What an unbelievable season Arsenal are having. I mean really, it’s unbelievable isn’t it? They’re five points clear of Manchester City with a game in hand having won 16 of their 19 games. They’ve got 15 more points than at the same stage last season.
And pretty much to a man, they’ve been brilliant. Which made picking five players they need to upgrade impossible, so we picked four. But also made choosing five players to build around tricky as they have way more than five.
So we’ve selected our top five, ignoring Aaron Ramsdale, Thomas Partey, Gabriel Martinelli, Gabriel Magalhaes and more who could have so easily made the cut.
We needn’t have worried about Eddie Nketiah. When Gabriel Jesus got injured rival fans breathed a sigh of relief. ‘OK, this is the point at which Arsenal’s season crumbles,’ they thought. But not a bit of it.
The Englishman has played every minute of Arsenal’s six games since, in a run which has seen them win all but one – the 0-0 draw with Newcastle – and includes the scalps of Tottenham and Manchester United, with Nketiah scoring six of their 15 goals.
And yet, when Jesus is fit again Nketiah will likely be watching from the sidelines. The Brazilian was Arsenal’s best player before he got injured according to the WhoScored ratings, which put Nketiah down in 13th. The fact that they’ve maintained their form without their best player is extraordinary, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be even better when he returns. A harrowing thought for the rest of us.
He’s both absolutely efficient and capable of wizardry. His ‘flip flap’ pass for Granit Xhaka against Manchester United illustrated this perfectly. It was a sublime bit of skill only a few footballers could pull off, but what puts Odegaard ahead even of that select group is the knowledge that it was the only option available to him in that scenario.
We know that because everything he does is methodical. Odegaard will pick passes or take shots based on the probability of Arsenal scoring a goal. It’s as though he’s drawing chalk lines on a blackboard in his head, constantly calculating, thinking four passes and a phase of play ahead of everyone else.
Talking of brilliantly efficient footballers, here’s another one. It wasn’t long ago that Kieran Tierney was among Arsenal’s most important players. There was pressure on the Scotsman to be the key creator in the team as those ahead of him failed to take up that mantle.
But now, with Martinelli on the left wing, there is less of a need to beat players and swing crosses into the box and more of a need to pick through balls and passes between the lines. Zinchenko is more adept than Tierney at keeping the ball and using it wisely, and in a system in which danger can come from anywhere across the front line, his ability to drift into midfield and change the angle of attack is hugely beneficial.
If you don’t love Bukayo Saka then there’s something wrong with you. The only thing more joyous than seeing him play football with a smile and score wonderful goals is the knowledge that people like him can survive and thrive in football.
And what a talent. At 21 he’s played in two major tournaments for England, has already had the setback of a big penalty miss which has if anything pushed him to become an even better player, and is routinely scaring the sh*t out of the best defenders in the Premier League.
The Frenchman’s more recent games have been mediocre, but only compared to his brilliance at the start of the campaign; it’s not been mediocrity by most standards.
His centre-back partner Gabriel Magalhaes has arguably been more consistent, but Saliba’s early-season form suggests his ceiling is higher. At just 21, with less than a season of Premier League football under his belt, there’s likely more to come.
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