16 January 2023

Eight points clear and still plumbing the depths of what's possible...

For the first time in almost a decade, the visiting side won the North London derby, and this 0-2 scoreline flattered our hosts, whom we outclassed from start to finish. In the first half especially, it felt as if Arsenal had an extra player on the pitch, so thoroughly did we overwhelm Conte's side. For someone with a reputation as a master tactician, it was genuinely baffling to see just how far off the pace his players. Even when they had time on the ball (which was rare), their passes were poor, too soft, too heavy, off-target, and more. While it's true that they did sting Ramsdale's gloves on a few occasions, there really was never any serious doubt as to the outcome. Even from the first kick of the ball, it seemed like everyone knew what the result would be and played their roles accordingly. 

Having gone ahead 0-2 through Saka's goal Lloris's own goal and then Ødegaard's, it started to feel like we would well and truly run away from Tottenham. Partey's howitzer just about dislodged the goalpost, and Nketiah very nearly beat Lloris on three occasions. Although Partey was booed every time he touched the ball and misplaced numerous passes, he dominated the midfield and allowed Xhaka, Ødegaard, Martinelli, and Saka to run roughshod. Saka in particular was untouchable, rendering Sessegnon to a trembling, shuddering mess. Ødegaard was simply unplayable. Against Spurs' only real attacking idea—lump it upfield and hope Kane wins it—Gabi and Saliba were just too much. One starts to run out of superlatives. 

Man City's loss gave us a chance to widen the gap, and this young, callow squad answered the call in what should have been a cauldron. Instead, we rendered the hostile crowd almost silent in the first 20 minutes, such was our dominance. Man U, surely smelling themselves after winning their own derby, will have to be having second thoughts about coming to the Emirates next weekend. Even if we fail to match the vivid, fluid, swash-buckling play of this day, we will be eager to atone for losing at Old Trafford and will surely offer our visitors more than they can handle or want. 

It's starting to feel real. It's starting to feel like we have a chance to finish atop the Prem. When we came back from the international break. there were fears that the layoff and hangover would blunt our momentum. Sure enough, we went behind to West Ham, and the naysaysers nodded smugly. Instead, we roared back, and the only other sign of any kind of wobble was against Newcastle, when we did have two legitimate penalty shouts ignored.

There is a tangible sense of confidence and belief emanating from this squad, a deepening sense that this is real, not a fluke, not a byproduct of the flounderings of Liverpool or Chelsea or Man U, or even of Man City. Yes, we have yet to face the holders, but each passing week seems to poke another hole in their aura of invincibility and add another layer of proof to our emerging sense of legitimacy. In fact, aside from ascendant Newcastle, there has to be a growing feeling that we are the only club moving in the right direction—and we're still making our way through the gears, still exploring just how much horsepower is under the hood. 

Buckle up. We're just getting started...

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