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3 key things we learned from Arsenal’s Boxing Day victory over Chelsea

Undoubtedly, Arsenal are in one of the toughest periods in the club’s history with recent results highlighting the momentous task we have ahead, however in a time when Arteta needed it most his team produced by far their best performance of the season.

The Spaniard’s choice to shake the team up with a blend of experience and youth appeared to bring back the identity we were accustomed to seeing last season and could ultimately be the bold decision which is looked back on as the turning point in our campaign.

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Lacazette put Arsenal 1-0 up from the spot. (Credit: Getty Images)

It was a performance which the fans deserved to witness, as the Gunners’ combination of innovation, desire and fearlessness allowed the new faces to thrive under the lights at the empty Emirates.

Goals courtesy of Alexandre Lacazette, Granit Xhaka and Bukayo Saka put Arsenal 3-0 up before Tammy Abraham pulled one back for the visitors, elevating Arsenal up the table while improving Arteta’s impressive record against the top 6.

Here’s three key things we learned from Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over Chelsea:

Youth is the way forward

Over the course of this season, one of the main criticisms Arteta has faced is his team selection, as recently he’s continued to persist with the same senior players that have let him down on multiple occasions.

Despite coming into the fixture at a time in which we were desperate for a win, the 38-year-old showed characteristics that all top managers require, braveness.

The decision to bring Gabriel Martinelli, Emilie Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka into the fold at the same time in a fixture where we needed to pick up all three points could have massively backfired, however all three showed why they deserve the faith he has shown in them.

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Smith-Rowe celebrating his assist for Bukayo Saka’s goal.

All of them brought different attributes and qualities to the game while playing with a sense of fearlessness that is non-existent in some of our senior attacking players.

This allowed us to put together more variety in our attacking patterns and add an element of unpredictability compared to recent weeks, hence why we were able to put the game out of sight early in the second half.

The return of Gabriel Martinelli was a massive boost for Arteta, as the young Brazilian’s infectious energy in and out of possession helped to initiate the press while he also provided a different dimension in terms of running in behind the opposition.

However, one of the biggest attributes he brings is a sense of belief which spreads to the players around him, causing them to up their levels of performance as well.

Emilie Smith-Rowe also presented his case for more first team minutes, with a style and profile which cannot be replicated by any other player in the squad. His ability to pick up the ball on the half-turn in the pocket of space between the opponent’s central midfielders allows us to link our attacks quicker, adding another dimension going forward which means we aren’t as reliant on crossing as our main source of creating chances.

Another element to ESR’s game which impressed against Chelsea, was the way in which he chose to drift into wide areas to pick up the ball, link up the play and allow the wingers to drive into the space he vacated.

The youthful trio was completed with possibly our best player this season in Bukayo Saka, who put in another display that was way above his years.

Chilwell endured a torrid afternoon at the hands of the 19-year-old, struggling to cope with his combination of skill, composure and creativity – leading to him picking up another MOTM award.

Saka’s capacity to play on either wing effectively also allows us to change our formation and personnel at any point during the game, all while carrying out our philosophy effectively.

Arteta must use this game as an example of how important utilising our youth prospects can be, especially if our senior players aren’t showing up. These three need to be given more opportunities in the future.

Arteta needs more time

There’s no escaping the fact that Arsenal have been massively underperforming this season under Arteta: despite the team being nowhere near up to the standard of competing for top four or the title, there is no way that we have the 14th best squad in the league.

We are in this position due to a combination of different reasons, as years of gross mismanagement, poor recruitment and decision-making at board level has caught up with us.

The problems at the club run so deep that there isn’t one simple solution which can make us instantly competitive again; it will take time along with significant investment.

Half of the senior players in the first team are on ridiculously high wages and consistently underperform without retribution, making it difficult to offload them in the transfer market in order to overhaul the squad – hence why without the help of the Kroenkes it will take even longer to get to the level we need to be.

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The Kroenkes need to fully back Arteta in the transfer window.

For every club with Arsenal’s stature, the expectations that come with it are massive; however, one component in the way we work is different to the others.

The difference is that unfortunately Arteta doesn’t have access to enough resources or funds in order to transform our club within a short amount of time; it makes his squad improvement targets completely unattainable.

Therefore, most fans can envisage the same scenario occurring another year down the line even if Arteta is replaced with an experienced coach; ultimately this squad isn’t up to the required standard to represent Arsenal.

Recently there hasn’t been a lot of hope for Arsenal fans, however this game proved Arteta can still get a tune out of these players with glimpses of his high pressing tactics coming back to the fore.

