As supporters trudged into the Emirates having mitigated the festive perils of TFL, an intrinsic balancing act between excitement and nerves was undoubtedly at play.
This was the first time Arsenal had been in Premier League action for over a month thanks to an unprecedented – but admittedly extraordinary – winter World Cup and the Gunners entered their Boxing Day triumph four points clear at the top of the table following Newcastle’s victory at Leicester .
Mikel Arteta’s side has already proven time and time again that they’re no mere flash in the pan. The Spaniard’s outfit is one of style, character and robustness; they may well be a little bit special.
Nevertheless, a hint of trepidation filtered through the brisk north London air as West Ham paid a visit to Arsenal’s amphitheater under the lights. Doubts had arisen over how they’d cope in Gabriel Jesus’ absence, and whether the long break would halt the unwavering momentum they’d built up during the first half of the season.
Arsenal tries on special Boxing Day night that they aren’t going anywhere
Such fears were vindicated as they fell behind for just the fourth time in the Premier League this season. They’d trailed for not even an hour in league matches before Said Benrahma put the Hammers ahead from the penalty spot after Jarrod Bowen outmanoeuvred a hesitant William Saliba, who was perhaps yet to shake off his Qatari rust, and was brought down by the French defender.
In the Emirates of yesteryear, Benrahma’s opener would’ve sparked an influx of negativity in the stands: the concession of a goal being met by silence or groans, while the odd fan would’ve undoubtedly said “I just had a bad/funny feeling about this one” to his now depressed mate. Thankfully, things have finally changed in these parts.
This is a home crowd that has totally brought into what Arteta is trying to build and their response to going behind was the ultimate manifestation of the positive feeling that’s currently embellishing the club. As the Amazon cameras enjoyed West Ham’s celebration, a cacophony of noise rang out in the background as the boss rallied his troops once more.
Arsenal were never going to lose the game from there on out.
A vintage Emirates blitz during 16 second-half minutes saw the Gunners turn the contest on its head. After going into halftime a goal behind, they were leading 3-1 by the 69th minute. West Ham were stunned. Their star man and one of the Premier League’s very best, Declan Rice, looked completely disheveled after an excellent opening period. The England international simply couldn’t cope with Arsenal’s ferocity without the ball and their virtuosity with it.
It was skipper Martin Odegaard who dazzled supporters the most as he produced an almost retro display of genius playmaking. The Norwegian ended the bout with a pair of assists, while Bukayo Saka, scorer of the opener, showed us once again why he should be regarded as one of the very best wingers in the world. Can you name five wide men as dominant as he is in one-vs-one situations?
Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah each had their moments with the second and third goals respectively, with the latter’s sumptuous turn and finish alleviating a few fears about his capacity to lead the line in Jesus’ absence. It was the perfect start to the Eddie era.
What was particularly impressive about Arsenal’s Boxing Day triumph is that it was far from an easy fixture. Sure, the league table would suggest that West Ham aren’t a great side, but they were Europa League semi-finalists last season and have become a tough outfit to beat under David Moyes’ stewardship. They’re a compact unit that thrives in transition, but Arsenal strolled home at a canter following a majestic second-half performance that would’ve overwhelmed most teams.
And they did it all in front of the returning Arsene Wenger, who was back at the Emirates for the first time since 2018 after he helped transform the club into a contemporary behemoth. This was an Arsenal performance that would’ve filled the Frencham with pride as it’s becoming clearer by the game that the club have stumbled upon a manager capable of building on the foundations laid by Wenger for decades.
The success the Gunners crave is yet to arrive at the Emirates, but there’s no doubt that they’re on the right track with Arteta at the helm. Only three teams (Manchester City, Liverpool and Brighton) beat Arsenal on home soil in 2022. The unified Emirates is finally evolving into a fortress and the threat is ominous for the rest of the Premier League.
This was a special night under the festive lights for the Gunners, and their performance proved that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Your move, Citeh.