Heading into tonight’s match against Liverpool, spirits are high amongst the Arsenal faithful. Eleven games into the season, the Gunners are surprising many critics as they sit 5th in the Premier League table. It wasn’t so long ago they were losing 2-0 to newly promoted Brentford and 5-0 to Manchester City. Here are 5 takeaways from the first quarter of the season as we head into a difficult match at Anfield.
1. Time to address those first 3 losses
They were awful. 0 goals for Arsenal, 9 for their opponents. 8 games later and they’ve barely managed to make up that -9 goal differential from the first 3 games. Here’s an interesting stat: more than half of Arsenal’s starting lineups from each of those games are not currently in the team’s starting eleven.
Against Brentford – Leno, Mari, Chambers, Xhaka (who doesn’t get into our starting 11 now), Pepe, Martinelli, and Balogun started. 7 out of 11 players that would not be starting now had to start due to injuries and other issues. This was not Arsenal’s first team.
Against Chelsea – Leno, Mari, Holding, Soares, Xhaka, Pepe, and Martinelli started. Again, 7 of 11 players that do not make Arsenal’s starting team currently.
Against City – Leno, Kolasinac “Tank” (I love the guy, but he has no business playing a central defender in the Premier League), Holding “Bobby Sacramento” old nickname but I still love it, Chambers, Soares, and I could put Odegaard here for the present, started this game. That’s 6 players, more than half the team, who aren’t currently starters….against City at the Etihad Stadium. Xhaka gets a red card (shocking), and Arsenal get absolutely annihilated, with a back four or Tierney “Tesco” love the guy and he played bravely, Kolasinac, Holding, and Chambers….playing a man down for 55 minutes.
Arsenal’s first 3 games were horrendous, but anybody who’s paying close attention can see that it was half an Arsenal side at best. I understand that commentators have a job to do – namely commentate, but how does none of the above get brought up when addressing their awful start to the season?
2. When one of Arsenal’s players has an off day, the rest of the team seems to absorb it and step up
Case in point – Aubameyang against Watford. It was a bad day for the light-hearted striker. He missed a penalty and helped Odegaard’s ball into the net from an offside position, which may have been going in. Gabriel stepped up with a big header that was barely saved by Foster, and then Emile Smith Rowe “Croydon De Bruyne” scored the winner. When a team’s captain has on off day and the rest of the team rallies for the win, that is a good sign.
3. The importance of Tomiyasu cannot be understated
Since Tomiyasu came into Arsenal’s first team, Arsenal have won 8, tied 2, and lost 0; keeping 7 clean sheets in the process. He was voted Player of the Month for September. Tomiyasu is a 6′ 2″ right back that has the speed to catch wingers on the flanks, even after they’ve gotten behind him. He is excellent in the air and it’s only a matter of time before he gets on the scoresheet. His teammates, coach, and fans love him; he has acclimated to the dressing room seamlessly.
Following Tomiyasu’s insertion at right back, Arsenal have 20 points in the last 8 Premier League games. That’s more points than any other team in the Premier League during that spell. The same 8 games that Tomiyasu has been playing. Coincidence? Nope, there’s more to it…..
4. The Gabriel and White partnership at center back
Gabriel, who was recently rewarded with his first senior Brazil call up, has been an absolute brute at center back since he has come into Arsenal’s starting eleven. In the 8 matches he’s started, Arsenal are undefeated with 6 wins and 2 ties. Gabriel has helped them get 5 clean sheets over that span. He scored a crucial early goal in the win against Leicester City and has looked threatening in the air on corner kicks all season. Arsenal have scored 13 goals and conceded 4 with Gabriel in the squad.
White’s center back partnership with Gabriel is off to a promising start. The two have not lost a game since their center back partnership was conceived on September 11th against Norwich. Ben White and Gabriel’s alliance at center back has been incredible thus far, and at 24 and 23 years of age respectively, the two look to have a very bright future if they are able to stay healthy. They both have height, strong positioning, and incredible distribution skills. It would not be bold to expect this center back pairing to be one of the best in the Premier League in years to come.
In short, Gabriel and White, along with Tomiyasu on the right, have created a stout back line. Considering Arsenal have two excellent options in Tierney and Tavares on the left, this back line has the potential to be one of the best in Europe if the young players are able to grow and develop as a cohesive unit.
5. Two other players that are absolutely glowing
Arsenal’s player of the month in October was Aaron Ramsdale. He looks like a man possessed, sacrificing his face and body to stop any and all shots that are blasted towards his goal. His first start in the Premier League was against Norwich. Coincidentally, this was also Tomiyasu’s first game at right back and the first game Gabriel and White were paired at center back. Since these changes, Arsenal has not lost. Some games (Leicester City) it feels like a mason laid bricks in front of the Arsenal goal. Ramsdale has been incredible; the Gunners are better with him in the starting eleven, plain and simple.
Arsenal’s new number 10, Emile Smith Rowe, has transformed them from a team that looks for the easy horizontal/back pass to a side that pushes forward, runs into space, and takes on defenders. Alexis Sanchez was the last Arsenal player who had the guts to consistently take defenders on to the point where he was given loads of respect and space. Lately, Saka has been doing this well on the right wing, and ESR has now given Arsenal this dynamic on the left and in the center of the pitch. When he gets the ball, he runs into the space in front of him and drives forward. He doesn’t pass until he is pressured, which is pleasant to watch as a fan. Combine that with his newfound nose for goal and he is quickly becoming one of Arsenal’s most important players on the pitch.
You can also read how even the often pessimistic former Gunner Paul Merson is sort of positive about Arsenal’s chances vs Liverpool.
Arsenal are on an incredible run of form, undefeated in 10 games. With Ramsdale in goal, a solid back four, and players like Saka and ESR who show no fear running at defenders, the Gunners have a legitimate shot at challenging for the top 6. Perhaps even the top 4 if they are able to stay healthy and grow as a unit.
Guest post by Dustin Gallegos