REJUVENATED: THE STORY BEHIND ARSENAL'S IMPROVED FORM
With the start Arsenal made to this year’s Premier League campaign, it looked to be another season to forget for fans of the North London based club. With a wake-up call at Brentford on the opening day, alongside a humiliation at The Etihad to contend with, the usual malaise that has gripped The Emirates since Wenger’s exit only grew stronger.
Yet, in spite of an embarrassing start to the season, Arsenal now see themselves in 5th position - a major improvement already on last season’s lacklustre 8th at this stage. Moreover, the malaise has been replaced with murmurs of optimism. Arsenal find themselves unbeaten in 10 in League and Cup, with the 3-1 win over their arch rivals Tottenham a stand-out from this purple patch. A resurgence that has gone slightly under the radar, I thought it would be interesting to unpick the reasons behind Arsenal turning around a season that looked doomed in its infancy.
One of the factors behind Arsenal’s disastrous opening to the season was the personnel available to Arteta, the Spaniard clearly frustrated by a lack of fit players for the start of the campaign. Likewise, some signings hadn’t yet arrived through the door for their opener at Brentford. Casting an eye over the lineup fielded against The Bees, it looks threadbare to say the least. Starting up for The Gunners was Folarin Balogun, a regular for the youth sides but not a Premier League starting striker.
Glaring omissions of Aubameyang and Lacazette saw Arsenal lack firepower, alongside a half-fit Saka only a bench option after a hectic Euros for the Arsenal man. Looking at the side fielded against Watford in stark contrast, the Gunners have a new-look backline - Ramsdale instead of Leno, Tomisayu instead of Chambers and so on. Arteta now has the side he wants to pick, instead of a mismatched line-up he resorted to in the first few game-weeks.
Arteta has seemingly ironed out any issues he had with players also, the main evidence of this coming courtesy of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. In and out of the lineup due to disciplinary reasons and health scares, the Gabonese striker is now a mainstay of Arteta’s first eleven once more. Even with a penalty miss against Watford, the 32 year old striker is still scoring with 4 goals in 10 up top for The Gunners so far this campaign. The Arsenal side feels settled, no longer a disjointed group. This has coincided in an explosion of youth talent carrying The Gunners, mainly via Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka. With 70 odd appearances in an Arsenal shirt already - still at the young age of 20 - Saka’s talent is no secret. Smith-Rowe will inevitably catch up with his young English counterpart, Smith-Rowe now given a senior England cap for his exceptional form.
The aforementioned North London Derby showcased Saka and Smith-Rowe at their very best, Saka running at the Spurs defenders before putting it on a plate for Smith-Rowe to convert for Arsenal’s first. Smith-Rowe would turn provider for Arsenal’s second, bursting through after a flick from Aubameyang with the Gabonese striker finishing off the chance when Smith-Rowe repaid the favour. Saka would round off a blistering first half with a goal of his own, tirelessly running before slotting past Lloris. This was the first convincing win of the season for Arteta’s men, a sign of intent after two street-wise victories over Burnley and Norwich. Smith-Rowe has 4 goals and 2 assists for Arteta’s men, scoring in his last two now against Leicester and Watford.
The final reason for Arsenal’s quick turnaround in form for me is The Gunners eradicating a flimsiness from their game, a naivety that was costing them. The Watford game shows this in spades, their winner coming after Watford complained that Arteta’s men didn’t give them the ball back after a Hornets injury.
Arsenal are now prepared to win ugly and dig deep, secure a result at all costs. In the Leicester away game, they were fortunate to keep a clean sheet and win but they did - Ramsdale with the inner belief to keep the ball out of his net at all costs. Even in the home draw with Crystal Palace, The Gunners dug deep and were bailed out by a Lacazette last minute equaliser. This looked a poor result at the time, but with Vieira’s Palace winning away at Manchester City after this, this point now looks like a well-earned draw on the tally.
After a bleak few years in North London, is this the beginning of a revival at The Emirates? Arsenal’s fortunes are often topsy-turvy, so I wouldn’t be making any outlandish bids for the Premier League top spot. But, with Arteta now at 100 matches in charge, he looks the part in the Arsenal dug-out with his team as assured as they’ve ever been under his guidance.