As any Arsenal fan will quickly tell you, the club has seen an unexpectedly successful 2022-23 campaign that has it sitting atop the English Premier League table with eight matches remaining. We take a look at the magic that has sustained throughout the season, propelling the Gunners from a flash in the pan to certified title favorites.
David Seaman is never one to shy away from sharing his thoughts. Speaking on the Arsecast podcast ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Liverpool, the former Gunners keeper discussed current club No. 1 Aaron Ramsdale’s development since joining the team. He mentioned the excellent season Ramsdale was having and how his character shines through in his performances. However, he noted there were times when Ramsdale did get carried away.
He referenced Arsenal’s game against Manchester United last season and his antagonizing celebration in the aftermath of Bruno Fernandes’ missed penalty that hit the post.
“Wow, that’s a little bit too much celebration and you didn’t save it mate,” Seaman said.
— afcstuff (@afcstuff) April 23, 2022
Beyond the 12 clean sheets he has kept so far this season, maybe the real marker of Ramsdale’s progression this season was the restraint he showed after Mohamed Salah put his penalty wide in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw at Anfield on Sunday.
Or perhaps, he knew that his moment in the sun against the Egyptian was going to come a little later. Quite literally, he single-handedly kept Arsenal’s title hopes alive with a fingertip save of Salah’s injury time strike that seemed destined for goal. He followed it up with another astonishing block a couple of minutes later to deny Ibrahim Konate from close range.
Aaron Ramsdale with the HUGE STOP!
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 9, 2023
Konate was SO CLOSE to the late winner for Liverpool.
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 9, 2023
At the final whistle, if Ramsdale had ripped his shirt off and done a knee-slide in front of the Kop, no Arsenal fan, least of all Seaman, would have begrudged him. Arsenal have had their share of injury-time heroics this season, but the Ramsdale saves trump them all in magnitude.
There are few experiences in sport that rival watching a team chase improbable glory, and often on the journey from disbelief to dreamland, teams tend to develop a “shining.” It’s a feeling rooted in contrast. It’s imperceptible yet intoxicating. Delicate yet powerful.
Some call it destiny, some fate, some a curse.
Evoke it too heavily as Liverpool did in their push for the title in 2014 and it’ll sink you. But harness it in just the right amount — the way Argentina did at last year’s World Cup — and it will drag you across the line.
Eddie Nketiah’s winner against Manchester United, the Jorginho strike against Aston Villa that went in off Emiliano Martinez’s head, and Reiss Nelson’s goal against Bournemouth are moments that have contributed to Arsenal’s shine this season. Sunday’s game at Anfield only strengthened it further.
After taking an early lead, everything that could go wrong went wrong for the Gunners that Sunday. Rob Holding, the obvious weak link in defense, conceded a penalty. Granit Xhaka regressed to his former, abrasive self with an impetuous foul on Trent Alexander-Arnold. Roberto Firmino, Arsenal’s eternal nemesis, scored his 11th goal against them.
And yet, they didn’t crumble.
It wasn’t Arsenal vs. Liverpool on Sunday. It was Arsenal vs. Anfield. Twenty-nine points separated the two teams ahead of the fixture, but the baggage Arsenal carried into it couldn’t be overlooked. Their last win at Anfield — a 2-0 win in 2012 — came so far back that Vito Mannone was between the sticks for Arsenal that afternoon. Since 2016, the Gunners have conceded at least three goals on each visit.
Backs to the wall, season on the line, pride at stake — Anfield was the perfect storm on Sunday. But, unlike the years past, Arsenal did not naively attempt to sail through it. They created some rain of their own. The last time Arsenal came to Anfield top of the table, they were 4-0 down in 20 minutes. This time, they were up two by the 28th. There was a swagger about the black shirts as they ran about the pitch with intent and incision. They played like league leaders.
Salah’s goal late in the first half made the comeback inevitable. Liverpool chasing a game when attacking the Kop end? We have seen that movie before.
The ground’s mythicism is rooted in fact; Liverpool have lost just once at Anfield in the league since March 2021. They went unbeaten at home last season and won a league-best 20 points from losing positions. Eleven of those came on their home ground.
Few stadiums ride on momentum in the way Anfield does. You can find yourself submerged before you even realize what’s happened. Unlike last season, Mikel Arteta’s preparation for the occasion went beyond just blasting “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at the training ground.
The plan in the first half was to produce a chorus in the cacophony. But in the second, it was all about disrupting Liverpool’s rhythm. Even Bukayo Saka, the nicest man to ever kick a football, indulged in Arsenal’s cynicism.
He picked up a booking in the 84th minute for time wasting as he ambled over to take a corner. As Liverpool fans behind the flag spewed their venom, he raised his hands as if to say, “I gotta do what I gotta do.” But, what he did to Andy Robertson and Konate a couple of minutes later on the opposite wing was perhaps even more outrageous. He turned them inside-out with a devastating piece of skill and put in a scorching cross into the middle of the box. He epitomized the spice and spike in the Gunners’ performance.
Liverpool eventually managed to stick in the knife. But, they weren’t able to twist it. Arsenal played the game in the first half but in the second, they played the occasion. The magnitude of this result won’t be determined by hindsight. Irrespective of how the season pans out for Arteta’s side, the draw at Anfield was creditable. Unlike Jorginho and Nelson earlier in the season, Ramsdale’s injury time heroics didn’t strengthen Arsenal’s shine. He kept it alive just as it began to fade away. And that is as valuable as three points.