Three wins from Arsenal’s last three league games, 8 goals scored, only the one conceded-the Gunners are on the up surely?
If the year was 2003 and Arsène Wenger’s golden era XI were charging towards their invincible crown, then that may well have been the case. Nevertheless, just under two decades later we find ourselves in a period of transition post Wenger. Mikel Arteta has entered his second year at the helm and remains in the process of discovering his favoured starting XI as we sit 11th in the Premier League standings.
Naturally, I am not implying that we should remain dissatisfied until we have reached the dizzy heights of the Invincibles. Times have changed, new title challengers have emerged and competition for Champions League places have become more and more fierce. For the time being at least, Arsenal’s ambitions for the season have been concentrated, as we aim to adapt to life post Arsène Wenger.
Focusing in on the 2020-21 campaign, the Gunners appear to have developed a sense of momentum after a harrowing start to the season. Prior to our sweet victory over bitter rivals Chelsea, we had failed to win in our previous 7 league outings with only a single goal scored from open play. Our renowned style of attractive and fast flowing football seemed a distant memory and confidence throughout the squad was at an all-time low.
A combination of COVID-19 implications and injuries saw Arteta turn to his youth for Chelsea’s visit to the Emirates, with Bukayo Saka pushed further forward on the right hand side, Emile Smith Rowe through the middle adopting a number 10 role and the welcome return of Gabriel Martinelli on the left in an attacking three behind Lacazette.
Mikel’s decision to put faith in the youth reaped rewards as we blew Chelsea away with a resurgent display brimming with positive and attacking play with an urgency to get the ball into the final third and cause the Blues problems.
Victory over Brighton reflected a more gritty performance, however our ability to seek out a winner and return to London with all three points was a welcome sight. In our pursuit for Champions League football, these type of performances will be vital against teams battling for survival, a category we have thankfully managed to distance ourselves from.
Ruthlessness epitomised our display against West Brom- with both a resolute defensive display and free flowing attacking football on show for us fans to enjoy. Just like the good old days eh?
If there is one thing to take from our last three league outings it would be that our youthful trio of Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli are pivotal to the clubs future success and imperative to the squad Arteta is out to build.
Prior to the Chelsea game, Smith Rowe had failed to feature in the Premier League this season with appearances restricted to cup competitions. However, since being thrust into the starting eleven has brought a timely sense of energy to the side. A one touch here, a drop of the shoulder there- he’s always on the move.
His ability to interchange positions with his fellow forwards as well as find that killer pass in a Number 10 role has been crucial in Arteta’s decision to allow him the chance to fill the void since Mesut Ozil’s absence from the first team squad.
The qualities Martinelli has brought to the side were clear to see during last season with his silky dribbling, explosive runs and composed finishing underlining the massive potential he possesses. Since returning from his knee injury we have seen glimpses of the player from last season, however his re-introduction must be made with caution. The Brazilian having to be substituted against Man City during our Capital One Tie made it clear that his return must be a gradual one.
There is no doubt that our golden number seven, Saka, is of much more value to the team further up the field. His performances in our last three outings which include two goals and an assist only strengthen this claim and with Partey’s return nearing, and Arteta seeming to favour a back four in recent games, hopefully this shows a sign of the manager accommodating to his strengths.
It would be unfair to credit our youthful attacking presence without reflecting on the sturdy and assured defending of our back four over the Christmas period. Leno, as was so often the case last year, has pulled off a string of point-preserving saves including the penalty late on against Chelsea. Kieran Tierney has shone over the last few weeks with a real eagerness to drive down the channels and whip in enticing balls for the forwards. His man of the match performance against West Brom has epitomised his performances this season and there is no doubt he will be vital in our hunt for silverware this season.
Pablo Mari has put in a string of promising performances since filling in for Covid-absentee Gabriel, his conceded penalty against Chelsea underlined a lack of first team football with his appearance against the Blues his first full 90 minuets for Arsenal in the league.
Nevertheless, composed performances against Brighton and West Brom alongside Holding were crucial in preserving the clean sheets. It remains doubtful whether either are a suitable long term partner for Gabriel, however credit where credit is due, the pair have played their part in recent weeks.
There is no doubt that the last two weeks have rejuvenated Arsenal with a timely boost in confidence and a growing sense of a return to our attacking style of play we are oh so traditionally known for. Our defence has been solid but Arteta was quick to address our defensive issues, our ability to distance ourselves from sideways passing and subdued offensive displays has been a welcoming sign for fans.
As positive as recent results have been, January presents a series of stern tests including the likes of Crystal Palace, Southampton, and Manchester United. They are likely to indicate just how serious a contender we are for the Champions League places and whether we have the ability to sustain our positive run of form. January also provides Arsenal with the opportunity to clear a string of names off the wage bill and use the revenue to start to provide cover and experience for the promising youth to learn from.
We have been shown signs that there is a group of players ready to aid Arteta in his mission to build something special with Arsenal, but he needs to be supported in the window to build on this basis and continue our run of form. For the time being however, we must remain grounded taking each game as it comes. Starting with our FA Cup defence tomorrow evening against Newcastle United.
Author: Eli Haidari
Photo Credit: Kieran Clarke