Would it be a stretch to say 1 July was Arsenal’s best day of 2020? Granted, it’s been a stinker of a year, and that’s before we get to the matter of a global pandemic.
But a day which started with one of the country’s most exciting talents, Buyako Saka, signing a four-year contract finished with a convincing 4-0 win over bottom-of-the-table Norwich City as they returned to the Emirates for the first time since the restart. Maybe not worth breaking out the bunting, but, Gunners, certainly help yourself to a bit of cake.
Indeed the first goal was another cause for celebration with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bringing up a 50th league goal of his Arsenal career. Doing as Eddie Nketiah did to goalkeeper Alex McCarthy in the previous win over Southampton, Aubameyang picked off a dawdling Tim Krul to pass into an empty net on 33 minutes.
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Only six strikers have reached the landmark quicker. Even Thierry Henry, king around these parts, needed four more games than the Gabon forward to get there.
If you want a counter-argument to the value of statistics, maybe it’s that sentence right there. The 31-year old may also drift wide with the same number on his back, but the similarities to the legendary Frenchman end there.
Heck, a lot of people who have played the game come up short against Henry. But perhaps an unhelpful uncontrollable for Aubayemang is that aspects of his game remind Arsenal fans of the original No 14 in bronze outside and, thus, how great things used to be.
There was more sweet than bitter four minutes later when, VEERING TO THE LEFT™️, a dismissive prod with the outside of his right foot found Granit Xhaka breaking into the box to drive hard and true through Krul at the near post. That, too, was an incident of note as the Swiss international’s first goal of the season.
Perhaps it was a moment that had to happen at the Emirates behind closed doors. It’s been eight months since Xhaka left this pitch in anger against Crystal Palace, abuse coming from the stands unto him and back again. We knew then, two managers ago, that this was to be no ordinary season even if we’d have fallen short of guessing the scale of its unusualness.
There were snapshots of why in the second-half. A drop in intensity, coupled with passes lacking the snap they did in the first half allowed Norwich a route back in.
Adam Idah, who replaced Teemu Pukki at the break, struck straight at Emiliano Martinez with the first move of the second-half, and Todd Cantwell was adamant he had been fouled in the box by Sean Kolasinac with an hour on the clock. A hopeful shout – play had already restarted by the time VAR had officially ruled no penalty – but that crucial final phase from someone in yellow-and-green was creeping ever closer. Unfortunately, when it came, it was to Arsenal’s benefit.
Josip Drmic’s pass across his backline was as good a defence-splitting pass played this evening. Aubameyang, perennially lurking, was on hand to control, open his body and side-foot beyond Krul for three-nil, goal 51 and game over all at once, with 23 minutes still to go.
Just to complete the festivities, Cedric Soares finally took to the field for his Arsenal debut. The full-back has signed three different contracts before making this appearance: his initial loan deal from Southampton, an extension to the end of this season and then a permanent deal.
When you have bagged all that without even getting your shorts dirty, you are going to feel pretty good about life. And only someone that chuffed with how his cards have fallen would make such a bold play to have a shot on goal with his weaker left foot from 20-odd yards.
Of course it was going to take a deflection, and of course it was via a deflection. It’s tempting to tell him buy a lottery ticket now, but he’s probably already won it with those signing-on bonuses.
This result is no barometer for success or sustainability. Norwich are an open side who do not even reap the benefits of being open, with just a single goal in their last eight games – all three of their shots here came from outside of the box. No one has shipped more than their 60 conceded.
It will be a while until fans are allowed back into the ground, and even longer until they get onside with this project. But as Arsenal lift themselves to seventh, they can take solace that at least things are better than they were a week ago.