The Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ isn’t a fixed concept. Fifteen years ago, you might have argued it was more of a ‘Big Three’. Whereas ten years ago, there were maybe four teams who challenged for the title. The number of teams who hit that peak of performance, and dominate both home and away, can shift for any number of reasons. However, one factor that has persisted for much longer is Arsenal’s record against those top teams.
Admittedly, The Gunners have had mixed results, but it isn’t all bad. Victories over Man City and Chelsea to lift the FA Cup at the end of the 2019/20 season were reflections of Arteta’s new tactics beginning to succeed. Although, prior to those wins, Arsenal fans could scarcely bring themselves to look at their away record. After a 2-0 over City at the Etihad on 18th January 2015, Arsenal’s results in the Premier League away fixtures against the top six teams were calculated over 22 games. The results were in, 0 wins, 8 draws, 14 losses – scoring 24 goals and conceding more than double that with 50. Of course that awful unwanted record ended at Old Trafford on Sunday with Arsenal’s well deserved 1-0 victory.
It has made for bleak reading. However, this was during a period of distinct turmoil for the team. Wenger’s departure, the years of austerity as the Emirates was paid off, and the generational shift as Arsenal’s greatest team entered their twilight years all made for a particularly rough time. So how can Arsenal continue to turn the tide on this troubling form after Sunday, as United are not currently a Top 6 team and the away losses to Liverpool and City this season suggest that the real streak is far from over?
Adopting Arteta’s Philosophy
Make no mistake, a manager like Arteta brings with him a philosophy and a vision for the team in mind, no student of Guardiola would be without one. It’s something that’s referred to often enough, and transitions, particularly top-to-bottom strategic philosophies, take time to settle in. That settlement period seems to be in progress as Arsenal are playing out increasingly from the back, applying much higher pressure up top. It’s likely that Arteta is building key roles for young stars like Saka and Maitland-Niles, whilst investing in headline players like Aubameyang and Partey.
It can be easy to forget quite how rudderless Arsenal have been in previous years, or at least, how uninspired so many performances have been. Considering the trials and tribulations of The Gunners, and their potentially promising new direction, it seems fair to give Arteta some space to work with this group. However, only time will tell if he can get through to them.
A Fine Thing
Creating chances wins games. It’s also one of Arsenal’s major issues. In those high-profile losses to Big Six teams, a major takeaway has often been the lack of real chances being created, as well as some questionable finishing at the front. The next big fixture for Arsenal – facing their oldest rivals, Spurs on the 5th December – will be decided by chance creation.
The effects of chance creation are potentially huge and could impact Arsenal’s odds on the football betting front. It’s becoming characteristic of the team to play objectively high-quality, tactical football but to lack the ultimate results. If Arteta can turn this around, then faith may be restored. Even in the short-term, figuring out that gap would be a major step towards converting great passing play and possession-based football into something more effective. So temporarily filling gaps in attacking midfield needs to be a priority.
However, there’s a final mental aspect to all this. Arsenal, much like Manchester United, have the jaded, lost look of a side past its best. Half of that comes down to a loss of figureheads, in management and amongst players. Rediscovering the sense of belief that won titles back in the 2000s means convincing the present team that they have the quality to compete at the top. The tactics will come, and the transfers will be made. But the difference will come when Arsenal – beyond acting like a top side and sometimes playing like a top side – start believing they can be one again. Sunday’s win is, we hope, the first step on that path.
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