Dissecting two outstanding Arsenal goals: Every player involved and a goal of the season contender
Forget that landmark 8,000th league goal that Arsenal scored against West Ham.
We need to talk about the next two — numbers 8,001 and 8,002 — which also arrived in their remarkable 6-0 victory on Sunday.
Because the fifth, which was scored by Bukayo Saka, read like this: Gabriel, Raya, Gabriel, Kiwior, Martinelli, Kiwior, Martinelli, Rice, Saliba, White, Saka, Kiwior, Havertz, Trossard, Rice, Odegaard, Saka: Goal.
In other words, every Arsenal player was involved in the build-up.
As for the sixth, which was scored two minutes and 27 seconds later, it featured 24 passes in total and a goal of the season contender at the end.
In between times, West Ham completed one pass, which wasn’t caught on camera because the television broadcasters were still showing the Arsenal fans celebrating Saka’s goal.
Opta, however, have since cleared that up. “Kick off taken by (Jarrod) Bowen and then a ball launched forward by (Nayef) Aguerd.”
Goal No 5 starts, believe it or not, with West Ham on the attack.
The first thing that strikes you here is just how strong Arsenal look defensively, even though they are 4-0 up. Arsenal have all 10 outfield players back and nine of them behind the ball. Odegaard is the most advanced – in space. Odegaard is always in space.
Arsenal seize possession, Konstantinos Mavropanos brings down Gabriel Martinelli, and the free kick that follows, which is passed from Gabriel (circled below) to David Raya, starts a passage of play that leads to Saka’s second goal of the afternoon.
Raya stands with the sole of the foot on top the ball and waits. It’s bait, essentially. Bait that West Ham, who have already had their medicine, don’t want to take.
Eventually, Jarrod Bowen moves towards Raya, prompting the Arsenal goalkeeper to return the ball to Gabriel.
Gabriel then slides a simple pass into the feet of Jakub Kiwior, close to the touchline.
Although Rice, arms outstretched, is calling for the ball infield (he loves forming this triangle with full-back and centre-half), and both Leandro Trossard and Martin Odegaard are gesturing for Kiwior to pass to the England midfielder too, Arsenal’s left-back slides a ball down the line for Martinelli.
Receiving the ball facing the Arsenal goal, Martinelli holds off Vladimir Coufal and returns a pass to Kiwior.
Martinelli then takes the ball again and passes to Rice.
Arsenal are killing West Ham softly.
Rice, who has scanned on three separate occasions, has a clear picture of everything around him. He receives on the back foot and switches play to William Saliba, who is just outside the Arsenal penalty area. That’s about as routine as it gets for Rice.
At this point, James Ward-Prowse makes a poor decision to run towards Saliba and press. Ward-Prowse is never going to get to Saliba in time. In fact, by running at Saliba when he does, and in the way that he does (straight), Ward-Prowse encourages the Arsenal defender to play around him. Saliba lets the ball run across him, receives on the back foot, passes to Ben White and Arsenal are “out”.
Notice how White, circled below, is already scanning to see the position that Saka has taken up.
West Ham have committed five players forward, without any real intent, structure or timing to their press, and Arsenal have played around them with ease.
White slides a simple pass infield to Saka, who receives on the half-turn (an underrated skill), expertly taking the ball with his right foot initially…
… before quickly transferring the ball to his left as he starts to dribble away.
Both actions — and the timing of them — prevent Emerson from getting anywhere near the ball.
Saka switches play to Kiwior, who has the freedom of the left flank because Coufal decided to not just chase Martinelli back towards the Arsenal goal but then Rice too.
Kiwior advances on the left and then turns back, stabbing the ball to Kai Havertz.
West Ham have numbers back now, albeit an unorthodox formation: a defensive two and midfield six.
Havertz lays the ball off to Trossard, circled, who…
… plays a slightly strange lofted pass to Rice, which forces the midfielder to control with his chest.
Rice offloads to Odegaard and Arsenal have now joined up all the dots — their captain is the 11th different player to get involved in this passage of play.
Saka, meanwhile, has moved into a lovely pocket of space, fairly central and between West Ham’s defence and midfield.
White’s movement is also important here. It’s simple enough — he does what pretty much any good full-back would do in this situation and drifts towards the touchline — but it’s hugely effective.
Emerson, the West Ham left-back, runs towards White…
… and that opens up a lovely channel for Odegaard to slide a perfectly-weighed pass into Saka.
What happens next is another example of Saka’s receiving skills. Turning and taking possession in one motion, Saka lets the ball run into his path, collecting with the outside of his left foot. That first touch is key — it immediately takes Saka inside and gives Emerson, trying to get back on the winger’s outside, no chance of making any sort of challenge.
Aguerd, who was slow to react to this whole situation unfolding, is now left one-versus-one against Saka.
The Arsenal winger drops his shoulder and darts inside.
