Arsenal have made huge strides in the past year. From where they were at the end of last year, not too many people saw a bright future for the London club under the management of Unai Emrey who was sacked last November.
In came former player Mikel Arteta who was assistant manager to Pep Guardiola of Manchester City- a decision Arsenal have not had cause to regret nearly a year on. The Spaniard endured a shaky start to his career with Arsenal where he won only two of his first seven games but even then there were signs to point towards an upturn in form because of how much better they were playing in those matches and sure enough the results came with the season climaxing with a 14th FA Cup crown.
It is fair to say that not too many managers have had a first-ever managerial experience quite like Mikel Arteta where he was diagnosed with the coronavirus (which if you don’t know already was a pandemic that paused the world) off the pitch, he also had to do a lot of learning on the job and made changes that were rewarded with results last term.
Going into the new season, fans were keen to see what Arsenal would do in the transfer market to back Arteta heading into his first full season in charge and though their window isn’t over yet, the business they have done would be seen as shrewd ones with the signings of Gabriel and Willian.
These were two signings that serve two different purposes not only in a position sense but also in terms of tenure at the club. Willian, 32, was brought in for his league experience and proven quality but his age and length of contract suggests that he will not be around for long. The signing also allows the younger players like Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli (who are both teenagers) to continue their development in the first team without a massive amount of pressure on them to perform consistently at a club of Arsenal’s size until they attain the level.
Gabriel, 22, on the other hand, is 10 years Willian’s junior. He is a signing who is expected to make an impact but also grow in stature and become a leader at the back in the coming years, potentially alongside the highly-rated 19-year-old William Saliba.
BACK THREE SWITCH
The team’s switch from a back four to a back three or a back five which was first used to match Sheffield United’s system became a permanent formation for the Gunners as Arteta’s men put in several solid performances in that shape.
Arteta began his tenure at Arsenal with a 4-2-3-1 formation which he utilized for 17 games(and saw the brief reinstallment of Mesut Ozil into the starting lineup) before using the 4-3-3 system twice and then changing to a 3-4-3 which has now become a mainstay for the North London club.
Before the switch, Arsenal played 19 games, claimed 10 victories, drew five times and lost four games with 26 goals scored and 18 goals conceded. After the switch, they played 12 games, won nine, drew once and lost twice with 22 goals scored and just nine conceded at that time. It was a run that saw them beat both Manchester City and Liverpool twice in the space of less than two months.
Putting an extra man at the back allowed for uch needed defensive solidity as well as freedom up front for the three attackers who would be supported by forward thinking wing backs and a center half on the (mostly left) side.
It may be a coincidence but the switch has also seen Arsenal find some kind of balance in what is a lobsided squad at the back. Arsenal have as many as EIGHT center backs who may have struggled for gametime if there were only two availale slots in thaat position but the current situation ensures thst most of them get game time in rotation across all competitions providing Arsenal with enough cover in case of injuries which, by the way, the team have five players out.
Arguably their thinnest position in terms of player quality and number of bodies suitabe for the role, Arsenal thankfully have only two midfield slots available in the starting lineup. Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos, Mohammed Elneny and Joe Willock are the available players who could play in those positions. With Mtteo Guendouzi still frozen out and Lucas Torreira semmingly heading to Atletico Madrid and Ozil not necessarily built for that role, Arsenal may have a problem on their hands if injuries or poor form becomes an issue for starters. It remains a position they are looking to strengthen and links with Thomas Partey hold true to that fact. The transfer window is not closed yet and a deal could be done.
In attack, Arsenal are fortunate to have pretty durable players with Gabriel Martinelli (ruled out until next year) being the exception. The arrival of Willian as mentioned earler will turn out to be a shrewd piece of business but the most important signing of all woukd be the contract extension of top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabonese international has scored 7 of Arsenal’s last 12 goals with four of those coming against Manchester City and Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final and final. Once again he will be crucial for Arsenal if they are to challenge at the top in all competitions. Nicholas Pepe, Bukayo Saka, Willian, Alexander Lacazette, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah make up the attack. Not bad options up front.
Two games into the new season, Arsenal have shown they can win games in syle and also show the grit needed to overcome adversity when needed. Traits necessary for having a sucessful season. Add to that a brilliant manager like Mikel Arteta, the club are climbing to the top at a steady pace.