot of effort into bringing new dimensions to the side, so they could benefit us later on. Fans hated the chopping and changing in the first three games, but then those chops were forced on him because we started collecting injuries. The result of this has been ‘it doesn’t feel quite right’ and that’s because it isn’t quite right. We’re building our library of tactics and stratagems – and we’re doing it while winning. The clunky performances you’re seeing now will hopefully feel a lot more natural when we need them for the run-in.
Just remember: We were all asking what was up with City last Christmas. What was up? They were laying their own foundations so they could bang in the back half of the season.
… and bang they did.
Arsenal has been far better than I imagined. I thought there’d be more pain, especially when the injuries started piling up. But now we’re getting into a space where Ben White misses a game and you don’t really notice (maybe we noticed last game, poor Tomi). The squad is really strong, we’re only two or three players away from it being absolute perfection. Not bad when you consider how hopeless Arsenal seemed post-Emery.
We’re about to enter Phase 4 of the season.
The Run To New Year.
This phase is 10 games.
The month is going to be wild.
Thank the lord we don’t have to play Liverpool twice (league cup)
The killer games are going to be Brentford away – because that’s the first game back after the break.
Then we have Aston Villa away – wedged between two away games. The saving grace there is that our midweek game is Luton. An easier game and a lovely drive back for most of the players who will be in bed nice and early. Don Unai has to host Manchester City, that will be unpleasant for them, so good news for us.
Our two games just before Christmas are Brighton, who don’t seem to be doing too well after everyone said De Zerbi was the new best manager in the world. Then we play Liverpool on the 23rd away from home. They are not our favorite away day and say it quietly, the Jurgen Klopp-engineered rebuild seems to be delivering some sexy stuff. The German ain’t done yet – so it should be a banger of a game.
We close out the month with West Ham and Fulham.
There are 24 Premier League points to play for – 21 points would be electric. 18+ has us in great shape moving into January. The thing to note is Christmas is where you see injuries really hurt teams – and legs start to test players. There are going to be dropped points during that phase. So don’t get panicked if we’re dropping them. It’ll happen to everyone.
Right, short one today. Get your eyeballs on our podcast right away.