Updated:Mar 21, 2023 9:40 am
The 2022/23 season is Mikel Arteta’s 3rd full campaign in charge of Arsenal and as well the 3rd of his managerial career. His 1st game in the hot seat came on Boxing Day of 2019, a 1-1 draw at Bournemouth which saw Arsenal drop down a place to 12th in the table. Just a few months into his reign and Arteta was the first high-profile figure in English Football to be diagnosed with Covid-19, the virus which drew the Premier League to a standstill for 3 months and the wider world for a much longer time. It was to empty stadiums which Arsenal played out the remainder of their season which eventually concluded on the 1st of August. An 8th-placed finish was the club’s lowest since 1995. However, there was joy to be found as there so often has been for Arsenal, in the FA Cup. In the one and only Covid FA Cup Final played in front of no spectators Arsenal came from behind to defeat London rivals Chelsea for their record-extending 14th FA Cup, after reaching the final with an unlikely triumph over Manchester City in the semis.
Arteta’s first half-season had ended brilliantly and his first full-season started in the same vein with more silverware following as Arsenal defeated Premier League Champions Liverpool to win the Community Shield. Tough times quickly followed and Arteta may have been somewhat grateful for the empty stadiums, as it’s questionable whether the board would have held their nerve and kept faith with such a young manager through this dreadful period had the fans been inside the ground and able to voice their frustrations. On Boxing Day of 2020, not only did Mikel celebrate the 1 year anniversary of his first match in charge, he celebrated a 3-1 victory over Chelsea, his sides first league win for nearly 2 months. It was the first time Saka, Martinelli & Smith Rowe all started a league game together for Arsenal. It was to prove a seminal moment but at the time it wasn’t enough to move his team up from 15th in the table.
It was never so bad again for Arteta and his Arsenal team, with the side eventually settling for a repeat of the previous season’s finish, again coming in 8th. Failure to win the Europa League (exiting the competition to Villarreal in the Semi-Finals, who were incidentally managed by Unai Emery, the manager sacked prior to Arteta taking the job) meant that Arsenal would be without European football for the first time since the 95-96 campaign. And the 21-22 season would begin horribly with Arsenal bottom after 3 matches in which they failed to score and conceded 9 goals. However as the season progressed Arsenal began to find some resilience, quality and self-belief. The sides upheaval came not coincidentally around the time club captain Aubameyang was stripped of that duty before later being allowed to depart for Barcelona in the January window. Aubameyang had been the teams’ standout performer when winning the FA Cup, but since those performances had seen him rewarded with a new bumper contract which made him by far the club’s best-paid player, his attitude and performance level had become a problem that needed to be dealt with.
More so than any win, it was actually a home defeat to Champions City which perhaps best demonstrated this new Arsenal which was beginning to emerge. They took City on and pushed them all the way only to eventually lose in the 93rd minute, whilst being a man down for the final half-hour with centre-back Gabriel being harshly dismissed. The fight was on with local rivals Tottenham for the final Champions League spot and it was firmly in Arsenal’s hands until a run of 4 defeats in 5 allowed Spurs back into contention. The Gunners appeared to retake control with a run of 4 straight wins before losing tamely away at Spurs and then Newcastle, in the end missing out by 2 points. Throughout the season Arsenal had spells of real high-quality football, and the fans had taken to the project with more passion and belief than they had in the final years of Wenger’s reign or during Unai Emery’s short-lived stint. In the end though they missed out on the prize of Champions League football due to a combination of injuries to important players and the inexperience of a young group.
Despite the significant setback of missing out on a Champions League spot having held it in their hands for many of the season’s final months, Arsenal still entered the summer of 2022 with plenty of reasons for optimism. Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe had emerged as the real breakout stars of the prior season and Gabriel Martinelli wasn’t too far behind. There had been some clearly smart signings made by the club, in particular, those of Martin Ødegaard and Ben White, signed from Real Madrid and Brighton & Hove Albion respectively. The July purchases of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko for a combined 75M from Manchester City seemed yet more smart business, in them, they had picked up two quality players with four Premier League winners medals each, and both arriving aged 25 they seemed in the perfect age bracket to become big players for Arsenal not just for the immediate but as well the foreseeable future.
Jesus’ Arsenal debut came in a 5-3 friendly win over FC Nurnberg in which he scored twice. He followed this up with another in a 2-0 win over Everton as Arsenal continued their pre-season with a tour of the USA. Arsenal played 3 matches in America and won all 3, by far the most impressive being a 4-0 trouncing of Chelsea. The Gunners made it 5 pre-season wins from 5 when they returned home the following weekend to beat Sevilla 6-0 at the Emirates, a hattrick from Jesus meaning he had netted 7 goals in his first 5 appearances in Arsenal colours.
