8th, 8th, and 5th respectively were the league season result Arsenal football club recorded sequel to the appointment of Head Coach Mikel Arteta.
Appalling was what best describes the situation at the Emirates, considering the high-flying start and FA Cup triumph recorded by rookie manager Mikel Arteta in the first year of his appointment.
Looking at the happenings critically, the amount of money spent by the club in the summer transfer windows of the three seasons (2019-20 to 2021-22), totaled £377.2 million, and all that appeared as yield for this “revolutionary pounds” spent was an FA Cup title. ‘It couldn’t be any worse’ Arsenal fans would have thought to themselves, many who threw their weight behind the young Spaniard after he finished 8th in his first season as head coach (2019-20) gradually were forced to eat their words, as things went on in a topsy-turvy slope. Another 8th-place finish was what followed in the 2020-21 season. A season that saw Arsenal lose as many as 16 league games and finished below Leicester City and East London side West Ham United.
2021-2022 - The Circus Of A Season
2021-22 which many thought the Gunners were finally set to challenge the big guns, couldn’t have started any worse. Three straight defeats, including a resounding 5-0 loss at the Etihad, was the least possible way one would expect a side that had just spent £156.8 million on signings to start the league.
An eventful season for Arsenal which featured everything but positive results was further marred by the fallout between Mikel Arteta and club captain Aubameyang. Still, the Gunners appeared on course for a top 4 finish until back-to-back defeats late in the season against Tottenham and Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United, left Mikel Arteta’s side with little choice but to settle for a 5th-place finish.
On the back of the previous season’s result, the 5th place finish appeared a positive, given the fact they completely missed out on continental football the season before. But for many, it was the same of the same. ‘A circus of a progress’, ‘a merry-go-round kind of movement,’ no actual stride made was how it appeared for many Arsenal faithful, and little was expected to change when the club in the morning of the 6th of May, announced the extension of Head Coach Mikel Arteta’s contract.
THE 2022-23 SEASON AND A WAVE OF ECSTASY
After spending £121.5 million in the summer transfer window, which saw marquee signings like Gabriel Jesus and Ukrainian Oleksandr Zinchenko join the Gunners from title favourite Manchester City, a few hoped for anything better than a 5th-place finish for the Gunners going into the new season. Of course the spotlight was on Manchester City and Liverpool who had just completed the signings of both Erling Haaland and Darwin Nunez respectively — it appeared on the card another battle of highly-rated youngsters.
While Arsenal pulled little media attention through the calibre of signings made, it was their dominating performance on the field of play that did put them under the spotlights. Following successive 4-0 and 6-0 bashing of both Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea and Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla, fans gradually turned their attention to Arsenal. After concluding their pre-season campaign with five straight wins — one of the best in the club’s history, Arsenal continued their dominating manner of form as they raced to five straight wins in their first five outings. So far, only two teams Manchester United and Southampton have successfully nicked off points off the Gunners and for many, the unanswered question still remains; how did Mikel Arteta’s side experience such a surge in performance? We will try to answer this question in this piece.
First, before we delve into what may just be working for Arsenal, it’s worth detailing the fine-tuning that Arteta has done with his squad since the start of the previous campaign, and the players he’s most closely trusted to carry out the job. Ten players this season have now played over double the minutes of the players ranking 12th and below on that list of minutes played this season, with only Zinchenko due to his ceaseless injury troubles being the exception. We can safely say Mikel Arteta now has his trusted leader at every position on the field — something that was often said of the team in the past, who were historically criticized for lacking leadership and having a soft underbelly.
A REINVENTED SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-2-3-1/4-1-4-1/4-3-3
Whether it’s a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1 or even the highly favoured 4-3-3 system of play, one thing Mikel Arteta’s side have shown this season is their high level of fluidity in formation. Bolstered by their inverted full-back Zinchenko and Ben White, as well Granit Xhaka — who for many remains the most improved Arsenal player this season, as he not only steps forward into the attack as Partey holds the base of midfield but also steps up in the team’s press, hence hovering around the attack sometimes like a traditional number 8. His counterpart Martin Ødegaard is the one with significantly more freedom in floating about the pitch as a distinctive number 10. Also, the fluidity of the wide forwards for Arsenal and their efficiency in front of goal, has surely contributed to Arsenal’s stellar form this season.
A ROCK-SOLID DEFENCE-LINE
Alongside Gabriel and Zinchenko in the back line, returnee French defender William Saliba has entered the fold to a resounding effect, after successive loan spells in Marseille. He’s been brilliant in his 1v1 defensive duels alongside his clearance, using his strength, height, command, and defensive composure to great effect. His introduction to the team has meant Ben White‘s swapped over to right-back, which has arguably been one of the best moves Arteta’s made this season. White has also been immaculate as a full-back, exuding class under pressure, galloping up the right wing, and engaging to nearly the same extent within that as his counterpart on the left Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Discussing Arsenal’s rise from fifth in 2021-22 to first place in the current campaign, after the victory against Brighton and Hove Albion at the Ammex, Norwegian midfielder Ødegaard said: “We focus on every game to improve and get better. And of course, we are in a good position and we are really happy to be there. It is our job to keep fighting and keep improving and make sure that we can fight all the way. Missing the Champions League [last season] was a big disappointment for us and we said before the season that we were really hungry to come back stronger and better. I think we have done that and we are in a good way and improved in a lot of areas with the ball, without the ball and in front of goal, own box, a lot of things we have improved.”
In the buzz of the resounding win against Brighton, former Gunners manager Arsene Wenger told TV2: "It was a fantastic performance. Arsenal is getting stronger and stronger. It was a one-way street. I think they have all the necessary ingredients, both tactically and mentally. They can go all the way. Because, as you can see, they create so many chances. I don't really see any weaknesses."
It may appear too early to speak on who the title favourites in England are. But one thing is for sure the display of Mikel Arteta’s young guns is nothing short of orgasmic and one deserving of a Premier League crown.
Arsenal who are currently top of the log with 43 points are now 13 points behind city rivals Tottenham having played one game less than them.
How times change.