Updated:Apr 1, 2023 10:15 pm
World Cup & Mid-Season Friendlies
The 2022 World Cup saw Saka take his performances to the biggest stage in football and deliver once more, the winger scoring 3 in 4 games, and he was a regular thorn in France’s side in the Quarters, winning a penalty. It was not all positives however as Arsenal suffered the devastating blow of losing Gabriel Jesus to the treatment table, the Brazilian requiring knee surgery after representing his country against Cameroon.
The Arsenal players either not selected for international duty or who failed to qualify for the World Cup travelled to Dubai to play in the Dubai Super Cup. Arsenal beat Lyon 3-0 then got in some bonus penalty shoot-out practice to gain an extra point. It looked like they could use the practice as they beat Lyon 2-1 on spot kicks after five each. Arsenal then beat AC Milan 2-1 and won the cup with another shootout win, this time 4-3. The day before the World Cup final Arsenal played their final mid-season friendly, losing 2-0 at the Emirates to Juventus.
DecemberEmbed from Getty Images
Then on Boxing Day, just 8 days after Messi and Argentina had edged Mbappe and France on penalties after one of the most memorable World Cup finals ever, Arsenal returned to Premier League action. The big question was how they would cover for the loss of Gabriel Jesus, and *if* they could. Eddie Nketiah would be the man to take his place, he had yet to score in the Premier League this season but this would be his first start. And it would come against West Ham at the Emirates. Saka thought he’d given Arsenal the lead with a smart finish past Fabianski, but he had been offside in the build-up when the ball had just caught his heel on its way through to Nketiah. Arsenal were to be disappointed further, when a West Ham counter attack saw Bowen sprinting into the box, Saliba slid in and caught the West Ham man just enough to justify a penalty. Benrahma didn’t waste the opportunity and against the run of play the visitors led.
Arsenal had it all to do in the second half, and they got on with doing it by equalising in the 53rd minute, after either a poor Ødegaard shot (or else genius pass) found Saka with only the keeper to beat and the youngster slotted home with ease. 5 minutes later and Arsenal completed the turn-around, when Xhaka found Martinelli in the box. The Brazilian winger shifted the ball to provide the angle he wanted for the shot and beat Fabianski with everyone expecting a cross. Nketiah wrapped up the three points after lovely play from White and a pass into the forward by Ødegaard. Arsenal’s number 14 spun his defender who had got too tight, then lashed a fierce shot into the bottom corner for Arsenal’s December goal of the month. It had been six weeks since Arsenal had last played a competitive game, but seemingly little had changed, they were still too hot to handle for overmatched opposition, as Arsenal made it 7 home league wins from 7, this one in front of Arsene Wenger, attending his first match since leaving the club in 2018.
On New Years Eve, Arsenal travelled to Brighton with the extraordinary opportunity to go 7 points clear after City had surprisingly dropped points earlier that day at home to struggling Everton. Arsenal started like a team who meant business, Partey put a stop to a potential Brighton counter and then Zinchenko fed Martinelli, it was hard to say whether his was an attempted cross or shot, but all that matters is the ball eventually came through to Saka who took a quick touch to set himself, then with composure beyond his years he calmly passed it into the net. In the 39th minute Arsenal’s lead was doubled when a corner was cleared only as far as Ødegaard, whose strike travelled through many bodies and all the way into the net, his decision to hit the ball into the ground proving an excellent one.
The second half had barely got under way when Arsenal bagged their third, Martinelli’s shot being spilled by Sanchez, and Nketiah was on hand to profit. Brighton pulled one back through Mitoma, but Arsenal looked to have killed the game once more when one of the passes of the season by Ødegaard put Martinelli in behind the defence. Martinelli had the option of squaring for Saka, but he went and finished it himself. Brighton refused to give up however and cut the deficit down to two once more, when teenage striker Evan Ferguson profited from Saliba’s failure to deal with a long ball down the middle. With 2 minutes and added time still to play it appeared Brighton had cut the deficit yet further, when Mitoma’s deflected effort beat Ramsdale. Fortunately for The Gunners Mitoma came back from an offside position and the goal was ruled out. Arsenal saw out the 4-2 win, which in the end was perhaps more difficult and nervy than it should have been, but they had scored some fine goals with all 4 of their attackers getting on the scoresheet, and most importantly they had moved 7 points clear of City by winning a tricky away fixture. Across the start of November and the end of December Arsenal played 4 league games and won all 4, meaning Arteta was voted Premier League manager of the month for the combined period of November/December. Ødegaard had finished up strongly before the World Cup, and following the resumption of the Premier League, he’d started back up even stronger. 3 goals and 3 assists in 4 games saw him pick up the Premier League player of the month for November/December. Arsenal’s individual player of the month for December was Saka.
JanuaryEmbed from Getty Images
Arsenal began 2023 by hosting 3rd place Newcastle United, a team who had won 8 of their last 10 league games, and only lost once in the league all season, that in the 98th minute back in August away at Liverpool. Since losing that game they had conceded just 5 goals in their next 10 league games going into this fixture, so there was no doubting the stern test they would provide. Arsenal flew out of the traps but Newcastle somehow got out of the opening 10 minutes without falling a goal behind. After weathering the early storm, the game then became littered by fouls, breaking the flow of the game which seemed to suit the visitors much more. The referee Andrew Madley showed 3 yellow cards in 5 minutes as he quickly lost control of the game, it appeared too fast and frantic for him to deal with and it had quickly descended into chaos. By half-time Madley had shown 5 yellow cards, 3 going to the home side. The best chances were all coming from set-pieces, Gabriel coming closest for Arsenal with his header from an Ødegaard free-kick going just wide. Joelinton at the other end missed a big opportunity from a corner, left unmarked at the backpost he failed to hit the target, had he been able to it would have undoubtedly opened the scoring for his side.
