The last time Takehiro Tomiyasu started consecutive Premier League games the Omnicron variant was rampant across the UK, Max Verstappen had just stolen the F1 World Driver’s Championship from Lewis Hamilton and Luis Diaz was still a Porto player.
Feels like a long time ago doesn’t it? Not that you’d know that from the way the Japanese international played on Sunday.
Having been served up the hurricane that is Nuno Tavares against West Ham Arsenal were back in calmer waters with Tomiyasu in their backline once again.
Everything he does feels like the most sensible option available and within this Arsenal team that is certainly not a feeling you get very often.
If there’s one part of Tomiyasu’s game that could be criticised it’s his ability on the ball sometimes, but even that was spectacular on Sunday.
The Japan international was an essential part of Arsenal’s build up, making more progressive passes than anyone, and completing 100% of his crosses despite playing on his weaker side.
The full back positions have been a real source of anxiety for the Gunners in recent months, but with the former Bologna man back in the starting line up those concerns have simply washed away.
You wonder now if having found a full back formula that provides both offensive and defensive quality – Cedric had a good game on the opposite flank making eight progressive passes and completing more tackles than anyone on the Arsenal team – If Mikel Arteta will now stick with this for Thursday’s clash with Tottenham.
After the game he seemed to suggest that wouldn’t be the case.
Up against the counter attacking threat of Dejan Kulusevski and Heung-Min Son having a player capable of shutting down any threats is certainly a welcome addition.
It should be said that Tomiyasu did appear to tire late on in the game, and playing 90 minutes twice in the space of four days could be a big ask for him.
With probably the biggest game of the season to come having his best defender to select again is something Arteta will be absolutely delighted with.
Both were typical of the type of centre forward that Mikel Arteta clearly wants in this Arsenal team.
If you watch it back Illan Meslier does actually seem like he has a lot of time on the ball as he receives the pass from Luke Ayling, but it is Nketiah’s quickness across the ground that makes the goal.
On Sunday it worked a treat again and Arsenal are benefitting from having more energy up top.
The 22-year-old proved to all Arsenal strikers – looking specifically at you Alexandre Lacazette – that the run to the near post is not the only run centre forwards are allowed to make in the box.
Instead sensing where Gabriel Martinelli might cut the ball back to, Nketiah simply hung around on the penalty spot where he had plenty of time to turn home.
With this kind of play we’re finally starting to see why Mikel Arteta has been so intent on getting Nketiah to stay in North London.
The Spaniard’s wish has still not been fulfilled and after the game he expressed concern that speculation over his future could ruin the best spell of Nketiah’s nascent career.
“Eddie is doing what he has done all season,” Arteta said in his post-match press conference.
The smart money would suggest that no matter what happens between now and the end of the season, Nketiah will probably leave.
The 22-year-old has stated on several occasions that he wants consistent game time, and if Arsenal sign a new striker, as football.
Regardless of what happens though the Gunners are benefitting from his purple patch, and if losing Nketiah is the price they have to pay for Champions League qualification, then it’s likely that most Arsenal fans will be willing to accept that.
A few weeks ago Mikel Arteta made a promise to Nicolas Pepe.
“I don’t want to have a player like him sitting on the bench and not using him,” the Spaniard said.
“The moment I have chances, I want to give him a chance.” With a two goal and one man advantage and half an hour left to play Arteta kept his end of the bargain introducing the Ivorian in place of Bukayo Saka.
Junior Firpo had done nothing in the first half of the match except make everyone question how exactly he’d managed to get over 20 appearances at Barcelona, and it seemed the stage was set for Arsenal’s record signing to at least put a speck of doubt into his manager’s mind over his team selection for the upcoming North London Derby.
This prompted a reaction from the Arsenal bench with assistant coach Albert Stuivenberg spotted at full time in depp conversation with the Ivorian.
“Probably, when you see he’s got an empty net in front of him and he’s taking a touch backwards, you can’t really understand,” said Arteta after the game explaining the event.
“But you have to have the perception of playing in that moment, they are the ones making that decision and fortunately we didn’t need that goal.”
This was a day when Arsenal looked to use the flanks to attack their opponents as proven by the fact that full backs Takehiro Tomiyasu and Cedric Soares were first and third respectively for progressive passes in the match.
The Ivorian has stated that he’ll wait and see what happens with his future in the summer, and after being linked with an exit from Arsenal a few weeks ago it seems he may leave.
The fact that the Gunners continue to be linked with a player like Gabriel Jesus, who has spent much of the last two seasons on the wings at Manchester City would suggest Pepe is set to fall even further down the pecking order as well.
Across three seasons Arsenal certainly gave it a go with their £72 million man, but when he’s introduced into games you still don’t know if you’re going to get the Wolves Pepe or the Leeds Pepe.
Now as it happens Arsenal head into Thursday’s clash with the chance to get the job done and qualify for next season’s Champions League.
While the stakes may not be as high as the league title wins at White Hart Lane in ‘04 and ‘71, this has the potential to be another great night in the Gunners long history, and the first for Mikel Arteta with fans in attendance.
“I can’t wait for the game.”
Arsenal played a superb 4-3-3 for most of their game against Leeds, but with avoidance of defeat enough to send them well on their way to fourth place, do they ditch that in favour of a more defensive apporach? Or do they come out all guns blazing and risk handing momentum back to Spurs?
Regardless of what does happen on Thursday it is a remarkable achievement for the Gunners to have got themselves into a position where they’re capable of securing themselves a seat at Europe’s top table when you consider where they were after three games.
The chance to affirm that with victory at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is tantilising though and Arsenal will be desperate to take it.