Last August, Arsenal lost their first three games 9-0 on aggregate, including Chelsea’s extremely modest tackles (only about the only time Romelu Lukaku appeared to threaten Chelsea) and Manchester United. City. Of course, the Gunners will bounce back, only to break their fans’ hearts in further agony of securing a Champions League spot in the final weeks of the season. Arsenal have been like that since Arsene Wenger cleaned out his office, moments of progress and excitement pervading and smothered by their need to blow their own toes.
So it wouldn’t be a surprise if Arsenal fans everywhere (whoever the most annoying you know is probably one) are still stepping out of their joys with this season’s start as a boulder rock. Sure, it can feel pretty solid and risky now, but the suspicion that the next step will take one into icy depths remains principled above all.
It’s hard to ignore the truth. Three games, three wins, nine goals, just two conceded (and both Leicester’s goals after that game were pretty much decisive), the top of the table depends on how City do against Newcastle. You cannot ask for more.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect is the new additions that are leading the way. While the signing of Gabriel Jesus from Man City has been questioned by some, as he has never convinced anyone in Manchester that he can play as a full-time central striker, there is certainly little evidence in North London that he should play anything else.
It’s just bullying the entire opponent because you feel like it. Jesus scored twice against Leicester last week, but better touch and vision than Alex Lacazette last season opened up the game for three attacking players behind him, like Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Sako and Gabriel Martinelli.
Even as exciting as Jesus has been, and there are few things more encouraging than a talented striker with a point to prove, it’s William Saliba in defense whose loyalists really punish. . The story of Arsenal’s season so far has been their defence, as they give nothing away. And Saliba has been a huge part of that. While he’s as solid as can be as a defender, it’s his pass that really steals the show. Yesterday against Bournemouth, he completed 100% of his passes. Do not misplace. In the off-season, he’s only misplaced 11 out of 98, and he’s more than just passing the ball to his defensive partner with every effort. And apparently, he would occasionally do things like this for what the heck:
You know you’ve done something when your teammates can’t even:
Speaking of Oleksandr Zinchenko, he is another good shopper. Although he was never able to break into the City team very often, his over 90 stats mark him as one of the most creative full-backs in the world and can also play in midfield. when requested by Arsenal. Zinchenko’s greater adventure has brought a new dimension to Arsenal, as he’s more adept at getting the ball forward and into the opposition box than Kieran Tierney or a stunner to tackle. Turn into the position of left-back possible.
Are there any warnings? Sure. Arsenal have had to play two relegation candidates in their three matches (yes, Leicester are absolutely relegation candidates based on their form and the fact that their manager has relentlessly insulted and thrown his board got off the bus instead of getting on with it, a trait of Brendan Rodgers when things started to boil). And in the opening match against Crystal Palace, they played very well for long periods of time (with only 44%).
Second, they have benefited from more than half of their shots on the goal line, which is not going to continue, no matter how Jesus may have obtained the gift (see me what to do there?). Their margins aren’t as great as they might think, because they don’t really create more chances or shots than they did last season (14.8 shots per 90 this season, 15, 3 shots last season, 5 shots on target per 90 games this season, 4.8 last season). As always has happened with Mikail Arteta’s teams, they didn’t really put that much pressure anywhere on the pitch, keeping things pretty low.
But it was in that low-event style that Arsenal really moved forward this time around. They have been extremely stingy in what they give up, allowing only 7.3 shots per game compared to 11 games last season. Saliba’s better control, and the fact that he allowed Ben White to switch to full-back to lock that wing, was the main reason why. Having a healthy Thomas Partey in midfield is another factor.
And even if you do want to choose a slightly open time for the schedule so far, it will stay that way for a bit. They only face one other member of the top six until October 1, and that is Man United, the team that doesn’t look like a mission of the sort to climb Doom at the moment. They will face Fulham, Villa, Everton and Brentford in that time, so they can get close to maximum points before the first dance of the season against Spurs.
The numbers may suggest that there will be a flattening of the curve somewhere soon. But it might not be a bit, and Arsenal will certainly enjoy some sunshine in the meantime.