In the 59th minute, Arsenal looked to score from a free-kick whipped in by Saka, when Gabriel appeared to be dragged down in the box. Replays show conclusively that his shirt was being pulled from behind by Dan Burn as the Arsenal centre-back attempted to get on the end of the free-kick, VAR reviewed the incident but did not intervene. Arsenal pinned Newcastle in their own half for near the entirety of the second half, but the visitors discipline, organisation and concentration was at such a high level that The Gunners were still only threatening from set-pieces. Martinelli was the latest to go close, with his flicked header going just the wrong side of the post.
Arsenal’s one good chance from open play in the second half fell to Eddie Nketiah after a clever flick from Xhaka, he made room for the shot before it was denied by the outstretched leg of Nick Pope in the Newcastle goal. In additional time, Arsenal had a second strong appeal for a penalty when Xhaka’s attempted cross was blocked by the arm of Jacob Murphy. His arm was away from his body but his back was turned on the ball, there was a case for a penalty as similar incidents had resulted in ones before, but it would have been harsh. Arteta who had been getting increasingly irate on the touchline in the second half was furious with the decision and became engaged in a bitter disagreement with his opposite number Eddie Howe on the touchline. Arsenal players were also livid with the decision and their appeals to the referee in the aftermath saw the club receive an FA charge for failing to control its players. There was of course no such charge for the referee for failing to control the game for the best part of 90 minutes.
In the end Newcastle became the first team to stop Arsenal scoring in the league and the first team to come away from The Emirates with a point. The night could have been a tribute act to Diego Simeone. When watching Newcastle, you could have been watching the Argentine’s Atletico Madrid side at their peak, in the way Newcastle used gamesmanship to run the clock down, but aswell defended for their lives. And on the touchline there was similarities in the way Arteta tried to kick every ball with his team, so passionate and hungry for the win you thought he may at one stage enter the field and try to break Newcastle down himself. Arteta’s passion on the touchline attracted a lot of attention in the media following this night and it grew into something of an obsession for them as for weeks afterwards Arteta’s touchline conduct would be the first thing mentioned to him before and after every game.
The following week and Arsenal were in FA Cup action, travelling away to 3rd tier Oxford United. The Gunners struggled in the first half, the clearest sight of goal coming when a Sambi Lokonga effort was clearly charged down in the box by the arm of an Oxford defender. VAR was not in use for the game, so 4 Arsenal players took their appeals directly to the referee and later received a second FA charge in as many weeks, this time for surrounding a match official. This charge resulted in a £40,000 fine which Arsenal appealed, no doubt because the penalty appeal was no different from the appeals you see multiple times in nearly every Premier League game. The independent Appeal board increased Arsenal’s fine to £60,000. Arsenal finally broke Oxford down in the 63rd minute, when a Vieira free kick found the head of Elneny who made no mistake. An expertly taken brace from Nketiah put Arsenal safely through to the next round, where they would have the unenviable task of travelling to Manchester City.
First though it was back to Premier League action with Arsenal making the short journey to local rivals Tottenham. The day before City had lost their derby away at United, so a chance had opened up for Arsenal to move 8 points clear at the top. However Arsenal had not won away at Spurs since 2014, which was also the last time they’d done the league double over them. Arsenal dominated the early goings, barely allowing Spurs a kick. When Spurs did have it, they seemed intent on contributing to their own downfall, as Lloris showed early nerves by making a mess of trying to play out, he eventually somewhat redeemed himself by saving Nketiah’s effort from the resulting chance. The Gunners opener came in the 14th minute when Saka went by Ryan Sessegnon (it was already looking like a long afternoon for the full-back tasked with trying to stop Arsenal’s number 7) and his deflected shot forced another Lloris mistake, as he fumbled the ball over the line for an own goal.
Arsenal were feeling supremely confident and they continued to batter Spurs, going inches away from a second when a viciously struck volley from Partey was denied only by the post, the midfielder coming so close to a goal that would have been even better than his one against them at the Emirates. Arsenal’s second did come though in the 36th minute when Martin Ødegaard, who was enjoying a stunningly good match, beat Lloris with a low drive into the bottom corner from well outside the box. Gary Neville on commentary remarked: “No more than Arsenal deserve. Spurs are playing like little boys out there and Arsenal look the real deal!”
Arsenal in the 1st half played with a real authority, a side with the confidence bordering on arrogance to go away to their local rivals knowing that if they played as well as they could, Spurs would not be able to live with them. The quality and control Arsenal played with had not been seen to that extent away at Spurs since the days of the Invincibles. Tottenham were notoriously slow starters and were rightfully renowned as a second half team. And in the second half they did pose some real threats to Arsenal’s cleansheet. Spurs halving the deficit would likely have changed the entire complexion, due to how the crowd would then rally behind them. Noone seemed more acutely aware of this than Aaron Ramsdale who turned out an inspired performance, undoubtedly his best to date in an Arsenal shirt. The pick of his catalogue of saves came from a Sessegnon effort. Baring down on goal, the full-back looked to beat Arsenal’s number 1 but his reflexes were too sharp as he got an inspired boot to the ball just in time.
It had been the perfect game for Arsenal, in the first half they showed their quality with the ball, Ødegaard and Saka in particular being simply too good for Spurs. And in the second half, they showed the other side to them, by living with the pressure Spurs put on them, and standing up to it rather than crumbling. It was also Zinchenko’s finest display so far in an Arsenal shirt, his teammates knew whenever they found him with the ball he would look after it and play the right pass, he was involved in practically all of Arsenal’s best passing moves of which there were numerous. It was little surprise when he went on to pick up Arsenal’s player of the month award for January. Things turned ugly at the end when a Tottenham fan came over and kicked Ramsdale in the back as he attempted to collect his belongings behind the goal, and the situation threatened to boil over yet further as both sets of players became entangled in a dispute, but this gave way to joyous scenes for Arsenal as they made their way down to the other end of the pitch where their supporters were gathered to celebrate a great win with their fans.Embed from Getty Images
With the January transfer window open there was no question who Arsenal’s top target was. 22-year old Ukrainian winger Mykhailo Mudryk of Shakhtar Donetsk had been linked to the club for many months, and through his open flirting on his social media accounts, it was clear the interest was mutual. However, Arsenal’s negotiations with Shakhtar were painstakingly long, as Arsenal were reluctant to meet the asking price and the Ukrainian club were unwilling to come down with their evaluation. In the end the deal was hijacked by Chelsea, with owner Todd Boehly agreeing on a deal of £62M upfront, with many potential add-ons. £20.5M of the fee was donated by Shakhtar to the Ukrainian military for their war effort, but none of this was now Arsenal’s concern, they’d missed out on their top target and needed to identify an alternative quickly. And they did, in the form of Brighton’s Leandro Trossard, bringing the Belgian to the club for an upfront fee of £21M. The 28-year old went straight into the squad for Arsenal’s next game, a massive home clash with Manchester United.
