Football Features

Arsenal now “best of the rest”? Eight things you might have missed from Saturday’s football

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 20:21, 18 December 2021

Winter has certainly come with Europe’s major football leagues either amid a busy festival schedule or heading towards a break.

Understandably there’s plenty happening which naturally means you are certain to miss an important or memorable event. But don’t fret. Squawka is here, with eight things you might have missed.

1. Tre Leoni

Things looked bleak for Roma following their capitulation against Inter Milan earlier this month. Just when it seemed ‘third season Mourinho’ was about to rear its ugly head the much-travelled and successful Portuguese coach turned it around. A hard fought UEFA Conference League win at CSKA Sofia (2-3) was followed up by a league success over Spezia (2-0), a game that saw centre-back Chris Smalling register his first goal of the campaign, setting up this weekend’s moment of truth meeting at often-relentless Atalanta.

In the end Roma passed the examination with flying colours. Tammy Abraham, who’s finally back in the groove, set the games tempo with his first minute strike before Nicolo Zaniolo doubled the visitors lead. An unfortunate Bryan Cristante own goal ensured it was competitive heading into the break. The Giallorossi, though, were unleashed in the second half with Smalling’s second goal in as many Serie A games proving to be historic. Never before have two different English players found the net in the same Italian top-flight game. The aforementioned Abraham sealed the 1-4 rout in the final 10 minutes.

2. Yellow Submariner rises

Even though we are barely a year away from Qatar 2022 getting underway it’s still fascinating to imagine the composition of Luis Enrique’s forward line as La Roja seek a second world title. Obviously a lot can still happen between now and then but if possession is nine tenths of the law then Gerard Moreno has some work to do. The 29-year-old marksman has missed Spain’s last four games when available though right now he’s statistically his nation’s most prolific scorer across Europe’s top five leagues.

The man from Santa Perpètua was on hand for Villarreal’s impressive 1-3 win at Real Sociedad, a game that saw him register another brace, which currently places him on 19 league goals for the calendar year. If that’s not enough his 2021 total is one more than last year’s thus making Moreno one of two Spanish players, alongside Iago Aspas in 2017 and 2018, to register 18 or more goals in consecutive years since 2011. Interestingly these efforts doubled Moreno’s tally for this season and he will not be looking to end 2021 on a strong note when Unai Emery’s men host Alaves in a few days time.

3. Magical Martinelli

You would imagine during this festive period with Premier League matches coming thick and fast Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta would dabble in some rotation (à la mentor Pep Guardiola) but the Spainard has so far resisted an urge to make any changes from his first-team. Not since between April and May 2015 have the Gunners named an unchanged eleven in four consecutive league matches. Given their recent performances, can you blame Arteta?

Retaining faith in Brazilian forward Gabriel Martinelli paid off as he opened the scoring at Leeds United, which just so happened to be Arsenal’s 7,000th top-flight goal with the Londoners becoming the third English team to reach this milestone since the Football League began in 1888 after Merseyside duo Everton (7,139) and Liverpool (7,069). The in-form Martinelli would then double Arsenal’s lead, subsequently registering his first Premier League brace for the club in his 39th outing, and the youngest player to do such a feat since Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Crystal Palace in February 2014.

“You can’t throw in a player when he’s not ready. He has so much still to improve,” Arteta said about Martinelli after the game. He has so much still to improve. He’s very humble. His big passion in life is football.”

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4. Young Guns (Go For It!)

To illustrate this hot streak Martinelli has now bagged as many goals across his last two league matches as he managed in his previous 24 (3).

Having turned 30 in June the Guarulhos-born footballer represents the club’s newfound youthful look which also includes Bukayo Saka who netted goal number three on the stroke of half-time. At that point they had produced 11 shots on target which is the most any team had registered in the opening half of a Premier League game this season and the most on record since 2003/04. With the game ending 1-4 in their favour, Raphina pulling one back from the spot meaning he’s now scored 44% of Leeds’ Premier League goals this season (8/18) with only Teemu Pukki for Norwich (63% – 5/8) having scored a higher ratio for a side in this season’s competition.

