Rating Arsenal's season so far: From Saliba's superb return to Jesus' instant impact
Seven games, six wins, 17 goals – Arsenal have gone into the first international break of the season as the Premier League’s top dogs.
Mikel Arteta’s side have been hugely impressive during the opening stages of the 2021-22 campaign, with several players standing out and making a difference.
But who has been the star of the show so far, what has been the biggest positive and where is there room for improvement?
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This is a tough one because there have been plenty of star performers during the early stages of Arsenal’s season, with Gabriel Jesus and Granit Xhaka two notable contenders.
But given his performances in the heart of the defence and the fact he has also chipped in with two goals at the other end, the impressive William Saliba just edges this one.
One has to remember that there was a huge amount of pressure on Saliba at the start of this season. It felt almost impossible that the 21-year-old would be able to live up to the hype when he finally made his first competitive appearance for Arsenal.
Yet he has actually managed to surpass those lofty expectations with a series of superb performances alongside Gabriel Magalhaes at centre-back.
The youngster has taken to the Premier League with ease and is playing with the confidence of a player who has been operating on these shores for years.
He’s quick, strong, calm on the ball and he reads the game as well as anyone. In addition, he has already proved to be a big threat in the opposition box, as his goals against Bournemouth and Brentford have shown.
Again, there have been plenty. The attacking display against Leicester was thrilling and the first half an hour away at Crystal Palace was exceptional. Even the performance during the defeat at Old Trafford was excellent at times.
But in terms of a complete 90-minute performance, the 3-0 victory away at Brentford has probably been the pick of the bunch to date.
Mikel Arteta’s side went to a very difficult ground to get a result at and dominated from start to finish, scoring three times while keeping a clean sheet.
Defensively, they were excellent, with Aaron Ramsdale only having to make one save, while going forward they caused the home side so many problems.
The only negative really was that they only scored three goals. With better finishing, the scoreline could – and probably should – have been far higher, which only hammers home just how impressively they performed against a side that had thrashed Manchester United the month before.
Another one for Saliba.
There were a fair few contenders, with Gabriel Jesus scoring a stunner against Leicester with next-to-no back-lift to open his Premier League account for Arsenal.
Martin Odegaard’s second in the 3-0 success at Bournemouth was a wonderful team goal and Fabio Vieira announced himself in style with his fabulous strike in the victory at Brentford.
But Saliba’s curling effort against Bournemouth was the type of goal that a world-class striker would have been proud of: first time, with his wrong foot, right into the top corner.
Best new signing
Only one winner here.
While Oleksandr Zinchenko has been excellent and both Vieira and Marquinhos have looked exciting in their fleeting appearances, Jesus has been nothing short of sensational.
The impact he has made has been dramatic and instantaneous, the former Manchester City forward completely transforming the way Arsenal attack.
Jesus already has four goals in his first seven league games and could easily have added far more to that tally.
The Brazilian has been a breath of fresh air and already looks like at a bargain at £45 million ($51m).
- Getty Images
The defeat at Manchester United, without a shadow of a doubt.
But it wasn’t really the performance that was disappointing, it was purely that Arsenal didn’t make their superiority count.
Time and time again they have gone to Old Trafford in recent years and put in a horrible performance that has ended in defeat.
But this was different. Arsenal were excellent for large periods of the game, but some wasteful finishing and sloppy defending let United off the hook.
When Bukayo Saka equalised, Arsenal really should have gone on and won that game. But instead they lost their heads and left themselves exposed to United’s counterattacks.
Credit to United, they picked Arsenal off, but the visitors knew after that game that it was a match they really should have won.
- Getty Images
Given Arsenal are top of the table with six wins from seven Premier League games, there have clearly been plenty of positives during the early stages of the season.
The way in which they swarm forward with real menace is completely opposite to the lethargic attacking play we saw at times throughout the 2021-22 campaign.
They also look stronger from a defensive perspective. Furthermore, although they have conceded a few too many goals, players have stepped up when required, proving effective deputies when some of Arteta’s regular starters have been out injured.
But arguably the biggest positive has been how the team has responded to setbacks.
When they went behind against Fulham in the second half, they came back to win – something they only managed once in the league last season.
They also responded very quickly with goals after being pegged back in the games against Leicester City and Aston Villa.
Arsenal have struggled in recent seasons when faced with adversity, so the early signs of greater resilience have been very encouraging and bode well for the remainder of the season.
Granit Xhaka has been immense so far this season.
Many felt that this could be the year that the Switzerland international was eased out of the picture at Arsenal, especially with him being asked to operate in a more advanced midfield role than he has been accustomed to in north London.
Instead, he has excelled, picking up three assists during his first even league games and also scoring a goal.
Indeed, the resurgent Xhaka is one of the first names down on Arteta’s team sheet.
Could do better
It feels a touch harsh to put Bukayo Saka down for this one, considering he has already amassed four assists and a goal during seven league games.
But the Arsenal winger still has yet to really hit the heights of the past couple of seasons.
The big plus is that he is still contributing in the final third even if he is not really playing at his very best.
It's also encouraging that Arsenal are showing that they are not as reliant on the overworked youngster as they have been in recent years.
Cause for concern
It still feels like Arsenal’s squad is a little bit short.
So far they have coped quite well with the injuries that come their way, but you do wonder how they will manage should the likes of Saka, Jesus or Gabriel Martinelli be ruled out for any substantial period of time.
Arteta wanted to bring in more firepower during the transfer window, but ultimately the club resisted the urge to make any further additions.
Hopefully, they don’t live to regret that decision, especially when the fixtures start to pile up, but there’s no doubt that the squad is a bit small compared to some of their rivals in the league.
It may have been hugely exciting to see Ethan Nwaneri make history at Brentford last weekend but the 15-year-old's presence on the bench highlighted the Gunners' lack of strength in depth.
It’s tough to really criticise anything Arteta has done this season.
Perhaps he should have pushed harder for the club to add at least one more player to the squad during the transfer window, but there’s only so much the Spaniard can do in that department.
On the pitch, he has got most things right, with his new signings making a huge impact.
The team is playing well and getting results and, on the whole, Arteta has got his substitutions right this season.
One time you could point the finger at him was at Old Trafford when he made a triple change that seemed to unbalance the side and that led to United scoring their third soon after.
But, aside from that, Arteta hasn’t really put a foot wrong, meaning Arsenal can approach their big games against Tottenham and Liverpool after the international break with real confidence.
Up until this point, it really has been a case of so far, so good.