The visitors struck first when Partey conceded possession in midfield, this proved costly when Rashford moved away from him and into space after putting the ball through his legs, with time and space to shoot he let fly with an unsavable missile into the bottom corner. Arsenal trailed for just seven minutes, finding the equaliser when Xhaka’s floated cross was met by the head of Eddie Nketiah. Before that, Arteta had been booked on the touchline for complaining about a foul on Saka not receiving a yellow card. He was not protesting unusually, so it seems likely the referee had not been unaffected by the constant media noise surrounding Arteta’s behaviour on the side-lines in recent weeks. The hosts completed the comeback in the 53rd minute when Saka let fly with a special strike from distance. The power and placement was perfect and De Gea was left with no chance. Before the game Saka was informed that he had scored in his last 2 league meetings with United, and only 2 Arsenal players in the Premier League era had ever scored in 3 successive meetings with them. “Challenge accepted.” were his words before the game, and after it he was talking about a goal which he considered the best he’s ever scored. The effort was Arsenal’s goal of the month for January.Embed from Getty Images
.However Arsenal’s lead only lasted for 6 minutes, when Ramsdale and Tomiyasu contested the same ball from a corner and in the end got in each other’s way, neither making satisfactory contact and the ball came to Lisandro Martinez, who expertly scooped a header into the Arsenal net. Arsenal vs Manchester United had once been the glamour fixture that put the Premier League on the map worldwide, but in recent years the league had grown whilst at the same time its two former star pupils had shrunk into ugly imitations of their former selves, an embarrassing shadow of their past glories. However this 1st vs 3rd meeting was a high quality clash, a reminder of what Arsenal vs Manchester United used to be. It was finely balanced with Arsenal controlling most of the possession, but United posing a devastating threat on the counter, until Ten Hag blinked first and retreated. He withdrew Eriksen and put on the more defensive Fred, and from that moment it was signalled to everyone that United were happy to leave with a point. This gave Arsenal added impetus to attack United relentlessly and they did for the remainder of the contest. The Gunners winning moment came in the very last of the scheduled 90 minutes. Debutant Trossard fed Zinchenko whose cross was met by Ødegaard. His shot turned into a pass as it was turned home by the outstretched heel of Eddie Nketiah.
The Emirates descended into pandemonium, but it was obvious margins would be tight. Everyone held their breath as they waited to see if first Zinchenko was onside from Trossard’s pass and then if Nketiah was onside when finishing. By the thinnest of margins both players were narrowly onside, and the Emirates erupted for a second time on its confirmation. The win gave them 50 points after 19 games, a club record amount at the half-way stage of the season. Another tough test for Arsenal and they had passed it with flying colours, with 21-year old ‘Starboy’ Saka producing perhaps his best display of the season so far. As well as his goal, he hit the post with an effort from a similar position and ensured his England colleague Luke Shaw had a torrid afternoon at left-back. Back-to-back wins away at rivals Spurs and then at home to Manchester United secured Arteta his third manager of the month award of the season.
The FA Cup then gave Arsenal a break from the high drama of the Premier League, but the fixtures were not getting any easier as it was Manchester City stood in the way of The Gunners progression to the 5th round. A much changed Arsenal side (featuring a full debut for Trossard) competed well, but in the end lost 1-0. As the January transfer window neared its conclusion, Arsenal hunted for a new centre midfielder, which they desperately needed due to an injury to Elneny and the poor form of Sambi Lokonga who was loaned out to Crystal Palace later in the window. Top of their list was Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo, and the deal appeared to be close when the Ecuadorian issued a very public transfer request on his Instagram site. However, once more Arsenal could not agree to the asking price, with Brighton refusing to move from their estimation of the player. In the end Arsenal moved on and instead secured the services of 31-year old Italian midfielder Jorginho from Chelsea, for £12M. The transfer’s reception was lukewarm at best with fans hoping for the younger, more expensive option. But Arteta was a long-time admirer of Jorginho, and there was no doubting he brought plenty of winning experience to a young team. To try and secure their first league title for nearly 20 years, Arsenal had to settle for their Plan B option for both of their two main signings, but it was hoped the extra depth they provided would be enough.
Jorginho’s first game as an Arsenal player came away at Goodison Park, in what was also Sean Dyche’s first game in charge of relegation threatened Everton. For close to an hour, both sides were let down by abysmal finishing. Nketiah and Ødegaard wasted two good opportunities, whereas Saka was more unlucky having one cleared off the line. It was an even game however and Everton calved a few good openings of their own, with the finishing touch badly lacking. That was until the hour-mark when Tarkowski directed a header home from a corner. Desperately looking to cling on for a first win in 11, Everton defended doggedly and Arsenal did not have it in them to break down the home sides resistance, suffering their first league defeat since September.
The chance to bounce back came against Brentford at the Emirates, but the better first-half chances went the visitors way. Arsenal only got into half-time level as a result of poor finishing. The hosts punished them for this in the 66th minute when Saka found substitute Trossard across the six-yard box and he made no mistake for his first Arsenal goal. The lead was wiped out just 8 minutes later by Ivan Toney, though only after Norgaard had been offside in the build-up. VAR spent 3 minutes looking as to whether Pinnock was offside and in the end confirmed he wasn’t, though in doing so they failed to take the time to draw the lines on Norgaard, which would have shown if he was on or offside, he was offside and the goal would not have stood. However VAR operator Lee Mason ‘forgot’ to draw the lines on the player who ended up giving the assist for the goal. Days later Mason left his job at PGMOL ‘by mutual consent’. The PGMOL also apologised to Arsenal over the error, with Arteta responding that he would only be satisfied with receiving the 2 points back.
