Arsenal showed character to see off a very determined Everton on Sunday evening 3-2 and keep pace with the top four teams as they continue to battle for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit a brace to go top of the Premier League scorers chat despite the mixed season the Gunners are having.
Here are four things we noticed in the action-packed encounter.
Granit, the builder
“I’m very, very happy to be back playing for this club,” so said Granit Xhaka in his Close Up interview with Arsenal Digital this month. His joy has been reflected in his performances, and Sunday was no different. Xhaka has become a facilitator for the team’s left back to effectively become a fifth attacker when the Gunners go forward, and once again the Swiss provided the insurance policy for Saka to be adventurous.
Notably, it was Xhaka who claimed the pre-assist for Nketiah’s equaliser, but so pivotal is the former captain that he also ended the game with the most passes overall, the most passes in the opposition half and the most possessions gained. There are more spectacular players, but few that are more effective.
Changed Shkodran Mustafi
Speaking of candid interviewees, Shkodran Mustafi is another player who has won over fans with his words and performances.
The criticism of the Gunners’ World Cup-winning defender reached fever pitch at times last year but he was immense again on Sunday.
There was a sumptuous control and flick early in the game but, in the whole, Mustafi was the rock on which Arsenal’s defence was built.
He made a team-high seven clearances, a team-high three tackles and contested – and won – more aerial duels than anyone else.
Without his interventions – and those of David Luiz – Everton would surely have grabbed a point.
First minute goals
It’s not often you see a goal scored in the first minute of a game, and even more rare to witness goals in the first minute of both halves. Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang obliged to deliver just the third instance of that double in Premier League history.
Arsenal were involved in one of the other two – at Newcastle in January 1996. Calvert-Lewin’s strike was the first time Arsenal have conceded in the first 60 seconds of a top-flight game since David Healy scored for Fulham on the opening day of the 2007/08 season. Arsenal went on to win that game too, thanks to a late, late winner from Alex Hleb.
Rise and rise of Saka
Arsenal struggled to get going on Sunday, and no wonder. Of the first 11 duels contested in the game, Arsenal won just one. Everton took advantage to take the lead, the Gunners found some impetus when Bukayo Saka replaced the unfortunate Sead Kolasinac.
Granit Xhaka’s cover on the left gives Saka the license to get forward and indeed it was Xhaka’s precise pass that gave Saka the opportunity to cross for Eddie Nketiah’s equaliser.
Eddie had barely been involved before then but his guided volley from Saka’s cross was beautifully executed.
That goal was the first Premier League Arsenal have scored since September 2008 that was assisted and converted by under-21 players. On that occasion it was Denilson setting up Nicklas Bendtner against Bolton.
As for Saka, he’s now the youngest player to assist in consecutive Premier League appearances since Francis Jeffers for Everton in April 1999.