Poor Aguerd is tied in knots and ends up facing south when Saka is travelling north.
Saka brilliantly wrong-foots the West Ham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola too, by whipping a powerful shot inside the near post.
Trossard, arms aloft in the penalty area, was celebrating before the ball had hit the back of the net.
As the television cameras pan away from the celebrations in the away end following Saka’s goal, a long ball hangs in the air in the Arsenal half.
The kick-off has taken place — Bowen to Aguerd — and West Ham have given the ball straight back to Arsenal.
Havertz climbs highest to win the header, Martinelli comes short and gathers possession, and West Ham are back in miserably familiar territory.
Martinelli holds off Coufal (copy and paste) before passing back to Gabriel, inside the Arsenal penalty area.
David Moyes, who looks like a man who has walked 500 miles in one afternoon, watches as Gabriel feeds the ball into Odegaard and receives it back.
Mohammed Kudus is picking up Rice at this stage…
… but decides to jump onto Gabriel when the Arsenal centre-back receives possession from Odegaard.
Rice, of course, is now free.
But it’s much more than a case of being free.
If the game is over as a contest, nobody has told Rice.
Sprinting across with his arms outstretched, Rice runs with real desire and purpose to join up the triangle with Gabriel and Kiwior.
Gabriel feeds Kiwior, who passes first-time to Rice and Arsenal are almost toying with West Ham.
Rice finds Havertz wide on the left (Martinelli has now come infield as part of Arsenal’s rotation).
Havertz slides the ball back to Kiwior and…
… Odegaard, whose best friend is space, receives possession with nobody near him.
Kalvin Phillips belatedly attempts to get tight to Odegaard.
Odegaard returns the ball to Kiwior and Phillips’ body language — he throws his arms in the air in exasperation — says it all. West Ham are chasing shadows.
Kiwior passes back to Gabriel as the keep-ball continues.
Bowen forlornly runs towards Gabriel, and then Saliba, who receives possession on the other side of the penalty area.
White, hugging the right touchline and circled below, gestures for Saliba to stay calm, which seems ironic in the circumstances.
Martinelli drops short for a bounce pass (a straight one-two), which drags Tomas Soucek forward and, essentially, into an area where the West Ham midfielder doesn’t want to be because he has no chance of winning the ball and is leaving space behind.
As possession is returned to Saliba, Martinelli spins, taking Soucek with him and, for reasons that it’s hard to explain, Phillips (circled) too.
That leaves Odegaard totally free. Saliba passes to White, and White passes to Odegaard.
Uncharacteristically, Odegaard is a little causal receiving, almost as if he thinks the game is won.
Phillips returns to make a challenge but, after repeated viewing, and The Athletic’s own version of a VAR check, there is no evidence the West Ham midfielder makes contact with the ball. All of which means that the passing chain continues.
Odegaard plays back to Raya, who sweeps a short ball to Gabriel and West Ham, like an unclaimed suitcase at the airport, are unable to get off the carousel.
Odegaard, whose position is probably best described as anywhere and everywhere, drops deep to receive and now West Ham are all over the place.
Phillips, circled below, isn’t even facing the ball when Odegaard prepares to make a pass that takes six West Ham players out of the game.
Havertz, who has come off the left flank and back into the middle to receive (are you keeping up with Arsenal’s rotation?), takes the ball on the half turn.
Although West Ham are ragged, there’s still much to admire about the fluidity of Arsenal’s movement. They now have a midfield diamond: Odegaard at the base, Rice on the left, Trossard on the right and Havertz at the tip.
Havertz feeds Saka on the right and suddenly Arsenal’s attack has gone through the gears.
White, running like a man who has captained himself on Fantasy Football and is in need of much more than a clean sheet, sets off on an overlap on the right to support Saka.
Martinelli, running diagonally between Aguerd and Emerson, has a similar idea.
It’s like the Red Arrows.
Saka feeds Martinelli in the right channel.
Drawing both West Ham players towards him, Martinelli shows some dexterous footwork before flicking the ball inside for White.
White steps around Ward-Prowse and at this point we can only hope that a photographer was on the opposite side of the pitch to recreate that iconic Maradona picture as the Arsenal right-back mesmerises a line of West Ham defenders.
With so many West Ham players in the penalty area — eight and soon to be nine — White opts to pass backwards, where a queue is forming.
Trossard, who, criminally, is the only Arsenal player not to touch the ball in this long passage of play, fancies a shot but so does Odegaard. The two play a game of “yours, mine, mine, yours” and White’s pass ends up rolling between them.
Rice, the third in line, steps forward and sweeps a wonderful 25-yard shot high into the far corner.
Look at his technique — the standing foot is almost horizontal.
Trossard, circled below with his hands aloft, wins the first-to-celebrate-Arsenal-scoring competition again…
… and Odegaard has his head in his hands.
As for West Ham, they were reacquainted with the ball at the restart.