The 2 points Arsenal lost in this game meant that they knew going into their next match at home to Manchester City, that they would lose top spot if they were beaten by the Champions. In the week prior to the match, City had been rocked by 115 charges relating to financial breaches of Premier League rules, in the biggest financial scandal in the competition’s history. Arsenal would be without Partey for this vital top of the table clash, the key man in midfield not being fit enough to play, meaning Jorginho made his full debut for the club. The hosts appeared to have weathered a good start from City and forced the best chance so far when Nketiah put wide a free header. Arsenal were made to pay for this miss, when an underhit backpass from Tomiyasu found only De Bruyne and with one touch he hit the ball into an empty net. The Gunners responded well to the set-back though, and began to put City under pressure. A clipped ball in behind from Xhaka found Nketiah, his shot was cleared off the line but Ederson was penalised for making contact with the striker and a penalty kick was awarded. Saka kept his considerable cool and sent Ederson the wrong way to level things up.
Arsenal continued to work some good positions in the second half but were continually let down by failing to make the most of their openings, the last bit of quality was not there on this night for them. For City it was and they retook the lead in the 72nd minute through Grealish. 10 minutes later Haaland made the points safe for the visitors when De Bruyne found him in the box. City had just 34% possession against Arsenal, the lowest a Guardiola side has ever managed in a league game. However the number of players they kept in Arsenal’s half often succeeded in keeping Arsenal boxed in and having possession in areas that were not dangerous to City, and were in fact more dangerous to Arsenal, as they looked to pounce on any errors. And as Arsenal’s centre backs tired of having to keep playing perfect passes under pressure, whilst at the same time dealing with the beast that is Erling Haaland, those mistakes in the end were forced, such as when Gabriel cheaply conceded possession with a poor pass out that led City to score their second, as just 3 passes later they’d worked it over to Grealish with the time and space for a first time shot.
Arsenal had now picked up just 1 point from their last 3 matches and had seen their lead of 5 points disappear, they were now behind on goal difference though still with a game in hand. The Gunners next travelled to Villa Park to face ex-manager Unai Emery’s Aston Villa. Things went from bad to worse for Arsenal when they fell behind to an Ollie Watkins goal inside 5 minutes. Things were in danger of unravelling, the magnificent season they looked to be on course to have was on the verge of being thrown away if they could not turn the tide of momentum back in their favour. Arsenal responded in the 16th minute with Saka lashing in a deadly strike on the half-volley. However just past the half-hour mark they were behind again, Coutinho finishing off a clever move. Arsenal were up against it once more, they had one half to turn it around. Nketiah almost levelled it when he hit the bar with a header, but then just past the hour-mark Zinchenko did equalise with a well struck shot from outside the box which fizzed into the bottom corner. The Ukrainian bagged his first Premier League goal and it could scarcely have arrived at a more crucial stage of Arsenal’s season.
Nketiah came close for a second time when Ødegaard put him clean through on goal, he rounded the keeper expertly but could not keep his shot under the bar. The next chance came when Nketiah returned the favour by setting up a big chance for Ødegaard by squaring the ball and giving him what should have been a simple tap-in. Inexplicably for a player of the Norwegian’s calibre, he dragged his shot wide of the post with the goal gaping. These misses looked costly, and the clock ticked down towards Arsenal going 4 league matches without a win. It could have been worse for them however when Bailey ran clear of the Arsenal defence with a brilliant one-man counter-attack, his shot forced a stunning reaction save from Ramsdale, who was somehow able to tip the Villa man’s shot onto the crossbar and it was cleared away to safety.
Into the 3rd minute of stoppage time, Martinelli had the ball in the Villa penalty area, he opted to set the ball back to the edge of the box for Jorginho, making just his second start for Arsenal in place of the injured Partey. The former Chelsea man had not scored an open play Premier League goal for over 3 years, but his technique from the edge of the D was perfect, Martinez was stretching but never getting there, only the underside of the crossbar denied Jorginho one of the best first goals for Arsenal anyone has ever scored. However, Arsenal were not denied a goal, as the ball ricocheted off the bar onto the back of former Gunners keeper Emi Martinez’s head and into the net. The game was not won yet however as Villa forced one last corner. Martinez eager to redeem his own goal made his way up into the Arsenal penalty area, the ball was cleared by Saliba to Vieira who carried the ball to the half-way line then slipped in a perfectly weighted ball for Martinelli to run onto. The Brazilian could run the ball into the Villa box then pass it into the empty net to end his six-game goal drought in the Premier League. At half-time Arsenal stared down the barrel of another extremely damaging defeat, but in the end they rescued all 3 points with a second half performance full of character. And It was the unlikeliest of heroes, Jorginho, with the sweet strike responsible for Arsenal’s most vital win of the season so far. Adding to the victories importance, later that afternoon City dropped points away at Nottingham Forest, which put Arsenal 2 points clear at the top with a game in hand.Embed from Getty Images
Arsenal returned to the Midlands the following Saturday to take on Leicester. Trossard appeared to give the league leaders the lead with a sweet strike into the top corner, which goalkeeper Ward could only stand and admire. However, VAR asked referee Craig Pawson to review a potential foul in the build-up from White on goalkeeper Ward, and upon reviewing the monitor, the ref judged that the Arsenal defender held onto one of Ward’s arms as he attempted to jump for the ball. It appeared extremely soft, as Ward did not even appeal until after Trossard’s strike had beaten him. Moments later Saka had a strong appeal for a penalty, when Leicester defender Souttar slipped and appeared to drag Arsenal’s number 7 down with him. No penalty was the remarkable decision, given that a seemingly softer foul from White in the lead-up to Trossard’s disallowed goal had been judged a foul, yet this wasn’t. So somehow, Arsenal went into the break goalless. They got the perfect start to the second half however, scoring in the first minute when Trossard did brilliantly on the wing to find the run of Martinelli, who took a touch then rolled it beyond the goalkeeper for 1-0. Another Arsenal goal from Saka was later disallowed for offside but in the end The Gunners couldn’t find a second.
