Arsenal end the first half of the season on top with Norwich pounding

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A team’s position on Christmas Day is traditionally maintained as a fixed staging post for the season. Still, wait another 24 hours and the second day of Christmas will mark a more logical turning point that is halfway through most covid-free campaigns.

Arsenal, despite their base in London’s Omicron hearth, have gone through the cancellations and ended their 19th game in the Premier League season with a 5-0 knockout away against Norwich City on Sunday afternoon.

Lacazette struck a penalty before Smith-Rowe came in and scored a goal to complete the battle against Norwich! pic.twitter.com/DGQvvTw6Zz

– 90 min (@ 90min_Football) December 26, 2021

Forced suspensions have meant that the Champions League chasing pack is competing for Arsenal’s fourth place and can take a step forward for the Gunners if they win their matches by hand. But when you take into account the results in matches that the team has actually played, Arsenal still ranks fourth in one point per game table at halfway.

Exactly two years into Arteta’s reign, Arsenal show – most promising of all – hints of consistency in their performances and results.

Most recently Arsenal met a team that started the day at the bottom of the table, Arteta was focused on performance rather than points: “Preparation is important but what is more important is [to] perform well, play as well as we can and then we will be close to winning the match “, he insisted on the club’s official website before a 2-0 victory against Newcastle in November.

Both aspects were fully present and correct in Arsenal’s biggest Premier League victory under Arteta on Sunday.

Dominant large parts of possession and territory Arsenal started the match on the Second Days with a surge that only grew when the goals flowed. Shortly after Bukayo Saka recorded Arsenal’s start in the sixth minute, Thomas Partey crystallized the confidence that flowed through the team with a back-heeled flick from the press.

Second day of happiness!

COYG?

? 0-5? (FT) #NORARS pic.twitter.com/I3E4BkdlJw

– Arsenal (@Arsenal) 26 December 2021

The Ghana international enjoyed one of his most memorable achievements in an Arsenal career, he would only rank “four out of ten”. As the only midfield point of the day, Partey had more options to choose penetrating passes between the admittedly incoherent lines in Norwich’s approach.

More often than not, Martin Odegaard was the receiver, spookily hovering away from the yellow and green jerseys that lagged behind in his wake, but Granit Xhaka – shunted forward – was another outlet, whether his purpose was more towards a decoy or not.

In the aforementioned match against Newcastle, Arsenal recorded their lowest passes per defensive action (PPDA) since the start of the season. This pressure proxy measures how many opponents a team passes – Arsenal in this case – allows before trying to win the ball back (via a tackle, foul, etc). The lower the number, the more intense the pressure.

Arsenal were able to maintain the pressing intensity that has adorned the club’s recent Premier League victories at Carrow Road.

In the opening seconds after Arsenal’s 2-0 win over West Ham, Alexandre Lacazette kept up with Lukasz Fabianski, making the Hammers goalkeeper worried with the ball at his feet. Xhaka pushed up from midfield to support Arsenal’s first four as the North Londoners tried (and largely succeeded) in boxing in their visitors.

The Gunners followed up that capital derby triumph with a full gas win 4-1 on Elland Road the following weekend. Arsenal rattled off six shots from high turnover against Leeds in their previous top tour, and once did from these advanced recoveries – both seasonal peaks so far.

Gabriel Martinelli scored three goals during those two matches, but accounted for the persistent run of the ball in a scoreless – but equally impressive – match against the Canary Islands.

After collecting Kieran Tierney’s interception before Max Aarons halfway through, Martinelli began a blurred passing move that tricked Saka into Arsenal’s initial four quick ball possessions later.

The exuberant Brazilian was even more integrated into Gunners’ second. Steaming across the field, Martinelli bullied Przemyslaw Placheta out of a 50-50 challenge. This again served as the catalyst for a sweeping move from right to left – a game pattern that Arsenal regularly tried throughout the match – culminating in Tierney doubling the lead at half-time.

Following its own 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Liverpool last month, Arsenal have the sixth lowest PPDA in the division (ie only five teams are pressing more intensively) after previously offering the weakest off-the-ball obstacle (per UnderStat).

? “Oh what fun it is to see, Arsenal win away! Hello!” ? #NORARS pic.twitter.com/UgtBeMwzpv

– Arsenal (@Arsenal) 26 December 2021

With the game almost ready for the break, Arsenal gave their goal difference – which only became positive for the first time in mid-December – a healthy rise through some really false defenses that emphasized Norwich’s position at the foot of the table.

The quality (or lack thereof) of Arsenal’s opposition during their five-match winning run in all competitions (an achievement they have achieved for the first time during Arteta, who score at least two goals in each match) requires some caution for unbounded optimism as their latest form attracts.

But Arteta – a man who earlier in the season claimed: “Every defeat is a crisis and it should be a crisis” – launched a preventive attack on all such fleeting emotions.

“We are halfway through the season and unfortunately the season ends in May and there is still a lot to do,” he judged cautiously before the match, quoted by the club’s official website. “There are still many things we need to get much better at, improving but I think the team is going in the right direction, that’s the feeling I have.”

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