Pre-season had shown exceptional promise for the season ahead, but the real business of the Premier League would be the true tale of how good this Arsenal side was. In their opening fixture of the season, 3 players made their competitive debuts for the club: Jesus, Zinchenko and 21-year-old Centre-Back William Saliba who had joined the club back in 2019 for £27M, but and had spent the past three seasons on loan in his native France, gaining the experience of playing in three different Ligue 1 sides. This would be his 4th season in a row for a different team, his first in England and in the colours of the club that had signed him years prior. His arrival meant Ben White shifted into a new right-back position, which he had played before but not yet for Arsenal.
Arsenal would get the Premier League season underway away at Crystal Palace, under the Friday night lights of Selhurst Park. No Premier League side would have envied them this difficult fixture, Arsenal had experienced just how tough it was 4 months prior when a 3-0 loss away at the ground began a torrid run of results for the Gunners. Arsenal had also begun the previous season away on a Friday night and come unstuck against newly promoted Brentford. Again Arsenal was straight back under the Premier League spotlight to see whether they had grown and matured from such damaging defeats last season.
The Arsenal quickly proved they were up to the test, starting right on the front foot and keeping Palace penned back in their own third. Jesus immediately highlighted the new dimension he was going to bring to Arsenal’s attack, when his strength and then neat dribbling fashioned a great chance out of nothing, a chance Martinelli should have done much better with, his side-foot finish going the wrong side of the post with the goal gaping. The Brazilian would make up for it in the 20th minute when a corner was headed into the six-yard box by Zinchenko, who was picked out by Saka to deliver a free header. His head found Martinelli’s and from close range, he was able to notch Arsenal’s first of the league campaign. That was to be the only goal in the game for the next hour, but despite Arsenal’s slender lead they rarely looked in danger of being pegged back. On the instances that keeper Aaron Ramsdale was called into action, he was ready and dealt with Palace’s occasional threats soundly. The game was put beyond Crystal Palace in the 85th minute when Bukayo Saka’s dangerous ball across the six-yard box was headed into his own net by Guehi. This made certain of 3 richly deserved points for the Gunners.
Jamie Carragher for one was particularly impressed with the start Arsenal made to the game saying afterwards: “Arsenal played like a big team. When I say a big team, I’m talking about a Man City or Liverpool, a team who wherever they go, dominate the opposition. I felt like we were watching City or Liverpool in that first 20 minutes, half an hour.” Fellow Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville was more impressed with Arsenal in the second half saying: “The question mark about Arsenal will be whether they’ve got that robustness and resilience, physicality to get through that difficult 15 or 20 minute periods in away matches, and they got through that (tonight) and that impressed me.” Saliba was also singled out for praise with Carragher adding: “He looked the real deal. He adds something, we’ve always felt they were weak, at Brentford last season they got bullied and here last season, his physical stature will certainly help them in tough away games.”
Arsenal’s first home league game of the season was against Leicester City. The opening goal began with Jesus tormenting Johnny Evans tight to the touchline, after beating him he fed Martinelli who was able to get into the penalty area and find Xhaka, the Swiss international touched it first time back into Jesus who took a touch to steady himself then teased it over the head of Ward in the Leicester goal and into the net. It was an angle he had no right to try from, let alone score from but such was the Brazilian forwards confidence in front of the goal he fancied his chances from anywhere. The goal was nominated for Premier League goal of the month. Jesus got his second to double Arsenal’s advantage in the 35th minute, this time in a much simpler fashion. A corner across the six-yard box was not dealt with, a Leicester head on it only sped up its path to Jesus who was waiting to nod home from practically on the goal line.
Later in the first half, Leicester thought they had a way back into the game when referee Darren England pointed to the spot having judged Ramsdale to have brought down Jamie Vardy. However VAR advised him to check the monitor, and after re-watching the incident it was clear there was no contact made and the penalty decision was reversed. Leicester did still manage to half their deficit early in the second half though, a long ball was flicked on leaving Saliba in a difficult situation to deal with. Ramsdale was advancing but wouldn’t get there first and Vardy was waiting on the French defender’s shoulder, leaving him no alternative but to try and head the ball clear whilst facing his own goal. He only succeeded in diverting it into the net. This could have been a moment when the Arsenal crowd got nervous and frustrated. They had allowed a soft goal and their youngest defender was at fault. However the crowd immediately rallied behind Saliba and his teammates, he and the team needed help putting that mistake behind them and the crowd’s noise in the aftermath of conceding will have been reassuring to the players.