Luckily they didn’t need to, as they defended excellently all across the pitch, limiting Leicester to just 1 shot in 90 minutes, that one going wide of the target from distance. Arsenal for the majority of the second half managed the game very well and never looked in real danger of conceding. February had been Arsenal’s most challenging month of the season but they had finished it strongly, Zinchenko was voted the club’s player of the month for a second successive month.
MarchEmbed from Getty Images
Arsenal began March with their game in hand against Everton, which was originally scheduled for way back in September. The hosts went into the game having only won 1 of their last 4 home league games. The opening 39 minutes was difficult for Arsenal, they struggled to find areas to exploit against an Everton side there to frustrate them, beginning with timewasting and game management tactics almost immediately. As half-time neared, Arsenal had not threatened the goal once, until the 40th minute when they finally managed to work an opening. ZInchenko was able to thread a pass into the penalty area to an unmarked Saka. The young man didn’t waste this rare freedom, he took a touch which allowed him to turn and face the goal, his second touch worked space for the shot and with his third he let fly on his weaker right with a shot which was a perfect mix of power and deadly accuracy for 1-0 Arsenal. Saka’s first half work was not yet through however, right on the verge of half-time he picked the pocket of a sleeping Gueye and the ball was taken on by Martinelli who finished past the sprawling Pickford. The offside flag instantly shot up, but on VAR review, it was clear that Martinelli was just onside. In the space of six minutes, Saka and Martinelli had both scored their 10th league goals of the season.
Arsenal were in cruise control for much of the second half, helped by the introduction of Partey at half-time, who was fit again after injury and already looked back to his best. The game was finally put to bed in the 71st minute when a Trossard cut-back was finished by Ødegaard. Everton’s misery was compounded yet further with 10 minutes of normal time remaining, when this time Nketiah squared for Martinelli to get his brace at the near post. There was pressure on Arsenal going into this one, they knew they had to win their game in hand, and avenge their recent defeat at Goodison Park. It had required patience and clinical finishing to break Everton’s resistance, but once Arsenal took the lead they produced an immaculate performance to move 5 clear at the top.
Arsenal looked to secure a second home win in 4 days when they hosted Bournemouth later that week. However they got off to an impossibly bad start when they fell behind to the second fastest Premier League goal of all time, clocked at just 9.11 seconds. It was a ridiculously poor goal for Arsenal to concede, though replays did show that Bournemouth had 2 players clearly in the opposition half before the kick off. However this wasn’t spotted and Arsenal had to try and come back from a goal down. Ramsdale kept the damage to a minimum when he rescued Arsenal with a great save at the end of an impressive Bournemouth counter attack. By half time the hosts had registered 86% possession but still trailed on the scoreboard. Arsenal’s best chance of drawing level in the first half came from a couple of penalty appeals, the strongest being when a missed header from Mepham saw the ball clearly come off his arm though on review VAR did not intervene.
The mountain Arsenal had to climb in the second half got bigger when in the 57th minute, lapse marking allowed Senesi a free header from a corner and he doubled Bournemouth’s advantage. 5 minutes later Arsenal halved the deficit through Thomas Partey who was found from the head of substitute Smith-Rowe. On the 70th minute Arsenal got the equaliser, with the timely occurrence of White’s first goal for Arsenal. With Trossard substituted due to injury, and Nketiah also out of the squad with injury, Arteta’s attacking options were limited. However he maximised them by subbing a substitute, taking off Smith-Rowe and introducing Reiss Nelson, who like Smith-Rowe had been sidelined for much of the season with injury. The sub worked immediately as it was his cross that found White at the backpost, and his shot just about went over the line despite the efforts of Neto in goal. Arsenal pushed desperately for a winner, and had yet more strong appeals for a penalty turned down. A Saka cross was diverted against his own post and then out for a corner by the arm of Stephens, who appeared fortunate to get away with leaning his body into the ball to block its path, with his upper arm making the contact. In the end Arsenal totalled 5 penalty appeals, 4 relating to handball, all of varying but reasonable strength though in the end none were given.
Six minutes of added time was announced and in that sixth minute a dangerous cross-cum-shot by Zinchenko was cleared behind for Arsenal’s 17th corner. Ødegaard’s corner was headed out as far as Reiss-Nelson right on the edge of the box, he chested it, flicked it out of his feet then cut across it to perfection. No arm could get in the way of this one, not even the goalkeepers and Arsenal had won in the 97th minute. It was their 30th shot of the match and the best of them had certainly been saved until last. For a third time in the past 8 games, Arsenal had won with the winning goal scored in the 90th minute or later. This gave them their 20th league win of the season, in their 26th match, with 10 wins from 13 at home, and 10 wins from 13 away.Embed from Getty Images
Following this enormous win, Arsenal returned to European action with a trip to Sporting Lisbon for the 1st leg of their round of 16 tie, with Arteta making six changes from the side that beat Bournemouth. The score was opened though by a man who’d retained his place in the team, with Saliba rising to meet Vieira’s corner to give Arsenal the lead in the 22nd minute. The Gunners lead lasted only 12 minutes though, when confusion in the defence allowed Inacio to equalise from a set-piece. The goal did not cover Arsenal in glory, as they allowed the Sporting man a completely free header in front of goal, with neither goalkeeper Turner or debuting centre-back Jakub Kiwior (signed in January from Spezia) reacting at all.
