The Gunners started the season in horrendous fashion, but Mikel Arteta has rescued his side from sinking by going back to basics
Only three games into this season, the writing appeared to have been scrawled on the marbled Arsenal walls for Mikel Arteta.
Three games played, three defeats. Nine goals conceded, zero goals scored. It wasn’t the start the fans had been hoping for after a summer of revitalisation in north London.
While that run may have included the visit of European conquerors Chelsea and a trip to reigning Premier League champions Manchester City, a club of Arsenal’s prestige and honour would acknowledge that such a run simply isn’t good enough.
Fast forward seven weeks and the Gunners’ boo boys, deafening in their disapproval after those opening three fixtures, will have surely crawled back into their caves in silence.
A string of steady results has seen Arteta’s men slowly climb the Premier League standings on their way to going eight matches unbeaten in all competitions. And for Arsenal fans, the satisfying statistics don’t end there.
A 2-0 triumph over Leeds in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night marked a 10th clean sheet in the club’s last 20 outings – putting them joint-top amongst the rest of the top-flight clubs. It is a record only Jurgen Klopp’s resurgent Liverpool can match.
Their highly commendable total of 18 goals against, which includes the nine shipped in the Gunners’ shoddy start, make for very pleasant reading, especially when compared to out-of-sorts Manchester United.
Fresh from their 5-0 thumping at the hands of Klopp’s Liverpool, Man United, in contrast, have managed one meagre clean sheet alongside a staggering tally of 34 goals conceded. The demise of the Red Devils has even seen Arsenal draw level on points with their old foes in the standings.
It has led many to question what has changed for Arteta. Ironically, it is their ignorance of the club’s long-standing footballing values which has helped, not hindered, their progress.
The desire to play adventurous, free-flowing football seems to have gone out of the window. Instead, Arteta has implemented a solid system built on a dogged, disciplined defence. As both Norwich and Burnley will testify, ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ could well be back. Wenger would be proud.
Arteta deserves recognition for turning the tide when the odds looked stacked against him so early into the campaign, with some quarters calling for his proverbial head. His recently established back five deserve a decent share of credit, too.
Aaron Ramsdale is thriving having been given the responsibility of Arsenal’s number one spot, while Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel and Kieran Tierney have all handed Gunners fans a glimmer of hope going forward after many years spent in the wilderness.
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The new backline boast a better balance and sense of organisation, providing Arteta’s attacking options with one of the most solid bases seen at the Emirates for a long time.
Arsenal’s defensive quintet are a far cry from the shambolic six that were given a mauling by free-scoring Man City at the end of August, with only Tierney from the newly-favoured five featuring that day.
In constructing his altered blueprint, it seems Arteta has finally acknowledged his squad’s limitations. While he simply doesn’t have the players to replicate the style and system summoned by the sorcery of his former mentor Pep Guardiola, he has an exciting squad that can be moulded into a successful side.
For too long, the Spaniard seemed intent on producing fantasy football, but there comes a time when all managers need to take stock and reassess. This squad is a talented one that can be shaped if pulled in the right direction.
All good teams require a solid foundation to build upon and it seems Arteta has unearthed exactly that. If he can keep his backline together and continue to strengthen their understanding, the five in question can form a springboard for further Arsenal progress.
The Gunners are by no means the finished article and there is undoubtedly a long way to go to get them back into Europe and even the top four.
But maybe Arteta’s new approach, placing emphasis on defence over attack, will see this new era edge closer towards achievements akin to the Arsenal of old.