Demonstrating this, Arsenal went straight up the other end and scored, Ward made a meal of a cross, dropping it at the feet of Jesus who squared for Xhaka. The Swiss midfielder was being deployed in a new, more adventurous role where he was spending more time in the opposition box, he got his reward for this new tactic with a simple tap-in from right in front of the goal. Leicester would again reduce the home team’s lead to one however when Iheanacho found Maddison, who was able to shoot straight through Ramsdale. The young English keeper will have been disappointed at being so easily beaten from such an angle, his wide-open legs presenting the opportunity to the Leicester midfielder. Again Arsenal immediately responded to the setback by going up the other end and scoring again. This move began with Martinelli winning the ball back and feeding Ødegaard who moved the ball on to Jesus, who carried it forward before finding Martinelli who shot low from outside the box, he beat the outstretched Ward and hit the bottom corner, with the ball hitting the inside of the post on its way in. It had been a good day at the office for Arsenal and a great day for Gabriel Jesus, though despite scoring 2 and assisting the other 2 of Arsenal’s 4 goals, according to his manager Jesus left the field disappointed because: “he thinks he should have scored 4, that’s the sort of mentality you need. I wouldn’t like to play against him. He’s so mobile, intuitive, sharp and proactive in any moment or phase of the game.”
Arsenal next travelled to newly promoted Bournemouth. It took The Gunners just 5 minutes to take the lead and again it came from the phenomenal centre-forward play of Gabriel Jesus. A loose touch from White saw the ball launch high into the air, the Brazilian reacted first, beautifully controlling the ball whilst at the same time using his considerable body strength to hold off the Bournemouth midfielder, with exceptional balance he then dribbled around two other Bournemouth shirts until he was on the edge of the box facing their defence, with a lovely disguised pass he then fed Martinelli who was free to his left, his shot was saved but it fell straight at the feet of new captain Martin Ødegaard who was on hand to notch his first of the season. Rightfully though the praise went to Jesus with commentator Alan Smith saying: “You won’t see a better example of centre forward play than this.”
Ødegaard had to wait just 6 more minutes for his second of the season, a cross along the floor from White found Jesus who was free, his first touch wasn’t the best but it allowed it to set up nicely for the Norwegian to strike first time, which he duly did and the ball flashed into the net. Early in the second half and Arsenal had a third goal, with Xhaka setting it back to Saliba just inside the penalty area. Saliba struck it beautifully the first time, keeping his shot down under the bar and too perfectly placed for the keeper to do anything about. It was just Saliba’s second goal in senior football but he had finished it with the class and composure of a player who had scored 200. The strike drew Zinchenko to his knees, clutching his head in disbelief at the quality of the finish and unsurprisingly it was voted as Arsenal’s goal of the month. Jesus thought he’d netted Arsenal’s 4th but a VAR check ruled the goal out for offside, so the North Londoners had to settle for a 3-0 win in what had been an excellent away performance.
The Arsenal faced more newly promoted opposition the following week, this time back at home against Fulham for Arteta’s 100th Premier League game in charge. They would be without Zinchenko and Partey who had picked up injuries and were replaced by Tierney and Elneny respectively. The best chance of the first half went to Saka who got beyond his marker to face Leno one-against one, but he was unable to beat the keeper. It would be Fulham who took the lead however with Arsenal falling behind for the first time in the season. From the full-back position, Saka flighted a ball into Gabriel, who unnecessarily played himself into trouble. He never seemed to have the ball truly under his spell, and his second touch invited Mitrovic to try and take it off him, the defender then got his body positioning wrong, and failed to protect the ball allowing the forward to nick it from behind him and then the Serb was able to keep his composure and finish past Ramsdale.
Fulham’s lead lasted just 8 minutes, Martin Ødegaard lodging Arsenal’s response. There was a degree of good fortune about the goal, with a big deflection on the strike. But there was no doubt the Norwegian had deserved it, he was having an outstanding game with all of Arsenal’s danger coming through him. He was constantly creating, with inventive passes and dribbling runs. In this instance, a clever stepover had bought him the space for the shot. Ødegaard continued to lead Arsenal’s push for a winner with he, in particular, deserving to be on the winning side, and the winner did come though not until the 86th minute. Leno failed to deal with a corner, missing his attempted punch clearance and the ball fell at the feet of Gabriel who was able to gain the perfect redemption for his earlier error by securing all 3 points for his side. The goal kept Arsenal at the top of the Premier League as they remained the only team with a 100% record.Embed from Getty Images
Arsenal finished August with another home game, facing Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa. This presented Arsenal with a chance to win their opening 5 league games for the first time since 2004. Saka passed up a golden opportunity to give Arsenal the ideal start when Martinelli’s cross found him completely free at the back post, it was set up perfectly for Saka to hit on the volley, which he did but he got too under the ball and lifted it horribly high and wide from inside the six-yard box. An Arsenal opening goal felt inevitable however and it came on the half-hour mark when Emi Martinez could only push out an Xhaka shot as far as Gabriel Jesus, who was on hand to punish him. Martinez did go someway to redeeming himself later in the half with an excellent stop to deny a brilliant half-volley from Martinelli from 25 yards out.
