Arsenal overcame Chelsea 3-1 on Boxing Day to record their first Premier League win in seven matches.
Who saw that coming? When the lineups were announced, the mixture of joy from seeing a youthful Arsenal side was counterbalanced by the strength of the opposition. It can’t be denied that there is a vast gulf in class between the two squads.
So, 3-1 anyone?
Spoiler: they were.
A lively opening soon died down as the Blues got a grip on proceedings, but Arsenal wrestled back the initiative and earned themselves a chance to take the lead from the spot after Kieran Tierney won an, admittedly, soft penalty. Alexandre Lacazette did the honours.
It was then returning man Granit Xhaka who doubled the lead just before half-time with a belter of a free-kick, before Bukayo Saka eased the nerves with a fortuitous third goal. Chelsea struck late on to set up a tense finish, one that would have been even more nail-biting were it not for Bernd Leno’s heroics.
What a win; what a night; what a Christmas present. Here’s what we learned.
Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Saka made up 3/4 of the forward line. All 20 or under. All superb.
For the first time this season, there was movement across the attack. The previously static, lethargic nature of the performances from Arsenal’s forward players weas replaced in favour of smart, willing runners who knew when and where to press.
On the ball the fluidity across the line was enhanced, all orchestrated by a desire to play through central areas. Having Smith Rowe in that slot meant Arsenal weren’t shackled by this insistence to play wide.
Always showing for the ball and technically gifted enough to assume possession in those tight zones, Arsenal had an outlet that Arteta will now surely realise must become a mainstay. Smith Rowe is the profile in the squad to shoulder those duties.
Fielding players in their natural positions can have that impact. For players like Smith Rowe, and Martinelli, they have traits that make them a threat even on off days. Elsewhere, most of the Arsenal squad have traits that make them a threat to themselves even on good days.
Martinelli led by example, as he had done against Manchester City, constantly harassing in tandem with Lacazette, who put in his best shift of the season against the Blues. Arteta rang the changes, mostly enforced, but his battered and bruised side were calmly guided by youth’s vision.
This glimpse into the future can’t be stared at for too long, it’s blinding.