Mikel Arteta’s first gig in management with Arsenal has reached the five-game mark, and in that time he’s achieved two wins, two draws and one loss with the Gunners. We take a look at five key observations from the first five matches of the Arteta era:
The emphasis on high pressing –
Under Unai Emery, Arsenal exhibited nowhere near the level of desire and intensity to win the ball back as they do now, especially after losing possession. We’re seeing the defensive line pushing much higher up the pitch, and our attacking quarter placing the opposing defenders and ‘keeper under immense pressure, often forcing them to make errors (such as David De Gea). It’s clear to see that Arteta wants to implement the style of play that he witnessed at Manchester City while understudy to Pep Guardiola, but the players’ fitness levels need improving to make this wholly effective. Taking our foot off the gas was our downfall against Chelsea and Crystal Palace, but our football prior to that was exactly what is needed for the full 90. The Gunners need to be wary of this however, as they currently have the worst discipline record in the league.
Mesut Ozil’s importance –
A man who has often been victim of scapegoating and extensive criticism during his time at Arsenal, Ozil has started all four Premier League games under Arteta since his arrival, compared to when he was often left out of the matchday squad entirely under Emery. Playing in his favoured no.10 role, we’ve seen glimpses of Ozil back at his best, but the 31-year-old has still only registered one assist in 12 PL appearances this season, with that solitary contribution coming in the home defeat against Brighton. Many Gooners will fondly remember that 2015/16 season where he registered 19 league assists, at a time where he was heavily favoured and believed in by Arsene Wenger. With the same belief from Arteta, Ozil could become a focal point for Arsenal’s attacks once again.
The defensive improvement –
Clean sheets have been extremely hard to come by for Arsenal in recent times, and they have still only managed four in 22 PL games this season. But the back-line has only conceded one goal in their last three games in all competitions, and even that equaliser from Jordan Ayew in the draw against Palace took a wicked deflection off of David Luiz to find its way into the back of the net. Individually, Sokratis is a player who I’ve always admired. The 2018/19 season showed the best of his no-nonsense, aggressive defending, but the Greek centre-back has been another player often subjected to criticism for poor early season performances. But he’s been nothing short of a warrior since Arteta’s arrival, especially with his corner-flag antics against Leeds garnering a terrific response from Arsenal fans.
Torreira is indispensable –
Another fan favourite and personal favourite of mine, Lucas Torreira is a man reborn under Arteta. Playing in his desired deep-lying midfield role, the 23-year-old Uruguayan has produced consistent top-level performances and appears to have dismissed any speculation regarding his future. It was reported that he was becoming unsettled at Arsenal and had his eye on a return to Italy, with AC Milan apparently interested in his services, but it’s clear to see that he’s one of our most important players when used correctly. Under Emery, Torreira would often be deployed as an attacking midfielder much to the chagrin of Arsenal fans, as this is a player who took three MOTM awards in four games in late 2018 in the no.6 role. With such tenacity, aggression and a touch of elegance regarding his game, Torreira’s development under the Spaniard is a truly exciting prospect.
There’s still plenty of work to do –
No-one in their right mind expected Arteta to work miracles at Arsenal. There was only the slimmest of chances that the Spaniard would win his first five games and implement his style of football straight away, and it hasn’t panned out that way. Two wins from five games may not look like much of an improvement at a first glance, but the evidence is on the pitch. Not only that, but Arteta seems to prioritise consistent tactics and line-ups; naming an unchanged side from United for the Palace game was warmly welcomed by Arsenal supporters, who seem to have taken to the Spaniard very quickly. I’m not getting overly optimistic for our end-of-season standings, but given time, patience and of course, the right funds, Arteta just may be the one to take Arsenal back to where they belong again.