Arsenal dominated the first half and continued their domination in the second but could not increase their advantage, it was instead Aston Villa who got the second goal of the game, in a somewhat controversial fashion. A corner from Douglas Luiz went straight into the net with Ramsdale unable to reach the ball due to his path being completely blocked by Kamara, who also limited the keepers’ movement by having both arms wrapped around his back. The goal stood but Arsenal cancelled it out in their own way, by going straight up the Villa end and retaking the lead. Saka coolly picked out Martinelli who struck it the first time on the half volley, Martinez clawed desperately at the ball but could not prevent it from going over his goal line and The Gunners were able to see the victory out. Arsenal’s player of the month was unsurprisingly Gabriel Jesus with 3 goals and 3 assists in 5 games. Arsenal’s maximum points after 5 games saw Mikel Arteta pick up Premier League manager of the month.
Arsenal started September with a chance to go 4 points clear of City in 2nd, after just six games. Standing in their way was Manchester United who would be hosting the Gunners at Old Trafford, a ground Arsenal had only won at once in the league since 2006, that one as well being without fans during the Covid season. Arsenal was boosted by the return of Zinchenko but had to start with their 3rd choice midfielder Sambi Lokonga for the Partey role after Elneny had followed the Ghanaian onto the treatment table. Regardless of the blow, Arsenal appeared to have made the ideal start when Saka threaded the needle and put Martinelli clean through on goal. The Brazilian finished brilliantly to give Arsenal the lead, but VAR advised the referee to have a look at a potential foul in the build-up. On review, the referee judged Ødegaard to have won the ball from Eriksen unfairly and chalked the goal off. The intervention made by Lee Mason on VAR was later judged by a Premier League review to be an incorrect one, the minimal contact not penalised in real-time by the ref was judged not to be a clear or obvious error. The review came too little and too late as far as Arsenal were concerned as they’d lost their lead and instead found themselves trailing at half-time after a good move from United culminated in a debut goal for Antony who finished past Ramsdale.
VAR’s intervention in the Arsenal goal was always likely to prove a vital one as remarkably United had not lost at Old Trafford when leading at half-time since 1984. This showed the size of Arsenal’s task going into the second half, but they continued to probe and ask questions of United and they got their equaliser on the hour mark when the ball broke to Saka in the penalty area after Ødegaard had looked to thread one through to Jesus. United dealt with that immediate threat but could only clear as far as Saka who slotted through the legs of Martinez for his first of the season. Arsenal looked to be in the ascendancy, but they were only level for 6 minutes. Overcommitting bodies forward left them without a midfield and after winning it back United was able to counter-attack with Bruno Fernandes who looked and found Rashford in behind the defence and he put United back in front. Arteta reacted immediately by looking to chase the game, giving a debut to summer recruit Fabio Vieira. The changes appeared to backfire however as Arsenal were left with even fewer defensive bodies on the field and in the 75th minute they were cut through once more, with Eriksen and Rashford both left in acres of space as United hit Arsenal once more on the counter-attack. It was a horrible goal for Arsenal to concede, it reminded of the worst years of Wenger with everyone so committed to attacking they had no thought for defending. Arsenal suffered their first defeat of the season going down 3-1.
There were some positives to take in how confidently and capably they had passed the ball around, however, United had defended their penalty area very well and counter-attacked effectively. The frustration for Arsenal was how they had helped them in that regard, by leaving key areas of the midfield devoid of players. Partey had been very badly missed, and to a lesser extent so had Elneny whose defensive intelligence would not have seen him vacate his position as often as Lokonga did. The third goal conceded was perhaps the responsibility of Arteta who had gone all out attack mode too early, given the counter-attacking success United were already enjoying.
Arsenal got the chance to put the defeat behind them 4 days later when they began their Europa League campaign. They were placed in Group A alongside PSV Eindhoven, Bodo/Glimt and FC Zurich, and would kick off against the latter away in Switzerland. Summer signings Matt Turner and Marquinhos made their competitive debuts, and Vieira would make his full debut. Arsenal did some counterattacking of their own in the 16th minute when Vieira found Nketiah who travelled down the wing before playing a great ball across the box which found Marquinhos who expertly finished the first time into the top corner. The hosts equalised on the verge of half-time however when Nketiah was judged to have committed an offence in his own penalty box. The death of the Queen being announced during the first half led to the unusual circumstance of a minute’s silence taking place before the second half. When it did kick off, Arsenal regained the lead in the 62nd minute through Nketiah who was found with a delightful ball by Marquinhos who had made a fine debut. That’s how the score remained. Arsenal would not be in Premier League action that weekend, with their home game against Everton being postponed due to the Queen’s passing. Also delayed was their home game against PSV the following week, so the team were not back in action until 10 days after the Zurich game when they travelled to Brentford.