The home side turned the game on its head in the 55th minute when despite having good numbers around the ball, Arsenal could not prevent Sporting from getting their shot away, and though the shot was initially saved it was Paulinho who got to the ball first, reacting before two Arsenal defenders for a straightforward tap-in. Martinelli almost replied near instantly with a brilliant run from well inside his own half. His pace took him past two Sporting bodies, then he managed to keep his balance past a third defender as he galloped on into Lisbon’s half. He evaded a desperate last man lunge, and then rounded the goalkeeper but his second touch was too heavy and it allowed a Sporting player to slide in and send it out for a corner before Martinelli could do the simple part of passing it into the open goal. Arsenal’s equaliser did come however in the 62nd minute, though it was significantly less beautiful than Martinelli’s solo effort would have been. Xhaka attempted to find Martinelli but instead the ball took a huge deflection off Morita and went straight into the net for an own goal. This came only a minute after Lisbon had spurned a golden chance to go 3-1 up after wasteful finishing from Paulinho, who should have bagged his second. 2-2 was how the score remained, leaving the tie in the balance ahead of the second leg meeting at The Emirates.
3 days later and Arsenal returned to Premier League action away at Fulham. With Nketiah and Trossard missing from recent games through injury and Jesus back in training but not to that point back in a matchday squad, there was concerns that Arsenal’s attacking numbers would be severely limited for this game. However Arsenal instead got the significant boost of Trossard being fit to start and Jesus being in their playing squad for the first time since November. Arsenal appeared to take the lead in the 18th minute when Xhaka played a forward pass which looked to find the run of Martinelli, who reached the ball as it arrived in the penalty area, Leno saved his shot only for it to rebound in off Robinson. However on VAR review, Martinelli was just marginally offside as Xhaka played the pass. Fulham remained level for just three minutes more, as this time there could be no complaints as Gabriel met Trossard’s corner to get Arsenal off and running.
5 minutes later and Arsenal’s lead doubled after a 23-pass move in which every outfield player touched the ball. As Arsenal passed it in their own third, Fulham sensed the chance to press them, but a ball out from Saliba to Xhaka saw Arsenal easily bypass them and now Arsenal attacked with 5 against Fulham’s back 4. Xhaka played it to Trossard, who got beyond his man and hung up a cross for Martinelli to meet and with virtually a free header he finished a perfect move off. Right on the verge of half-time Trossard picked out Ødegaard who was able to bring the ball down, then cut inside on his left foot and smash it into the bottom corner. This was Ødegaard’s 10th league goal of the campaign, meaning Arsenal now had 3 players on at least 10 goals, noone else in the league had yet registered two players on double figures. The goal gave Trossard a hattrick of assists, as he became the first player in Premier League history to get 3 assists in a single half away from home. Arsenal’s 3-0 halftime lead did not flatter them in the slightest, it had been a scintillating half of football.
Fulham had not been able to lay a glove on Arsenal in the first half, but they had more threat about them in the second half. They could not however find the goal to give them a glimmer of hope, being denied by both Ramsdale and the crossbar. Arsenal’s threat at the other end did not diminish either though, as confidence brimmed through every player, with every touch oozing self-assurance. On a number of occasions, Arsenal’s quick incisive passing was too much for Fulham, but unlike in the first half the finishing touch was not quite there. In the 78th minute, Jesus made his long awaited return to action and it was almost the stuff of fairy-tales, as he quickly got himself amongst the action first by flicking the ball with his heel around the corner to Vieira and then latching onto the Portuguese midfielder’s return ball to him. However Jesus could only shoot straight at Leno. It was as if the Brazilian had never been away, as he forced a chance through his own brilliance but failed to cap the move with a goal. It was a sight Arsenal fans had got used to seeing in the first part of the season and now it was back.
Even without the icing on the cake a Jesus goal would have provided, it was an excellent game for everyone connected with Arsenal not least manager Mikel Arteta, who secured his 100th win as club manager. There had been no fatigue from their Thursday evening activities, if anything it had made them even sharper and questions over Trossard and Jesus’ fitness had been passed with flying colours. Jesus had left Arsenal 5 points clear after 14 games, and as he re-entered the pitch 13 games later Arsenal were still 5 points clear. The January addition of Trossard had been key in helping to cover his absence, scoring 1 and assisting 5, and now for the first time both players would be available to Mikel Arteta. As Arsenal approached the final run-in that would define their season, the Europa League returned for the Round of 16 2nd leg at home to Sporting Lisbon. The fanbase was divided, with some feeling an early exit from Europe and an escape from the demanding Thursday-Sunday weekly schedule that comes with it would be beneficial, as the path would then be cleared for a straight run at winning the Premier League. Others felt that the prospect of winning an European Trophy was to good to turn down for a club which has had little recent success in lifting European honours.
Arteta appeared to stand in the second camp, evidenced by him starting 4 of his usual Premier League back 5, with only Ben White planned for a rest. There were rests for Partey, Ødegaard and Saka however, as Gabriel Jesus made his first start since the World Cup. White’s scheduled rest lasted just 9 minutes as he was forced into early action due to a concerning injury to Tomiyasu. 10 minutes later Arsenal scored the game’s opening goal, with a great pass from Jorginho putting Martinelli in behind the Sporting defence, his shot was saved but Xhaka was waiting to turn in the rebound for his first goal since October. A couple of minutes later and Arteta was forced into a second early defensive change, this time with Saliba departing. Despite trailing Sporting remained well in the contest, coming close on a couple of occasions in the first half as Arsenal too easily allowed them shooting positions. The Portuguese side got on top early in the second half, and the chance of an equaliser grew more likely. Though it seemed unlikely to come from an effort from just inside the Arsenal half. However the pace and technique from Pedro Goncalves was flawless and his effort sailed over the head of Ramsdale. The effort deserved a goal and that’s just what it got, a special goal to draw Sporting level again in the tie. Arteta responded swiftly sending on the big boys, Partey and Saka. Arsenal continued to teeter on the edge of elimination, relying on the face of Ramsdale to block a shot from Edwards as he advanced on goal.