Emile Smith Rowe would then come off the bench to score his seventh goal of the season; never before had the Gunners had three players aged 21 or younger score for them in a single Premier League game. On top of that 14 of Arsenal’s 27 goals have been scored by players in that same age range (52%) which is the second-highest ratio by a side in a single campaign in the Premier League’s history (minus own goals) behind Leeds in 1999/2000 (65%).

“Right now [Arsenal] are the best of the rest,” Graeme Souness told Sky Sports. “The front three for me are considerably better than any of the other teams. But I’m sat between Man United, Arsenal, Spurs, maybe West Ham will think they’d be in that argument as well. Fourth is within their reach but we’re only halfway through the season.”

5. Great Wall of Bielefeld

A quick glance at the Bundesliga table heading into this latest round of fixtures and you wouldn’t assume second-from-bottom Arminia Bielefeld had a decent backline. Frank Kramer’s men had conceded 22 goals across their opening 16 matches which to be fair is the best of any side in the second half of the championship table. That being said, they kept a shutout against Bochum, before repeating that same 2-0 scoreline against hapless RB Leipzig meaning since Kramer’s appointment as head coach in early March no German top division side had kept more clean sheets (11) than Die Blauen.

6. Off the mark

After eliminating Barcelona from the Champions League there was a tinge of sadness from Bayern Munich manager Julian Nagelsmann who spoke enthusiastically about their recent illustrious past. Those days are unlikely to be happening anytime soon with Xavi, much like his compatriot Arteta in London, looking to youth and he could not have been more proud of debutant Ferran Jutglà who broke the deadlock against Elche in the 16th minute. This meant only two players had netted their first La Liga goal for Barça quicker in the 21st century: Sandro Ramírez against Villarreal in 2014 (12th minute) and Eidur Gudjohnsen against Celta Vigo in August 2006 (13th minute).

No soon after Jutglà had put the hosts in front the much-talked about Gavi was celebrating his first senior goal for his boyhood club. He consequently joins Ansu Fati, Nico González and Ez Abde as the fourth player born in 2000 or later to score for Barcelona in Spain’s top division which is the most of any team in this season’s competition. Barça would then sensationally collapse in the second half as substitutes Tete Morente and Pere Milla both scored within a minute of each other to level proceedings with 27 minutes remaining on the clock. Just when it seemed as if more dropped points were on the horizon, Xavi’s very own substitute Nice — another Barcelona teen — restored their lead in the final stages. A big sigh of relief as it brought an end to a three-game winless run in all competitions.

7. Road Warrior

So much has been written about Álvaro Morata in recent years with not much of it positive. In fairness the Spanish marksman has often been his own worst enemy, often missing sitters leading to social media and those in attendance being dumbfounded. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer added renewed pressure on Morata’s shoulders and so far this season he’s been there.

Having netted twice in his opening six league appearances he’d managed the same number across the next 10 before pouncing on Bologna this evening. Not only has the former Chelsea man scored in back-to-back Serie A matches he’s now scored in three consecutive away games which is something Morata hasn’t done across Europe’s top five leagues since putting together a four-game run in May 2017 while representing Real Madrid.

8. The streak is over

Coming into this Bundesliga weekend Hertha Berlin had lost their last five league games against Borussia Dortmund: against no other team did they currently have such a long losing streak in the top flight. Even though BVB haven’t always been firing on all cylinders this season, very few were backing Tayfun Korkut’s men to break that miserable run especially with Erling Haaland leading Dortmund’s forward line. And when Julian Brandt put the visitors ahead it felt ominous.

Not to be deterred, Hertha rallied and within an 18 minute spell in the second half they were 3-1 in front, Marco Richter grabbing a brace. Steffen Tigges would narrow the deficit late on but Hertha valiantly held on for all three points. This second defeat across four league games, which includes one win, leaves Dortmund nine points behind Bayern heading into the Bundesliga winter break. Nagelsmann’s men ran out 4-0 winners over Wolfsburg, a game that saw ex-BVB marksman Robert Lewandowski net his 43rd goal in 2021, which set a new record for most goals within a single calendar year in the competition.