Arsenal dominated the games opening and took a deserved lead in the 17th minute when Saliba’s header from a corner struck the inside of the post on its way over the line. Just shy of the half-hour mark and Arsenal had their second, again with a header, this time it was Gabriel Jesus who rose to meet Xhaka’s perfectly placed ball. The Gunners then got the ideal start to the second half, when Vieira, making his first start in the Premier League in place of the unavailable Ødegaard, struck a beauty out of nowhere from well outside the box for Arsenal’s September goal of the month. Arsenal was in cruise control, always looking like the more likely team to score whilst barely giving Brentford sight of their goal. In the final minutes, Ethan Nwaneri came on for his Arsenal debut, aged 15 years and 181 days he became the youngest player to ever appear in the Premier League. After the match, Brentford Manager Thomas Frank was one of the first to tip Arsenal for a title challenge saying: “I think they will do brilliantly. I think they compete for the title now.” Xhaka was the resounding winner of Arsenal player of the month picking up 83% of the votes. A once deeply unpopular player, his turnaround best exemplified the strides in the right direction Arsenal were taking.
OctoberEmbed from Getty Images
After the international break, Arsenal returned to action in the North London Derby against hated rivals Tottenham. Arsenal went into the fixture just one point above their opponents. Spurs were content to let Arsenal have possession whilst aiming to contain them and spring counterattacks. They kept Arsenal at bay until the 20th minute when Thomas Partey shot from over 20 yards out and hit it so perfectly that Lloris couldn’t get so much as a fingertip to it, the ball flew past him into the net for Arsenal’s goal of the month. Spurs responded in the 31st minute however after a good counterattack between the front three of Kane, Son and Richarlison saw the latter presented with a chance to cross from inside the penalty area and Arsenal did not effectively deal with the situation, a loose touch from Xhaka put his side back in trouble and Gabriel was panicked into conceding a penalty. Kane stepped up and of course, scored for the 7th time from the spot against Arsenal. This sent the sides in at the break-level pegging.
Arsenal regained the upper hand early in the second half after a shot by Saka was spilt by Lloris to his centre-half Romero who, under pressure from Jesus, looked to return it to the French keeper. Lloris missed the ball, it travelled under his body and then Jesus reacted first to poach it home. Spurs hopes of drawing level for a second time were damaged when Emerson Royal was shown a straight red card in the 62nd minute for a stupid and unnecessarily bad tackle on Martinelli. Arsenal quickly punished this ill discipline getting their third 5 minutes afterwards, with Granit Xhaka rifling past Lloris. At this stage Conte retreated to avoid a hammering, he accepted defeat and took off his offensive players, bringing on defenders to ensure the score line didn’t get embarrassing and Arsenal saw out a comfortable 3-1 derby win. Arsenal next returned to Europa League action putting Bodo/Glimt to the sword with a 3-0 win, goals coming from Nketiah, Holding and Vieira, the latter after brilliant footwork in the box from substitute Jesus.
Next up for Arsenal was another tough test at home against Liverpool. With a win, Arsenal would return to the top of the Premier League. Arsenal had faced Liverpool 4 times the previous season, failing to win any, losing 3 times including twice at home. They had also failed to even score against Liverpool in their last 6 meetings with them, but they needed just 58 seconds on this day, with Saka finding Ødegaard, whose ball between Van Dijk and Alexander Arnold put in Martinelli who finished beyond Alisson. Liverpool recovered well from the nightmare start however and was the better team from that point until they got their deserved equaliser in the 34th minute through Darwin Nunez. It was Arsenal however who went into half-time with the lead when Martinelli led a brilliant counter-attack from a Liverpool set piece, finally taking out both Arnold and Henderson by cutting inside and finding an unmarked Saka who slid in to put his team back in the ascendancy.
Again Liverpool responded well, equalising for a second time early in the second half through Roberto Firmino. From that point on though Arsenal found another level, they searched feverishly for a winning goal, looking to pass Liverpool to death and calving many openings. The noise inside the Emirates had reached deafening decibels as the fans urged their team on. The golden chance came with just under 15 minutes to go when Thiago was judged to have caught the back of Jesus’s foot inside the penalty area, having been beaten to the ball by the striker. Saka stepped up and held his nerve, confidently dispatching an excellent spot kick. Arsenal held out for what was in the end a deserved win after an excellent second-half display. In a decision that had raised a few eyebrows, Tomiyasu had been drafted in for a first league start of the season to go into an unfamiliar left-back position, the move paid dividends as the Japanese international had a fine game up against Mo Salah. The result put Arsenal 14 clear of Liverpool who had endured a dreadful start to the season.Embed from Getty Images
“These are broad shoulders, this is courage. A sporting moment in time. Bukayo Saka.. Such poise! such noise!” – Peter Drury as Saka beats Alisson Becker from the penalty spot.
Four days later Arsenal made it 3 wins from 3 in the Europa, with an away win in Norway on the artificial pitch of Bodo/Glimt. A sole goal from Bukayo Saka was enough after he got on the end of a one-two with Lokonga. His initial shot was blocked by a defender but the ball then deflected in after coming back off the Arsenal winger. Bodo calved out many good chances for themselves but was let down by woeful finishing, squandering chance after chance by blazing high and wide of the target. Arsenal then returned to Premier League action at Elland Road against Leeds, though 40 minutes behind schedule after a power outage just after the game had initially kicked off caused the game to need restarting once power had returned.
