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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Calm win over Luton shows how Mikel Arteta has learned from Arsenal’s previous title challenge

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A win that almost seems like a moment of lightness, ahead of the heaviest period of the season.

Against a Luton Town team facing an injury crisis, Arsenal rested a number of players themselves to easily win 2-0.

Martin Odegaard’s inspired finish was the only time they needed to rise above it, although a move that produced an own goal secured the three points that put Arsenal back on top – at least for now.

As regards that, and whether they can be there at the end, the rest for key players while winning is almost as important as the win itself. Arsenal maintained momentum while allowing a bit of a refresh.

This was precisely something they couldn’t do last season, illustrating the manner they have matured. It was actually almost this point where they started to drop off, and a large reason for that was because Arteta was caught in a dilemma of playing a first XI that was pushed to the physical limit or making changes and seeing their quality level drop off. He ultimately tried a bit of both, but the compromise didn’t work. Arsenal needed much more to get into a title race with City.

Mikel Arteta has learned for last season’s disappointing finish with Arsenal now serious title contenders

(REUTERS)

This season’s chase, no matter how it ends, has already illustrated that Arteta has learned from that. They now have a few ways of playing and a much deeper squad, giving them options in a few senses.

While an unfortunately depleted Luton Town weren’t going to test them too much in terms of needing to offer real creativity to break through, this is where Havertz shows one of the many reasons that Arteta signed him. He offers that tactical versatility, as well as real quality.

Sure, there is still the odd slip as was seen with one first-half touch, but we are at the point now where a lot of people are going to have to revise opinions on the signing. It was Havertz’s pass that opened up this game early on, drawing three Luton defenders to just play it through to Odegaard.

The Norwegian had more space than he should have in the 18-yard box but used it exquisitely. Odegaard struck the ball first-time with the outside of his foot to swerve it past Thomas Kaminski into the bottom corner.

It was divine, and also pretty much decisive. Such were Luton’s absences that any Arsenal lead was pretty much the winning of the game.

Odegaard’s finish gave Arsenal an unassailable lead

(Nick Potts/PA Wire)

It can also be the odd thing about this stage of a run-in. There is escalating tension for every game – especially when three teams are involved – but that can immediately evaporate once that crucial first goal is scored.

Arsenal almost immediately followed with a second, Kaminski making another fine block. Arteta’s team ensured they didn’t get complacent, however, by eventually adding the second. With Reiss Nelson looking to flick the ball in from a flick across goal, it hit Daiki Hashioka to divert past Kaminski.

It could be seen from the celebration that everyone was particularly happy for a good academy graduate like Nelson, and that was the same for the returned Emile Smith-Rowe. The number-10 had set the win in motion by pressing to win the challenge to work the ball to Havertz.

Luton might well have complained that would have been deemed a foul at Kenilworth Road, but they didn’t dwell on it. They didn’t roll over, either.

This is yet another admirable quality about Rob Edwards’s team. They have a real defiance and resolve, even in defeats like this.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that nobody expected them to come up, after all, and fewer still expected them to have any chance of staying.

Emile Smith Rowe’s player of the match performance guided the Gunners to victory

(AFP via Getty Images)

Instead, they have been by far the most spirited of the promoted sides. One stat sums that up, that this game only furthered.

They have not lost any game by more than three goals, and that has only happened three times, two in the opening two matches. The only other such defeat was a 4-1 away to Liverpool, which is pretty forgivable right now.

Arsenal might have subjected them to worse here had they put out a full team and really needed it, but Luton had a depleted team themselves. They also dug in.

Arteta gave some of his more important players – such as Declan Rice and Gabriel Martinelli – a bit of a run out, although the main point then was to keep a freshness.

Arsenal will need that, ahead of what might be a gruelling period. This was almost the breeze before the storm.

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