Arteta’s Arsenal – Any sign of progress in the process?
26th December 2019. The halfway mark of the 19/20 season, and Mikel Arteta’s first game in charge of the Arsenal. Fast forward thirteen months (which feels more like a lifetime) to the 26th January 2020, and we find ourselves at the halfway point of the 20/21 season.
Following a strong end to the previous season, culminating in a record-extending 14th FA Cup win, the Gunners were expected to kick on under Arteta this campaign. Having bagged the first trophy of the season, a penalty triumph over Liverpool in the Community Shield, hopes were high. But as the saying goes; as an Arsenal fan, it’s the hope that kills you. Let’s assess how Arteta’s side have performed so far this campaign.
21 games in (now a little over halfway), Arsenal find themselves right in the middle of the table sitting in 10th position, the same as this stage last year, but 4 points better off this campaign. The beginning of the league season drew mixed opinions, with Arsenal losing 2 of their first 5. However, not all is as bad as it seems, given that these 2 losses were away at Anfield and the Etihad Stadium; the home of the reigning champions and their predecessors. A dominant display at Old Trafford in game week 7 resulted in a 1-0 victory, and saw our dismal 29 game winless run at top six sides come to a long-awaited end. After a 2-1 loss to Wolves on 29th November 2020, a year to the day since Unai Emery’s dismissal, Arsenal found themselves sitting on 13 points after 10 games, their worst ever start to a Premier League season. Arsenal would go 7 games without a win, before providing a late Christmas present with a 3-1 win over Chelsea on Boxing Day. Following this, the rejuvenated side won 4 of their next 6 and have conceded only one league goal since. After a turbulent November & December, Arteta has got his side firmly back on track.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of Arsenal’s season, highlighted by their league performances, is the sheer lack of creativity in the side. Club record signing Nicolas Pépé is yet to show any consistency in his performances, despite being in England for 18 months now. Ozil’s departure to Turkey appears to be his final assist for the club, helping shave £350k off the weekly wage bill. And, Willian’s arrival from Chelsea is seemingly doing more harm than good at this stage – only two and a half years to go! Enter stage left, Emile Smith-Rowe. The 20 year old Croydon De Bruyne has revolutionised Arsenal’s attack, providing three assists in his first five league appearances. His inclusion in the squad has not accidentally coincided with Arsenal’s recent upturn in form. The ever impressive Saka and the resurgence of Alex Lacazette have also been factors in Arsenal’s impressive streak. The recent arrival of Martin Ødegaard will add more attacking calibre to the squad’s ranks, and take some much needed pressure off Smith-Rowe’s young shoulders.
Despite Arsenal’s league position and worst start to a season in the Premier League era, Arteta’s side have been relatively solid defensively. The Gunners have only conceded 20 goals in 21 games this campaign, 10 fewer than this stage last season. The signing of Gabriel has strengthened the back-bone of the side. Colossal in the air and tidy on the ground, Gabriel has proven to be a great bit of business, already scooping three player of the month awards. Rob Holding has managed to stay relatively injury free and string together a fine run of performances, while Tierney is one of the first names on the team sheet. Leno continues to be consistent between the sticks; conceding just one goal in his last six league appearances. Long may it continue.
Unlike the Premier League, Arsenal’s form in Europe so far this season has been impeccable. 6 wins from 6 against Molde, Dundalk and Rapid Vienna saw Arsenal top the group with 18 points, and earn a draw against Benfica in the last 32.
Thursday nights often provided a much needed break from Arsenal’s depressing league form. The performances were impressive and enjoyable to watch, despite being against Norwegian electricians and Irish plumbers. The group stage also gave squad players and young Gun’s the chance to impress Arteta, with Joe Willock and exciting prospect Flo Balogun being the stand-out performers.
The competition has evaded Arsenal in recent years, reaching the semi-final and final in their first and second attempts. But will it be 4th time lucky?
FA Cup & Carabao Cup
There is not much to be said about Arsenal’s performances in the domestic cups this season.
The Gunners managed to reach the quarter finals of the Carabao Cup, impressively seeing off Leicester at the King Power Stadium and Liverpool at Anfield. However, a Rúnarsson horror show stopped us in our tracks against Man City, prompting Edu to sign Maty Ryan on loan in the January window as our new back up keeper.
Our FA Cup defence lasted a grand total of two weeks. Extra-time was required to beat Newcastle in the 3rd round before a lacklustre performance at St Mary’s saw us eliminated by Southampton in the 4th round.
Having been eliminated from both domestic cup competitions, Arteta will be purely focused on the Premier League and Europa League. A quite frankly terrible start to the season has been somewhat resurrected and there are positive signs on the horizon. With Arsenal’s defence still holding strong and creativity being slowly injected back into the side, the Gunners could rocket up the table.
We are beginning to see signs of Arteta’s blueprint; the culture has been revamped, the deadwood is being trimmed and free-flowing football is being witnessed at the Emirates, well virtually anyways. With Partey returning to full fitness, Xhaka arguably playing his best football in a red and white shirt, and MØ11 inbound, Arsenal’s engine is beginning to take shape.
There is progress in the process.
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