Again Saka was the only man to get himself on the scoresheet, his goal coming after Jesus had passed up a golden chance to open the scoring failing to hit the net from close range after Ødegaard had found him with a backheeled flick. Jesus attempted to lift the ball over the keeper, but he lifted it too high and it ended up over the crossbar. Arsenal did not let Leeds off a second time however and punished them after a sloppy cross-field pass from Leeds midfielder Rodrigo only found Saka who headed it into Ødegaard’s path. Ødegaard’s return pass then asked a lot of the winger, but his speed allowed him to reach the ball first. Saka was faced with a tight angle, but it didn’t phase him one bit and he picked out the top corner hitting it high into the roof of the Leeds net.
The second half was full of drama, first when Bamford thought he’d equalised but was instead penalised for a foul on Gabriel. The Leeds striker received a second chance though when Saliba was found guilty of a handball in the box after the referee had checked the monitor. Ramsdale guessed correctly in his dive, but in the end, he wasn’t required as Bamford’s penalty went wide of the post. Arsenal continued to suffer in the second half, struggling to cope with the Leeds onslaught and maintain their slender advantage. Through fatigue and pressure from the home side, Arsenal had lost all ability to pass the ball and could do little else but stay in their own half and try to defend. Ramsdale proved his worth to this Arsenal side with his best performance of the season to date, right when his team needed him most. It appeared as though Arsenal had got the job done when crazily they conceded a second penalty of the half in additional time. Patrick Bamford was nowhere near the ball which was safely back with Ramsdale when Gabriel was penalised for a kick out in the box on the Leeds forward. As well as a penalty, the Brazilian centre-back was also dismissed. However on a VAR review, it was clear that Bamford had fouled Gabriel first, barging him to the floor, so rightfully the decision was reversed and Gabriel’s red card was rescinded. Arsenal held on to a win they’d scarcely deserved and it proved an even bigger win later that day when City lost at Anfield meaning The Gunners stayed 4 points clear after 10 games.
The following Thursday Arsenal were back in action in the Europa League. They were originally scheduled to host Manchester City in the league that mid-week, but the Queens’ death led to the postponement of Arsenal’s fixture with PSV, and it was re-arranged to this game week. Arsenal battered their Dutch visitors, in the end mustering 25 shots to Eindhoven’s 4. As was often the case Saka and Jesus were the standout performers. The young English winger was unstoppable in his direct dribbling runs, unstoppable that is without resorting to fouling, which PSV defenders did time and time again after being skinned by Saka’s great ball control when running at speed. Jesus was similarly dangerous, doing his usual thing of fashioning chances out of nowhere with his quick thinking and somehow even quicker feet. In the end, though the deadlock was broken by Xhaka in the 70th minute when Tomiyasu found him in space 15 yards from the goal. He hit the shot down into the ground and it bobbled just at the right time to go under the keeper and past him.
Next Arsenal travelled to struggling Southampton looking to make it 9 straight wins across the Premier League and Europa. They started fast, and when Xhaka finished off White’s cross with a brilliant volley into the back of the net in the 11th minute, it looked like it would be a case of how many, as it wasn’t the first good chance Arsenal had created. For the first 20 minutes, Southampton couldn’t get out of their own half, Ødegaard cleverly found Jesus with a lifted return pass but his volley was straight at Bazunu in the Saints goal. Jesus was in again after a long ball flighted over the head of Caleta-Car putting the Brazilian clean through until the defender dragged him back using both arms. There seemed to be enough contact for 3 separate penalties in there, but unbelievably the referee Robert Jones didn’t point to the spot and nor did VAR intervene. One of the most inexplicable decisions of the season, and that’s saying something, meant that Arsenal went in at the break only a single goal to the good.
The Southampton defence must have felt encouraged from not being penalised inside the box, as the fouling continued on Jesus outside the box for much of the second half, Lyanco getting away with man-handling Arsenal’s striker time and time again, wrapping both arms around his body whenever the ball was anywhere near the Brazilian. Jones did not however ignore perceived ‘diving’ from Saka showing him a yellow card for simulation, even though there did appear to be some contact. A one-sided refereeing performance and poor finishing from Arsenal allowed the home team back into the game and they got the equalising goal with 25 minutes to go through Armstrong after a swift move cut through Arsenal’s defence. In the 78th minute, Ødegaard thought he’d put Arsenal back in front but Tierney had just carried the ball beyond the line before he was able to cut it back into his captain’s path.
The Gunners had to settle for a point and an end to their winning run, paying the price for not scoring more in the first half. As they began to tire in the second half Southampton calved out some good chances of their own, but there’s no doubt the visitors were also harmed by a dire refereeing performance. The dropped points cut Arsenal’s lead at the top down to two. Another away game followed for The North London side as next they travelled to Eindhoven. With 2 group games remaining, they needed just 1 more win to secure the top spot which would mean they progressed straight through to the final 16, without the need for a playoff game. However Arsenal’s performance was poor, PSV were the better team for 90 minutes and good value for their 2-0 win.