At just 38, he is a man around whom we can build the future of the club for years to come, however he needs to be given the tools to help Arsenal out of one of the toughest rebuilds we have ever faced.

The thought of the Spaniard being sacked before he is given the time to assemble his own squad would be disappointing to say the least, as many believe he will make it as a top coach regardless of whether it’s at Arsenal or not.

Arsenal’s record against the top 6 continues to improve

Despite some underwhelming results this season, one aspect that Arteta has brought to the club is the ability to compete against the top 6 in the league, winning seven, drawing one and losing seven out of his first 15 games.

As a result, Arsenal have an impressive 46% win percentage which considerably improves on the record we had under Emery and Wenger in this aspect, who were notorious for being inconsistent in games of the same magnitude – especially on the road.

Out of our last 10 league games, our only two wins have come against Manchester United and Chelsea, proving that Arteta has his players tactically aware going into games versus some of the best sides in the country.

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Arteta has a clear game-plan for games against the top 6.

Before he took over, most fans would have said that it was our record in such games that had let us down, however currently it couldn’t be further from our most prevalent issues.

This could be down to the fact that Arteta’s style of football with this set of players suits these types of games better, due to having to sit deeper and soak up pressure then hit teams quickly on the counter attack.

To improve, the Spaniard needs to devise a game-plan that can help us pick up results in the games where the onus is on us to break the opposition down, then it will make other teams think twice about using the blueprint of sitting back when playing us.

Undoubtedly, this will take time along with another couple of transfer windows to bring in some more creative personal, however one positive to take is that when Arteta has the squad he wants, in theory it should be easier to rectify our problems in fixtures versus lower opposition than in the big games.

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7 Responses to 3 key things we learned from Arsenal’s Boxing Day victory over Chelsea

  1. Josh December 27, 2020 at 9:31 am #

    Great read James

    • James Humphreys December 27, 2020 at 10:40 am #

      Thanks Josh, glad you enjoyed!

  2. jjgsol December 27, 2020 at 11:05 am #

    Are you not forgetting one very important aspect of the reason why we have been doing so badly this season so far?

    That is arteta himself.

    He cannot escape blame, as you seem to be doing because his preferred style ignores the players’ natural instincts and binds them into a straight jacket, with every aspect of their play dictated by him.

    Yesterday was the first time this season in the league that the players have been allowed the freedom to roam and to do their own thing and we saw the result.

    The rigid attacking only from the wings was replaced with variety including attacking down the middle courtesy of ESR.

    We got a glimpse of what might have been had the ridiculous exile of Ozil not taken place

    At last arteta has seen the light

    It remains to be seen whether he takes note or returns to type in the next game.

    Yes the players are guilty as well but surely, just as they could not cope with Emery’s style and rebelled against it , so have the talented senior players against the straight jacket that Arteta placed them in.

    Cause and effect.

    • James Humphreys December 27, 2020 at 4:26 pm #

      Thank you for your comment.

      Totally agree that Arteta cannot be exempt from any criticism, his stubbornness in picking the same players that have let him down is part of the reason why we are in this position.

      Just feel it isn’t fair to sack him before he is given the opportunity to assemble his own squad and give them time to implement his style.

      As you said hopefully he has now realised that the kids can perform to a higher level than some of the senior players and we should see them feature now more regularly.

  3. allezkev December 27, 2020 at 2:28 pm #

    That was a really enjoyable and positive piece James, good luck with your studies and I look forward to reading more from your powerful pen (or keyboard)….

    • James Humphreys December 27, 2020 at 4:23 pm #

      Thank you, pleased that you enjoyed it!

  4. jjgsol December 27, 2020 at 8:06 pm #

    I do not know how my first sentence ended up being crossed out.

    I am sorry. but I am not convinced with this business about needing to get his own players in.

    How many new managers have the luxury of being allowed to effectively replace his entire squad?

    I doubt if it happens even with the chel$kis.

    Surely, Luis’s new contract, Gabriel, Willian, Soures, Saliba and a few others are his signings and we have seen what has happened with them.

    Saliba is in Ozile (sorry Exile), The less said about Willian the better and Luis is hardly one for the future.

    IF Arteta wishes to persist in his micro-management and to continue to ignore creativity,. no matter how many player he brings he will fail. His style and vision is not what any fans want to see. It has failed miserably so far this season. Why would one think that he can find players to make it work or that the club would be prepared to finance that in the hope that it would?

    It is not the players’ fault that his style and vision does not work.

    He has been given a reprieve. If he blows it by bringing back Willian and Luis and reverting to his straight jacket style, then he will be on his way sooner rather than later.

    The acid test will be Brighton.

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