Initially I was underwhelmed with Mikel’s appointment. I felt the owner and recruitment team would be able to dictate his every move, being a typical ‘yes’ man. But from his very first interview, my confidence that he can deliver at this great club is slowly growing.
Tricky opening fixtures
Without a doubt, the Christmas period is the toughest time. So many games are clustered within a short time frame, making it difficult for a manager to implement his ideas instantly.
Despite not picking up the three points in his first game in charge at Bournemouth, the performance was encouraging. Lack of control, pedestrian football, unusual personnel and formation changes were a few problems under both Emery and Ljungberg. Straight away, Arteta reverted back to basics, implementing the traditional 4-2-3-1 system with players utilised correctly. Instantly you could see patterns of play, quick, intricate football. Poor crossing and finishing were the only aspects lacking.
Three days later at home to Chelsea, we put in another solid display. Intensity of the ball, quality passages of play and Aubameyang’s goal capped off a great half. With players struggling to maintain the same intensity in the second half, we sat back with good organisation and starved Chelsea from clear cut opportunities. Leno’s makes an uncharacteristic error for the equaliser and Chelsea’s winner epitomised the problems under Emery in how easily teams were able to transition from defence to attack. It wasn’t the desired result but again I saw promising signs.
An exceptional performance against Manchester United on New Years day kick started the Arteta era and the Spaniard has continued to quietly impress.
Defensively, we have significantly improved under Arteta with more intensity and energy injected into the team.
Going back to Emery, the lack of structure out of possession resulted in Leno facing continuous shots on goal. 13 league games under Emery this season, we conceded 19 goals, with the opposition managing 218 shots (16.8 per game). Compare that to the 15 league games under Arteta, we’ve faced 180 shots on goal (12 per game). The distances between defence and midfield reduced under Arteta along with better structure and balance, resulting in fewer transitions. Statistically, the defensive improvement is clear as shown below.
Results in all competitions before Arteta
Goal difference: 9
Clean sheets: 6
Win percentage: 35%
Clean sheet percentage: 23%
Results in all competitions under Arteta
Goal difference: 16
Clean sheets: 10
Win percentage: 57%
Clean sheet percentage: 48%
Sokratis, Luiz and Mustafi are ‘uncoachable’, Gary Neville said . David Luiz was a car crash throughout Emery’s reign and Mustafi has struggled with sustained consistency in an Arsenal shirt. Both ,since the Spaniard took over, have raised their levels significantly, with their consistent performances being a big reason for the number of clean sheets achieved. Massive credit to Arteta as he’s made average defenders look significantly more polished.
Not only these two but his improvement in many players within the squad is evident. Granit Xhaka is a prime example. His time at Arsenal looked seemingly over after the Palace incident but Arteta has implemented the correct system that allows Xhaka to flourish by surrounding him with the right personnel and tactics. Significance of Xhaka’s impact was analysed in my article recently here.
An aspect which has really impressed me is his ability to cope with injuries. Pre COVID 19, injuries to both senior LB’s Tierney and Kolasinac left Arteta short in this position. Saka had never played LB before but Arteta showed his tactical ability by integrating him into the side without being a detriment. He’d allow Saka to have minimal defensive duty by instructing Xhaka to slot in as LCB/LB and Bellerin playing an inverted role to maintain solidity in the midfield. Aubameyang would tuck in playing close to the CF, occupying their RB, which enabled Saka to have space out wide to cause problems (2-3-5 system in possession). This allowed Saka to do what he’s best at and create havoc further forward. Many managers would have struggled to implement a system without a recognised LB, but Arteta showed his ability to react well under exceptional circumstances.
Furthermore, Arteta’s confidence and belief in our youth products has been refreshing. Arteta’s found the right balance between senior pro’s and youngsters. He’s not been guilty of overplaying them, integrating them slowly and effectively into the first team. Emery for me was guilty of overplaying Guendouzi, stifling his progress. There was a clear trend in his performance’s both this and last season. He’d start the season well with good displays before his level dropping off after October but would still be continuously selected. Arteta, however, has handled the minutes and game time of youngsters well, taking them out of the side when necessary. Arteta’s showed that players play on merit, and if the performances are to his desired level then they would maintain their place in the team. Prime example is the undroppable Saka!
Had the season started in 2020, we’d be 3rd in table and massive praise must go to the manager. He’s transformed an in-balanced, under-performing squad into a more competitive and resilient side. Imagine what he could do with his own players!
There is a feel good factor around his arrival and you can see that everyone believes in his methods. His treatment of both Guendouzi and Ozil shows players who aren’t meeting his required demands won’t be considered, stamping his authority.
Whilst we must see sustained progress, as fans we should also be patient. Arteta will make mistakes and there have been questionable decisions along the way such as the absence of Martinelli, despite being one of our bright sparks. His in game management is an aspect that will improve with experience.
Olympiakos at home was an example of his inexperience. The Martinelli substitution should have happened 20 minutes earlier. Had he off come on earlier, we might still have a chance of European silverware. He injected the energy and intensity needed to influence the game but wasn’t given enough time. We have, however, seen excellent in game management from the Spaniard, most recent example is the 2-0 win against Wolves, with each substitution making a significant impact.
Arteta is not a miracle worker and despite squeezing every ounce of ability within this squad, certain players simply aren’t good enough and will continue to make costly errors, as shown recently against Manchester City. He can take this club forward but must be given the right resources for this to happen. I wished he had been appointed slightly earlier. Imagine if he had the games against Southampton, Norwich, Brighton, West Ham and Everton instead of Emery and Ljungberg. Guarantee we would have taken more than 6 points from these fixtures.
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23 years of age, 23 years as a Gooner. Arsenal runs through my veins and it pains me to see the current position and state of the club. Reading many football articles over the years has inspired me to write blogs containing Arsenal analysis. I’ve always wanted my fellow Gooners to be aware of my thoughts and opinions of ‘The Arsenal’ and thanks to Dave and Paul, I now have a platform which makes this possible.