After a blistering start to the season, Arsenal had now managed just 4 goals in their previous 5 games, they needed to find their shooting boots again and quickly. They had the opportunity to do that at home to Nottingham Forest, but it didn’t look likely when Bukayo Saka was forced to leave the field, having been unable to shake off an early knock he picked up from the usual defensive treatment he received. Though even in the brief time he was on the field, Saka did notch an assist finding the head of Martinelli to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead. For the rest of the first half though, Arsenal struggled to re-find the killer instinct that had deserted them recently. In the second half, it returned, with Saka’s replacement Reiss-Nelson, on for his first league minutes of the season getting his first goal of the campaign, which will have done much-needed wonders for his confidence. 3 minutes later and Nelson had his second with Arsenal really flourishing now, the volleyed finish coming from a Jesus cross after a neat link-up between him and Ødegaard. 5 minutes later and Partey added yet more gloss to the scoreline, giving Nelson an easy assist, as this goal was all about the Ghanaian midfielder’s excellent strike, of a similar calibre to his one against Tottenham. Jesus got his second assist of the day when Ødegaard made it 5, twinkle-toeing his way into the box before letting fly into the top corner. This concluded Arsenal’s busy month of October which saw them in action nine times. Xhaka’s 3 goals in October took his total for the season up to 4, and he picked up the Arsenal player of the month for a second consecutive month.
NovemberEmbed from Getty Images
Arsenal began November by bringing to a close their Europa League group campaign against FC Zurich, knowing a win would secure them top spot. Zurich was merely playing for pride, their chances of progressing were already over. Tierney gave Arsenal the lead in the 17th minute with a fine strike from outside the box, expert technique from the left-back giving the keeper no chance. Arsenal’s old problems returned however with their failure to kill the game, by passing up good chances in both halves. In the end, they had to sweat somewhat for their win, holding on whilst Zurich pushed desperately for a famous equaliser. Arsenal held firm though and with 5 wins from 6 games, they had secured their path through and knew they now wouldn’t have to worry about the Europa League again until March.
Next up for Arsenal was a trip to Stamford Bridge to face Graham Potter’s Chelsea, whose woes were just beginning, having lost 4-1 at his former club Brighton the previous week. Arsenal made all of the first-half chances, dominating possession. The best chance came with a move that began in Arsenal’s own penalty area, with sharp one-touch passing they were in Chelsea’s half in seconds, with the ball reaching Martinelli down the left flank, he cut inside and was inches away from finding the unmarked head of Gabriel Jesus. Had Jesus been able to connect, it would have gone down as surely the finest team goal of the season.
The second half continued in the same vein, with Arsenal’s press suffocating the Chelsea players, forcing them to give up possession time and time again. The visitors continued to push for an opening goal, and it eventually came just past the hour-mark when Saka’s corner beat everyone and looked to be on its way straight in until Gabriel made sure by hitting it into the roof of the net from on the goalline. Arsenal managed 14 shots to Chelsea’s 5 and should have won by more, but as 1-0 wins go away at Stamford Bridge, it could not have been much more comfortable or straightforward. On the rare occasions, Chelsea reached the final third, they had no idea how to progress the ball in order to create a dangerous situation and Arsenal was content to see the game out for an excellent away victory.Embed from Getty Images
Arsenal’s time in the Carabao Cup was short-lived, ending just as it began at home to Brighton in the 3rd round. Nketiah gave Arsenal the lead, but it lasted just 7 minutes when former Gunner Danny Welbeck equalised from the spot. 2 unanswered second-half goals from Mitoma and Lamptey ensured Arsenal’s exit, but there was a feeling from many that the club had bigger targets this season than the League Cup. Due to the first-ever winter World Cup, the Premier League would be halted for six weeks after Arsenal’s 14th league game of the season, which would be away at Wolves. Earlier that day City had slipped up at home to Brentford, this presented Arsenal with a great opportunity to go into the World Cup 5 points clear at the top. The best chance of the first half went to Jesus after he’d done brilliantly to make room for a shot in the box. However his luck in front of goal had deserted him, this being his 11th appearance without a goal, his last one coming against Spurs. As usual, though, he was one of Arsenal’s best performers in the first half, with Saka and Martinelli more subdued than usual. Perhaps understandably, they seemed to be somewhat preoccupied with thoughts of the World Cup, and with it now so close they didn’t seem keen to risk injury with their usual dribbling runs.
