Arsenal have been different this season, but their win over Wolves sparked memories of last term’s rip-roaring Gunners. While at Burnley, Sheffield United started as they apparently meant to go on…
BRILLIANT ARSENAL PROMPT FLASHBACKS
That sound you might have heard across North London on Saturday afternoon was Arsenal finally clicking…
The Gunners returned to the top of the Premier League last Saturday with a scabby win at Brentford amid questions over Mikel Arteta’s struggle to prompt the free-flowing football we know his side to be capable off. Their seat at the summit makes a mockery of the notion that Arsenal are worse than they were last season. But they certainly haven’t been as fluent.
Until today. Arteta’s leaders seem to have taken more than just three precious points from Brentford, with belief and confidence seemingly coursing through them. Wolves started enthusiastically at the Emirates. But the Gunners chose today to put their foot down and exert the power we saw last season before they ran out of gas.
Last season, Arsenal were very much a reflection of their moods. Which hardly makes for a sustainable title challenge. This term, they have been more pragmatic, taking the rough with the smooth all the while collecting the requisite points. The question was whether a more balanced approach could complement the previous flair and finesse.
Apparently, so. Each of those attributes was prevalent in the two goals that took the wind out of Wolves inside 13 minutes. Bukayo Saka’s and Martin Odegaard’s strikes and the build up to each were very, very Arsenal, with the visitors unable to keep up with the rapid interplay and one-touch build-up around their box.
Arsenal’s stodginess mirrored Saka’s struggle for form but the winger was pivotal in both. For the opener, he cut inside and through; shortly after, he went around the outside to cross as he did for Kai Havertz’s winner at Brentford.
This wouldn’t be Arsenal, though, without some form of self-sabbotage. The game should have been killed off, if not before half-time then long before Oleksandr Zinchenko was robbed to give Wolves some late hope courtesy of Matheus Cunha. And even after that, the Gunners wasted more chances to ease the latest outbreak of heartburn at the Emirates.
But that only intensified the flashbacks to last season. The quest for balance continues, but this was a timely reminder of how impressive Arsenal can be.
100 – Bukayo Saka’s opener was Arsenal’s 100th goal of 2023, becoming just the fifth big five European league side to reach this total across all competitions this calendar year after Man City (137), Real Madrid (119), Bayern Munich (111) and Bayer Leverkusen (110). Ton. pic.twitter.com/ZmRBGxjpWV
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 2, 2023
BYE, HECK? BLADES ROLL OVER FOR BURNLEY
That’s why Paul Heckingbottom, not Vincent Kompany, is fancied more than any other to be the first Premier League manager to receive their cards this season.
The build-up to this relegation six-pointer was dominated by talk of Kompany’s struggles to prompt Burnley to push on after cruising the Championship last season, with even chatter over how the Clarets could be on course to be one of the Premier League’s worst-ever outfits. Their points tally made it a realistic prospect and their frailty to this point offered little comfort or encouragement.
But at Turf Moor, it was the Blades who showed all the resilience and intelligence of a side perhaps destined to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
‘Keep it tight’ and ‘win your battles’ would have been among the last messages relayed by Heckingbottom before sending his troops out in freezing Lancashire but they fell on deaf ears. Three duels – one header and two tackles – were lost inside 12 seconds, which lead to Jay Rodriguez being allowed a free run at Charlie Taylor’s cross.
Burnley’s second goal was just as wretched from the Blades’ perspective. One simple, hopeful long ball over the top took out the visitors’ defence, allowing Jacob Bruun Larsen a clear run at goal and his second Premier League goal on his first top-flight start.
United longed half-time, but not as much as they needed to retain a full complement of players. Oli McBurnie, though, took the Blades’ brainlessness to the next level by picking up the same yellow card twice in nine minutes.
A triple change saw the Blades rally briefly at the start of the second half but they soon caved in the face of the Clarets. Their half-arsed, token defending for Burnley’s third, fourth and fifth goals, scored by Zeki Amdouni, Luca Koleosho and Josh Brownhill, was so wretched as to make you wonder if they were doing it on purpose.
BEES SEIZE UPON HATTERS’ BLOW
Thomas Frank was right when he described this being a Premier League meeting as “a fantastic story”. The first-half, though, was anything but…
Brentford’s attack has been too easily nullified this season and Luton had little problem clogging up their hosts’ supply line at the Gtech Community Stadium. Eleven shots were half-heartedly fired towards Thomas Kaminski’s goal but the top-flight’s best keeper, according to the stats, was rarely troubled. Luton, as an attacking threat, did not exist, recording 0.00xG before the break.
Just prior to half-time is perhaps when the game turned. Luton skipper Tom Lockyear finished the first period on the turf and he failed to appear for the second. It prompted a significant reshuffle, with Amari’i Bell dropping into the back three, Jacob Brown coming off the bench to take the right-wing-back slot, while Issa Kabore switched to the left.
Understandably, Luton never looked as cohesive defensively and the Bees took great heart form their visitors’ misfortune. Still, though, they needed deflections and ricochets to turn their dominance into something tangible.
Brown gave Luton some hope, but that evaporated inside four minutes when Shandon Baptiste re-established Brentford’s two-goal cushion.
With Luton welcoming Arsenal and Manchester City in the coming week, Rob Edwards needs to hope that Lockyear’s powers of recovery haven’t waned since the summer.