One thing all Arsenal fans could agree on, whether they were in favour of progressing or going out, was that the one thing nobody wanted was Extra-Time. Of course that’s what they got. The best first-half chance went to Trossard who was denied by a combination of Adan and the post. Arteta’s final substitution was the introduction of Ødegaard in the 101st minute and from that point on, Arsenal did all the attacking with Sporting clinging on for penalties. Their desperation was evidenced by a very late tackle by Ugarte on Saka as he looked to launch an Arsenal counter. The Uruguayan had already been booked and was given his marching orders but with mere minutes remaining it didn’t mean much.
After 210 minutes, the teams were still locked together at 3-3 on aggregate, so it would mean the first ever Emirates Stadium penalty shootout. Sporting would go first and St. Juste gave Ramsdale no chance. Ødegaard responded for The Gunners, calmy sending Adan the wrong way. Esgaio re-established Sporting’s lead with a powerful kick, before Saka, involved in his first shootout since missing the decisive kick in the Euros final 2 years prior, levelled things up once more. Ramsdale then got so close to saving Inacio’s effort that some Arsenal fans celebrated prematurely, but his contact though a strong one, was not strong enough to keep it out. Trossard restored parity once more, before Ramsdale dived the right way for Arthur Gomes’ effort, but could not prevent it from going in. Martinelli became the first man to miss from the spot, his penalty a poor one, easily placed for Adan to save. Santos had the chance to make it 5 from 5 for Sporting and secure their path into the last 8. He took the chance and Sporting Lisbon had pulled off the upset, knocking Arsenal out of the Europa League.
With Manchester City competing in the FA Cup Quarter-Finals that weekend, Arsenal were presented with the opportunity to go into the final International Break of the season with an 8-point lead at the top. Stood in their way were Crystal Palace, a team who were without a win in 2023 and who had just parted ways with their manager, former Gunners captain Patrick Vieira. Palace had a good recent record at the Emirates, having not lost at the ground in the previous 4 seasons. They would be hoping for a European hangover for Arsenal, who in turn wanted to quickly move on from their mid-week exploits. They would have to do it without Saliba, his injury meaning for the first time in the Premier League, Arsenal would start without the Saliba-Gabriel centre-back pairing, Rob Holding coming in for his first start of the season. Palace came very close to taking the lead in the 12th minute, when Zaha did well to escape the attentions of White enough to make room for a shot which looked to find the near corner. He instead hit the near post, and the ball came off Ramsdale and went behind for a corner. It could have been a repeat of Arsenal’s goal against Villa, when the ball went in off the back of Martinez’s head, though luckily for Arsenal in this instance, the ball hit the back of Ramsdale’s legs which were facing away from his goal or else it most certainly would have been an own goal.
Arsenal probed without being able to find that real incision in the Palace box, until the 28th minute when White beat Zaha to the ball from a Palace clearance, and kept the visitors penned in. He found Saka who put the ball right across the box from right to left all the way out to Martinelli, who controlled it then with a second touch moved it onto his left foot to strike and the shot gave Palace’s 19-year old keeper no chance, the ball was past him and in the net in a flash. The goal brought up Saka’s 10th assist of the season, making him the first player in the Premier League to hit double figures for goals and assists. Now they had the lead, Arsenal really began to settle into the game, taking full charge of it and a second goal only looked a matter of time. It came with a couple of first half minutes remaining, the goal again starting on the right side of Arsenal’s attack, with White and Saka linking effectively once more. Saka retrieved the ball and played it to White who returned it to the winger who had found himself some space in the box. He didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger, picking his spot and coolly rolling the ball into the net for 2-0.Embed from Getty Images
It took just 10 second half minutes for Arsenal to get a 3rd, a sharp move between Zinchenko, Trossard and Xhaka was finished off by the latter for his second goal in a week. With his 6th goal of the season, Xhaka had doubled his tally from his last 3 seasons combined. There was a downside for Arsenal in the 63rd minute, when Schlupp pulled one back from a corner, another corner from which Arsenal had failed to clear the danger, it was becoming a recurring theme. It meant they had failed to keep a home cleansheet for the 6th time in their last 7 matches at the Emirates, a concerning occurrence that Arteta and the team would be desperate to put right in order to increase their tittle hopes. There was no problem for Arsenal at the other end though, which they demonstrated by getting their 4th of the game, as Saka bagged a brace with a superb first-time finish from substitute Tierney’s cutback. 4-1 was how the scoreline remained and Arsenal headed into the international break 8 points clear of City, who now had a game in hand. With 10 games to play upon the Premier League’s resumption in April, Arsenal were positioned brilliantly to give themselves a real shot of going all the way and bringing home their first league title for 19 years.
Arsenal went into the World Cup 5 points clear with 12 wins, 1 draw and just 1 defeat from their opening 14 games. Upon the resumption, they won 10, drew 2 and lost 2 of the following 14 games as we reached the second International Break of the season, this time with a 8 point gap, despite the fact key striker Jesus had not been able to start a single league game in that time, playing less than 40 minutes in the Premier League. Arsenal had responded to a blip in February by winning all their Premier League games in March, and taking their winning run in the league to 6 straight matches, the highest Arteta has managed as coach. This International Break gave everyone connected to Arsenal a chance to catch their breath and prepare for the final run-in which would decide the destination of the title, and aswell have the chance to reflect on a few months where Arsenal’s credentials had been severely tested, but they had weathered the storm and come through the other side all the stronger for it. This was thanks to many notable key performers, who we can take this time to assess.
Arsenal player ratings from Boxing Day- March International Break:
Ramsdale 8.5/10- The 24 year old keeper has been called upon more often in the second part of the season. He made several impressive saves away at Spurs to ensure Arsenal took 3 points home from there for the first time in 9 years. Also made several crucial stops in vital wins over United, Villa and Bournemouth.
White 8.5/10- A yellow card after struggling in the first half against Rashford when Arsenal hosted United led to his withdrawal at half-time. His form dipped slightly in February, which led to him starting on the bench against City. Quickly re-found top form however, scoring his first Arsenal goal at a vital time to equalise against Bournemouth.
