Arsenal survive despite ill-fated build up
From minute one it was apparent that something was off about the Arsenal team. Almost straight after kick off Granit Xhaka collapsed to his haunches and began puffing out his cheeks. With just over a week to go before the World Cup there was immediate concern for the Swiss international, but thankfully any long-term fears were allayed when he indicated to the referee that he was having problems with his stomach.
Mikel Arteta would later reveal that Xhaka was suffering from a bug that had swept the Gunners squad in the build up to kick off. “We had a few boys with some tummy issues” the Spaniard told football.london before going on to add: “I think it was after the pre-match meal. I didn’t even know about it, but the doc was trying to get some players sorted because they weren’t feeling good.”
Arsenal fans know all too well the impact that dodgy stomachs after a pre-match meal can have on a team, but football.london understands that this was merely a bug rather than any question of food poisoning like in 2006. Regardless of what caused it though, the uncomfortable situation meant that the Gunners had to deal with a problem that had the potential to scupper their attempts to open a five point gap at the top of the Premier League.
When you take this into account, their win over Wolves was pretty remarkable. The way the hosts defended in numbers meant this was to be an energy sapping game for Arsenal, but still they were able to pull through thanks to a moment of real quality from Gabriel Jesus to play in Fabio Vieira to assist Martin Odegaard ‘s opener.
Wins in spite of these types of circumstances are the signs of a top team and afterwards Arteta was thankful that his side had gotten over the line. “I’m delighted that we adapted to those circumstances and managed to win the game,” he added in his post-match presser.
It won’t go down as a classic in the ever-expanding genre of Arsenal victories this season, but all that mattered ahead of the upcoming World Cup break were the three points. Having got that big job out of the way the Gunners can return to north London to recover.
Will the curse continue?
Of course on top of having got through a potentially hazardous situation for a team who wear white shorts unscathed, an extra satisfaction for the Arsenal players will have come in the fact that they are now guaranteed to be top at Christmas.
The Gunners squad had watched on the coach up to Molineux as Manchester City’s shock defeat to Brentford had confirmed this to be the case, but they will likely be all too aware that this has been something of a mixed blessing throughout their recent history. The last time Arsenal were able to go on and win the league having led it at the festive period was all the way back in 1948. Since then they have been first at Christmas on five separate occasions and never gone on to claim the title.
Of course though this season is not like any other in the sense that Christmas comes early. The World Cup break in Qatar means that actually the table in mid-November will be the yardstick by which Arsenal’s curse-breaking capabilities are measured, but that mattered little to Mikel Arteta who was willing to recognise his team’s achievement after the game.
“It’s great to be where we are and we are enjoying that moment,” the Spaniard said. “Now we have a big break and we have to reflect on what we’re doing and be prepared for after the World Cup. Our aim is to play better as a team every day, to have better tools to do what we want to do. I can say it’s been phenomenal to work with these players and staff.”
Regardless of what happens from this point on, the fact that Arsenal have even got themselves into this position is something no one, including Arteta saw coming. “Yes,” he said when asked if his side had surpassed his expectations. “But I take it day by day and not even game by game. I understand that the better we do the daily things and we commit to doing those things better, every individual is going to contribute to the team doing better and that’s what we want to do.”
Even with this five point buffer, the likelihood does still seem to be that the Gunners will come up short when it comes to the title charge. The kind of 90-point season required to win a Premier League against a team with the might of Manchester City and the thinness of the squad in the absence of a few key players means that it’s difficult, even now, to tip Arsenal for success.
This is before we even mention the weight of history that appears to be going against them. Curses though are made to be broken, and if there’s a team that could break the Christmas-hoodoo in north London, then this current Arsenal side do feel as though they’re showing they’ve got what it takes.
For a player who has a reputation for favouring an extra pass over a shot, Martin Odegaard sure has scored a lot of goals this season. In fact with his two goals at Molineux the Norwegian actually became Arsenal’s top-scoring player in the Premier League this campaign, a feat few would have expected back in August. This though is no coincidence.
“That’s what you want – for your attacking midfielders to win games not only by assisting but by scoring goals,” Mikel Arteta told football.london when asked about Odegaard’s record in front of goal this season. “He’s changed that mentality and he’s practising a lot and he wants to get to his best and we don’t know where his limit is like many of the other kids that we have. That’s what we want – embrace the good moments and support them when they’re not that good.”
To do what Odegaard has been doing this season while also taking on the captain’s armband is particularly impressive. Yes, he has had leaders like Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Jesus around him to help, being the skipper at a team like Arsenal comes with a to do list longer than Per Mertesacker’s legs! There are various media commitments, ensuring a culture of professionalism is maintained in the dressing room, being the link between the manager and the squad just to name but a few.
With all that going on it can be easy for a player to lose sight of their own development, and for someone still just 23-years-of-age, you could forgive Odegaard if he had dropped off slightly among the increased load he was being asked to carry. However, he continues to thrive in this Gunners side and is really putting his own stamp on the leadership role he has assumed.
With the scores delicately poised at 0-0, the Norwegian took an impromptu decision to hold a team huddle before the game resumed in the second half to try and refocus his teammates minds. As is often the case he could be seen yelling at his teammates, ordering them into position and trying to maintain intensity. This level of dedication is infectious and is having a huge impact on the rest of the squad. It’s clear the Norwegian is enjoying being the main man at club level for the first time in his career and after his goal he ran away beaming and beating his chest where the Arsenal club badge is as a gesture of gratitude for the opportunity that he is more than grabbing.
“He is (becoming a leader) in his own way and with his character,” Arteta said after the game. “He’s a fantastic person and a fantastic footballer and what he’s doing at his age is not easy and we are really happy to have him.”
With goals now becoming a big part of his game, Odegaard has quickly developed into one of the best midfielders not only at Arsenal but in the Premier League. If the Gunners are going to do something special this season then keeping the Norwegian fit and healthy is going to be essential.
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