Arsenal 2 Luton 0: Much-changed Gunners go top of the Premier League as Odegaard helps his side ease past Hatters


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SO it turns out Mikel Arteta does have a half-decent squad after all.

On the night when Arsenal’s manager allowed his understudies to take centre stage, his team returned to the Premier League summit with a smooth victory.

Martin Odegaard opened the scoring


Martin Odegaard opened the scoringCredit: Rex
Emile Smith Rowe repaid his rare starting opportunity by setting up the second goal


Emile Smith Rowe repaid his rare starting opportunity by setting up the second goalCredit: Getty

Arteta made five changes – his most significant rotation since 2021 – and saw fringe player Emile Smith Rowe play a major role in both of the first half goals which effectively ended the contest.

The Gunners chief is no tinkerman. He makes far fewer changes to his starting line-up than title rivals Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola.

And the feeling was that a lack of depth might be Arteta’s undoing as he spins plates between the Premier League and Champions League, without having serious trust in his back-up boys.

Well here was proof that Arsenal go far deeper than their first eleven.

Declan Rice, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli and the injured Bukayo Saka were all missing but a Martin Odegaard strike and a Daiki Hashioka own goal made this a largely sweat-free night for the north Londoners.

Smith Rowe, Thomas Partey and Leandro Trossard were all influential for the hosts and all are capable of making meaningful interventions during the title run-in.

The Gunners will surely be top for just 24 hours, before Liverpool’s inevitable home win over Sheffield United tomorrow.

But this was a victory which suggested Arsenal may have staying power down the final straight.


Sure, Luton are in the relegation zone and operate on a fraction of Arsenal’s resources but they have rattled some of the Premier League’s elite this season and were unable to lay a glove on this much-altered line-up.

Smith Rowe, still only 23 but something of a forgotten man after two injury-riddled seasons, fitted in perfectly as Arsenal backed up Sunday’s creditable but almost unwatchable goalless draw at the Etihad with something more entertaining.

With Brighton and Bayern Munich to come in the next week, Arteta needed to give respite to some of his main men.

His selection turned an apparently routine fixture into something more interesting – his decision to leave Rice on the bench was particularly eye-catching as the England man barely ever misses a game for club or country.

It might have made eyes light up in the Luton dressing-room, Rob Edwards’ side had come close enough to upsetting Arsenal’s first eleven before they fell to a 4-3 defeat at Kenilworth Road this season.

But Arteta’s changes certainly didn’t alter the expected pattern of the match, Arsenal hogged the ball, pinging around nicely until things continually broke down in the final third.

Partey was orchestrating from the anchor role, Odegaard was busy and inventive but Kai Havertz, at centre-forward, was making one of his frustrating starts

Still, midway through the first half, Arsenal were in front and Smith Rowe played a key part, robbing Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu 30 yards from Luton’s goal.

Smith Rowe fed Odegaard, who exchanged passes with Havertz, then drilled his first-time shot past Thomas Kaminski.

Luton joined in for a while. Andros Townsend – booed almost politely in memory of his long-off Tottenham days – had a pleasing jink down the right but Jordan Clark couldn’t apply a proper header to his cross.

William Saliba added a touch of the banger car to his Rolls Royce status when he followed through heavily on Daiki Hashioka but ref Criag Pawson played on and while Luton’s Japanese defender was stricken, Smith Rowe had a close-range shot pushed away by Kaminski.

Ben White then confected a lovely piece of eye-candy, a drag-back on the turn to skewer his marker and feed Havertz, whose shot was pushed wide.

The second goal was coming and it arrived courtesy of three of those called off the bench by Arteta.

Trossard fed Smith Rowe down the left and he cut back towards Reiss Nelson, whose presence persuaded Hashioka to make a hash of it and find his own net.

The second half was largely uneventful. Takehiro Tomiyasu, on as a sub, curled a shot narrowly wide but Arsenal were managing the same wisely enough.

Eddie Nketiah, another sub, forced a decent save out of Kaminski

Luton’s supporters made plenty of noise on a big night out, their club’s first ever visit to the Emirates.

The older among them will remember the Hatters defeating Arsenal to win the 1988 Littlewoods Cup in a vintage Wembley final.

The financial gulf between the two clubs is far wider now but Edwards still has his team in with a chance of survival.

The Hatters may well be back here next season. And Arsenal may yet greet them as champions of England.

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Arsenal 2 Luton 0: Much-changed Gunners go top of the Premier League as Odegaard helps his side ease past Hatters

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