If the London Stadium is where Arsenal’s title hopes died last season, then this time around it is where they were reborn.
The Gunners had done superbly to get themselves back into the Premier League title race with a win over Liverpool last week. Had they slipped up against a side they hadn’t beaten in three matches, though, it would all have been for nothing.
They knew this and addressed it emphatically.
The funny thing is, though, this wasn’t even a vintage Arsenal performance. They were still missing several key players with Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchekno, Emile Smith Rowe, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Thomas Partey all ruled out in the build up. They also still looked like a team who could do with a 25-goal-a-season striker, particularly as Leandro Trossard and Martin Odegaard passed up early opportunities.
Two things were different, though. The first, and perhaps most obvious, was that they were able to get their noses in front. Set-pieces have been crucial for Arsenal all season and as William Saliba headed home Declan Rice’s corner on the half hour mark, the Gunners were finally able to achieve the all-important game state that Mikel Arteta has been craving in his press conferences.
More important even than that though, was the energy and hunger with which they were able to follow the opener up. Prior to their winter break Arsenal had looked a team both physically and mentally exhausted by a December schedule in which they had played eight matches in 29 days. Since the warm weather training camp in Dubai, the Gunners have looked vitalised enough to put teams to the sword in a way that simply wasn’t possible prior.
Few players symbolise this shift more than Bukayo Saka. Castigated for his profligacy in front of goalRead on football.london