So in the second half Arsenal needed someone to step up, and that man was Martin Ødegaard. With Norway having failed to qualify for the World Cup, Arsenal was his one and only focus, and he delivered a captain’s performance. The opening goal came when a clever pass from Jesus found Vieira who had replaced the unwell Xhaka, he squared it across the six-yard box having drawn the goalkeeper out, and Ødegaard beat Saka to the tap-in. The Norwegian made sure of the win with a quarter of an hour to go when good play from Martinelli allowed him to backheel a pass through to Zinchenko who was unmarked in the box, his cross was cleared as far as Martinelli who forced a save from Sa, but he could do nothing about Ødegaard’s follow-up, his touch and shot leaving the keeper with no chance.
There had been reluctance from some, Arsenal fans or otherwise to accept the team as a true title contender. This was a club that after all had not even qualified for the Champions League in 5 years. As well they had the youngest manager and youngest team in the league. However, more and more doubters were turning into believers as Arsenal backed up a win over Spurs by beating Liverpool, and went away to Chelsea and won. Now due to the World Cup being played mid-season, Arsenal would sit 5 points clear of the rest on Christmas Day, and at this point, their title credentials could no longer be denied. They had won 12 of a possible 14, and when the chance to go into World Cup 5 clearly came up, they held their nerve and got the job done away from home. The World Cup gave me the chance to reflect on the season Arsenal had thus far and it had undoubtedly been an outstanding one, with all reasonable expectations surpassed. This mid-point gave time to assess Arsenal’s key individual performers in the Premier League and there had been many stand-outs in that regard.
Arsenal player ratings up to the 2022 World Cup Break:
Ramsdale 8/10- His reliability and quality with the ball at his feet is essential to the way Arsenal play, and there are few better in the country when playing out from the back than the young English keeper. His standout performance came against Leeds, with his back against the wall, he refused to concede a goal.
White 9/10- After a good first season at centre-back, White went up another gear in this right-back slot, showing excellent quality with the ball at his feet, and the defensive side of his game was never found wanting either. Arsenal’s November player of the month.
Saliba 9/10- It was thought the young centre-half was special before he’d even kicked a Premier League ball, but he somehow managed to exceed expectations in his first 14 league games in Arsenal colours. The club’s best defender in the first part of the season.
Gabriel 8/10- He began the season with a few sloppy mistakes, but quickly got up to the level of his teammates. A goal at Chelsea and a big performance at Wolves ensured Arsenal went into the break sitting pretty at the top.
Zinchenko 7/10- Sadly the Ukrainian was injured for half of Arsenal’s league games, but when available Zinchenko demonstrated some of his quality, with the promise of more to come.
Tomiyasu & Tierney 7/10- As reliable as you could wish your full-back deputies to be, injuries meant they were often called upon, especially the Japanese International, and he was always up to the task be it in his more accustomed right-back position, or when deputising at left-back.
Partey 9/10- Injuries in previous seasons had prevented Partey from ever really hitting his top level, his performances in the first part of this season showed the midfielders considerable class this campaign however. 2 outstanding goals vs Forest and most memorably Spurs were the icing on the cake.
Xhaka 9/10- Fairly or unfairly Xhaka seemed to typify much of what was wrong with Arsenal between 2016 and 2021, too often he appeared an average midfielder in an average side. Here he was reborn, in a new role which gave him more of an attacking license, he was contributing goals, and assists and Arsenal fans were seeing the leadership qualities of a man loving his football.
Ødegaard 9/10- After making his loan move permanent in the previous summer, the captain has continued to prove himself one of Arsenal’s best signings in recent times. Possessing the quality of Ozil without the flakiness, Ødegaard has rightfully become a real fan favourite.
Vieira 5/10- The 22-year-old arrived from FC Porto for £30M. Scored a beauty on his first league start, but often struggled with the pace and physicality of the league and brief substitute appearances have not given him much time to adapt. Finished with some grounds for optimism after coming on in the first half away at Wolves for the unwell Xhaka and performing reasonably well.
Saka 9/10- The darling of the Arsenal faithful, Saka has received rough treatment from opposition full-backs and little protection from match officials, but he is too brave, determined and talented to let this stop him from scoring, assisting and tormenting almost at will. He seems to be improving on an almost monthly basis which is scary.
Martinelli 9/10- Quickly formed a devastating partnership with fellow Brazilian Gabriel Jesus. His directness, pace, hunger and finishing qualities made him just as difficult to stop as Saka in the opening part of the season.
Jesus 9/10- He’s a striker who went 11 games without a goal, yet his contributions to the team are so vital he remained un-droppable. That is the uniqueness of Jesus, for the goals may have dried up, but his quality never did. Match after match, he was relentless in his refusal to give opposing defences a minute of peace. His technical ability has been the key ingredient in lifting Arsenal up to another level. Along with Saliba, Arsenal’s best player of the first part of the season.
Arteta 10/10- The managers’ contribution cannot go unmentioned. He has demanded high standards and set the conditions which have enabled them to be realised. This has led a club that has been outside the Champions League for five years to set a pace that not even Guardiola’s City could match. He has been the catalyst in making a divided and despondent fanbase the most passionately engaged in the league, uniting everyone behind his players and staff.