Yes, I know we’re looking to finish top four, and that we’re actually top of the league. But I thought I would do my top 3 players of the season so far. Look, there’s no football and I’ve already done bits on the World Cup this week, so without further ado, let’s do the top 3.
But wait. Why couldn’t I do a top 4? There is no reason. I could change the title, but then that would demonstrate that I am not fixed to my initial ideas, there is always room for improvisation. Here we go. As ever, much like player ratings, these are subjective. You are free to disagree with the names and the rankings, but in the end, it’s just made up for one man’s blog so don’t get too stressed.
1 – Gabriel Jesus
Yes, I know he hasn’t scored for a while, but his impact on this team goes beyond goals. I think the Chelsea game was the perfect example of this. While everyone was fretting about the inevitability of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring a goal against his former club, Jesus showed us all what a centre-forward can contribute even if he doesn’t score.
63 touches of the ball, 3 shots, 2 key passes, 2 tackles, 2 clearances, 2 interceptions.
In comparison to the ex-captain’s 8 touches before he was hauled off in the second half, it’s quite something. And it demonstrates what a selfless player the Brazilian is. The goals need to return, there’s no argument there and he’d be the first to acknowledge that, but what he has brought to the side since his summer arrival has been a major part of our position at the top of the table.
2 – Granit Xhaka
The challenge with Xhaka is talking about what he’s doing now without having to reference what happened before. I understand certain sections of the media love a story, but the way it’s been presented at times this season is as if this just happened overnight. I think it’s fair to say that despite a few bumps on the road, Xhaka’s performances under Mikel Arteta have been consistently good.
What he’s doing this season is just a continuation of what he was doing last season. His form has gone from good to very good to excellent. If you’d asked me which Arsenal player would be the penalty box phantom, arriving unseen to score goals and create chances for others, I don’t think I’d ever have picked him as the man to do that.
I mean, he’s a big guy. He’s not hard to notice, but somehow he’s got this ability to flick a switch like Airwolf going on stealth mode, and then Bam! There’s a Swiss helicopter in your box. And is there any finer compliment you can pay a football player than that?
3 – Ben White
Before the season started, I wondered if Ben White – a player Mikel Arteta clearly loves – would be the single biggest obstacle to William Saliba on his return to Arsenal. He started the first game of the season at right back, and while perhaps it felt temporary then, it’s anything but now.
We know the manager gets upset when a player loses a duel, and of our three main defensive starters this season (White, William Saliba, Gabriel), he is the most prolific duel winner across all competitions with an average of 6.35 duels won per game. Saliba is at 4.55 while Gabriel is at 3.79. This doesn’t necessarily mean Gabriel loses more duels by the way, he leads the trio in interceptions with an average of 4.33 per game (104 in total) – with White second (4avg and 73) then Saliba (3.34 avg and 75).
White’s consistency is fantastic, his ability on the ball is impressive, he can overlap, he can play inside, he combines well with Saka and Odegaard, and he has a couple of assists to his name too. Most of all though, I like his complete unwillingness to take any shit from anyone – whether that’s the opposition, the officials, or post-game interviewers.
He is Mikel Arteta’s large adult son, but I’d happily adopt him.
4 – William Saliba
For a 21-year-old to come into the Premier League and do what he has done is remarkable. The composure is off the charts. He doesn’t have ice running through his veins, he has something colder. Super Ice. Mega Frost. It’s so cold in there that when it melts they’ll find the remains of a woolly mammoth or something.
This young man can play. You can see players who love to defend, and he is one of them. He doesn’t get flustered and the physical presence he gives the Arsenal back-line is so important. Has he been flawless? No. Far from it. There have been mistakes, some of them quite bad, but thankfully we’ve dealt with them as a team, the way we should when any player makes a mistake.
But that’s the thing about 21-year-old central defenders, no matter how impressive they are, they still have plenty to learn. What has bothered me about some other defenders in our not too distant past is their complete unwillingness to do that. They do something stupid, but instead of using that to develop, they just do something stupid again. And again. And again. Then blame someone else.
Saliba is not that player. He will learn, because you can see how much his job matters to him. When you combine that seriousness with that level of talent, you have something special on your hands.
Righto, that’s it for this morning. Feel free to argue among yourselves in the Arses.
Very finally for today, so far sales of the Goodly Mug have raised over €5000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital and Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Dublin. So thank you! We’re going to let this run for another month or so, and make our donation in mid-December. If you want to get a mug and help a great cause, the link is here: https://p1r.es/GoodlyMug
Back tomorrow with more, and an Arsecast.