Arsenal’s mid-season wobble is over.
An emphatic home victory over a toothless Crystal Palace banished some of the gloom that had gathered over Christmas — courtesy of three defeats and a draw in league and FA Cup fixtures — and lifted Mikel Arteta’s back up to third in the table.
We dissect the main talking points from the Emirates Stadium.
Set pieces settle the nerves
Gabriel’s first-half headers were significant for a few reasons. They solidified Arsenal’s dominant start to the game but also re-established their status as the Premier League’s highest scorers from set pieces this season.
Not only that, but Arsenal have also registered the most goals from corners (10) in the Premier League this season.
This is not a new trend. Arsenal have been potent from set pieces since Nicolas Jover arrived in 2021, but converting them into goals has been key this season because they spend so much time facing deep blocks.
For the first goal, the importance of each player doing their job correctly was underpinned by Leandro Trossard blocking Joachim Andersen, one of Palace’s strongest aerial threats, to give Gabriel a clear run at the ball. Ben White did a similar job on Palace goalkeeper Dean Henderson to allow Gabriel to stoop in and head in via the back of Henderson’s head.
There were a couple of other points of interest. Declan Rice got his second assist as an Arsenal player from just his second corner taken this season, while Arsenal are also just two headed goals away from their tally from last season (12).
Who needs open play?
The Arsenal vs Crystal Palace match dashboard, showing the home side’s dominance
Raya’s quick thinking finally pays off
David Raya claimed his sixth clean sheet of the Premier League season this afternoon — but that is not what was noteworthy about his performance.
His quick out-of-hand distribution for Trossard’s goal was encouraging, but not new. The Spaniard has done similar at multiple points this season, but this has been the first time it has resulted in a goal.
The best example before the Crystal Palace victory came against Sheffield United, when Raya took the ball out of the air and side-on volleyed it into Gabriel Martinelli’s path. That took Arsenal up to the United box but Martinelli and Bukayo Saka weren’t on the same wavelength to finish the move.
This time around — with calls to move the ball more quickly coming from the crowd — all players involved knew what they needed to do and killed the game off. From Raya’s long throw to the timing of Gabriel Jesus’ pass and the finish of Trossard, it looked simple, despite it being far from that.
Raya had a scare in the first half with a loose clearance resulting in a Jefferson Lerma shot, but those quick releases can be something to build on in the second half of the season.
Trossard and Martinelli take their chance
Leandro Trossard starting over Gabriel Martinelli was intriguing. Martinelli was one of the few players to look sharp in the 2-1 loss to Fulham, and did so again against Trent Alexander-Arnold and Liverpool at the start of the month.
Most of Arsenal’s attacking work before their opener was done on the left. Trossard was combining with Oleksandr Zinchenko and Kai Havertz with varied success.
The trio looked most dangerous when they could find Trossard in behind, but this worked best when the ball was moved quickly. Even if Martinelli is faster, and would seem more suited to this, Trossard was a willing option and that is how Arsenal won the corner from which Gabriel scored their first goal.
That space soon vanished, which should have made for more movement across the frontline from both Trossard and Jesus, but that did not come until later in the half. A move started by the Belgian, involving Havertz and Jesus, ending with him getting a shot away was the best bit of play of the half — but even that had pressure on it.
That Jesus-Trossard combination had two more moments in the second half. Trossard, however, had to do better with the first when he was found by the Brazilian for a first-time effort, only to fluff his lines.
Trossard was replaced by Martinelli, and the Brazilian was just as up to the task. His two almost identical goals showed that Arteta was probably right in saying he was not having any issues with confidence ahead of the break.
“Being open first (helps),” Arteta said in December. “Working hard and practising the situation that you face in the game as much as possible and having the courage to do it time and again. He’s one of the best in the world at that.
“I think confidence is not a problem for Gabi. Sometimes, the efficiency and putting the breaks down and lifting your head up; for everybody it’s the most difficult thing to do and finding that composure or timing in the box. Certainly, a lack of composure or timing is not going to be an issue for him.”
What did Mikel Arteta say?
The Arsenal manager pinpointed Gabriel’s early goal as the key moment in setting up his side’s convincing win.
Asked what pleased him most by UK broadcaster TNT Sports, he replied: “The positivity that we had right from the beginning. I had a good feeling the last 10 days about the team and how they reacted to adversity.
“It (the early goal) opened the game up – the opponent had to adapt and be a bit more aggressive and allow more spaces and we exploited that really well.”
Arteta also highlighted Arsenal’s effectiveness from set-pieces as being crucial.
“We have to control and dominate every phase of play,” he said. “We want to be the best team in the world so you have to be the best team at everything that you do. We can still do better and we will continue to work and get better.”
On restoring confidence after a difficult Christmas, Arteta added: “I enjoy more when we win every single game but we are in a really good moment. We will try our best, love our players and make them feel trusted and that they have the confidence. When a player lives like this, he can get to a level that you can never imagine. If you are doubting and hearing too many things, that’s not helpful.”
What next for Arsenal?
Tuesday, January 30: Nottingham Forest (A), Premier League, 7.30pm GMT, 2.30pm ET
One silver lining of Arsenal’s defeat to Liverpool in the FA Cup third round is another extended break for Arteta’s squad. Arsenal won their home fixture against Forest 2-1 in August.
(Top photo: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images))
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