Saliba 8.5/10- Took a while for him to re-gain his pre-World Cup form, as the lack of match practice during the World Cup appeared to give him some rust. As the weeks have past he’s got better and better again and is now at the same level as before the World Cup, when he was the league’s best performing centre-back. Picked up a back injury that saw him withdrawn against Sporting, Arsenal will be desperate to have him back on the pitch for the final run-in.
Gabriel 9/10- The Brazilian has responded from the disappointment of not being picked for the World Cup, by performing better than ever before for his club. Has been one of Arsenal’s most consistently excellent performers since the World Cup, and a player of vital importance given the way he at times fills two spaces at once, which allows Zinchenko to move infield as he loves to do.
Zinchenko 9/10- With Jesus injured, it’s been the other former Manchester City player in Arsenal’s side who has come to the fore for Arsenal, playing with a level of leadership and passion that you’d normally associate with a youth team product. As well as passion, the quality of Zinchenko has aswell been ever present, evidenced by him starting 2023 with back-to-back player of the month awards for his club.
Tomiyasu & Tierney 7/10- Tomiyasu has appeared in most Arsenal games since the World Cup, usually off the bench and usually proving a reliable understudy. Suffered a bitterly disappointing moment in a rare league start however when an underhit back pass gave De Bruyne and City a soft opening goal in the top of the table clash. Appeared to have put this behind him however, until yet another injury has left the Japanese right-back requiring surgery that will keep him out for the rest of the season, which is undoubtedly a blow. Due to the form and importance of Zinchenko, Tierney has not played much football and has had to be very patient. When he has got minutes though, he’s been his usual reliable self, and he will hope for more opportunities in Arsenal’s final run-in.
Partey 9/10- The Ghanaian midfielder was a massive loss to Arsenal when he was unavailable to face City. His availability in the season’s final months will be critical to Arsenal’s chances of the title as they just aren’t quite the same team without him. He’s been in excellent form, standing out as one of the Premier League’s best central midfielders this season, giving Arsenal the kind of strength aswell as silk they haven’t had in the middle since the days of Patrick Vieira.
Xhaka 8.5/10- Like Saliba, Xhaka has taken a while to get back to his pre-World Cup level. At times in matches vs Newcastle and City at the Emirates, he struggled in the final third to deliver with the same confidence he had in the first part of the season. He’s continued to work hard and be a vital part of this Arsenal team however, his professionalism and commitment to doing the dirty work allowing his teammates to shine. His scoring touch aswell seems to have now returned, with goals in back-to-back games just before the International break.
Jorginho 7.5/10- Jorginho was quickly thrown into the starting 11 due to injury to Partey. The experienced Italian rose to the challenge, with performances that have impressed the sceptics among the Arsenal fanbase, who doubted the move. His shot which resulted in Arsenal’s win at Villa Park was maybe Arsenal’s most important game of the season thus far, it stopped them going 4 without a win in the league and instead set them on a path of 6 straight league wins going into the break.
Ødegaard 9/10- The Norwegian maestro was fantastic before the World Cup but since the return of club football, it’s become a phenomenal season for him. Not only is he bringing goals, assists and exceptional quality on the ball, he is tenacious out of possession with a level of work rate which pays tribute to his huge desire and fitness levels.
Vieira 5/10- Improving cameos such as his one at Villa Park where he laid on a brilliant assist for Martinelli, saw Vieira earn a first Premier League start since September. However his progress has again come to a halt, as he continues to blow hot and cold in a difficult first season for the club. Though he can still maintain realistic hopes of coming good at the most vital stage of the season for Arsenal, which is still to come.
Saka 9.5/10- Saka was brilliant before the World Cup, he was brilliant at the World Cup, but he’s gone up another level again. Since the Premier League returned on Boxing Day he has only once gone longer than a single game without scoring or assisting, and never more than 2 games. This form has led him to become the first player in the league to notch double figures for goals and assists, which is an excellent achievement for the 21-year old. Knowing the young man’s talent and abilities however, he won’t be satisfied yet, he will be confident of boosting those numbers considerably in the final 10 games.
Martinelli 8.5/10- A six-game goal and assist drought for Martinelli came during a time when Arsenal won just 2 league games, which demonstrates the importance he has to the team. Arsenal need him at his best, but he struggled to form anything like an effective understanding with Nketiah. This led to Martinelli losing his place in the side, but he quickly won it back, after just 1 game in fact and he has since gone on to notch 6 goals in his last 6 league games, thanks to a much better partnership with Trossard.
Nketiah 7.5/10- The young English forward scored 4 in his first 5 league games as a starter, including a vital brace against Manchester United which of course featured *that* last minute winner. Afterwards though, the goals did dry up and he lost his place in the side due to his failure to link effectively with Martinelli and Xhaka on the left side of attack in particular. However, Nketiah came in at a crucial time and kept the team’s momentum going in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ injury and will hope to still have a role to play in the run-in.
Trossard 8/10- Trossard’s mark is only not higher because he’s only started 6 league games, having to leave the field after just 22 minutes in one of them due to injury. However watching Trossard it feels like he’s already started 60 for Arsenal, such is the way he clearly belongs in this team. He has 6 assists in the league since joining Arsenal, which is comfortably more than any other player in the Premier League in that time. He has just the 1 goal, but can consider himself very unlucky his beautiful strike away at Leicester was chalked off for a foul in the build-up. Playing at the level he currently is, he can be confident there will be plenty more opportunities for goals though in the final months.
Arteta 10/10- The final mention once again has to be for the manager. The resilience he has instilled in this young Arsenal team has been evidenced countless time in the past months. Backing up an away win at Spurs with a last minute home winner against United, keeping the belief in the group strong at a time when Arsenal saw their lead disappear as they dropped to 2nd for a few days. The last-minute winners against Aston Villa and Bournemouth in particular have showcased the incredible spirit in the Arsenal camp, and the real belief among the players that they can go all the way.