How is Mikel Arteta shaping Arsenal for the future
Mesut Ozil, David Luiz, Lucas Torreira, Shkodran Mustafi – these are some of the Arsenal players who have shown signs of improvement under their new head coach Mikel Arteta. While Ozil capped his performances with a beautifully finished goal against Newcastle United – his first since April 2019, Arsenal have managed to keep three consecutive clean sheets for the first time since forever.
Arteta arrived midway to rescue the Gunners’ season after their worst start since the beginning of the Premier League era. Languishing at 11th when he came from Manchester City, Arteta has gradually worked on the many kinks in the Arsenal team. With two wins, five draws and one loss, an important statistic to keep in mind here is that Arsenal have scored at least one goal in all their matches barring a goalless draw against Burnley.
While Arsenal’s attacking threat was never the issue, with stars like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ozil leading the line, it is his work with the defensive unit that has been critically acclaimed. Although Arsenal conceded as many goals as they scored until the Newcastle match, there is definitely a change in the attitude and passion of the backline.
Plagued with injuries to their full-backs Kieran Tierney, Cedric Soares and Sead Kolasinac, academy graduate Bukayo Saka has been tasked with playing at an unfamiliar left wing-back role. Previously introduced to the position by interim manager Freddie Ljungberg, the 18-year-old winger has grown into the position, even keeping an almost fit Kolasinac on the bench.
Shkodran Mustafi is another player whose value has improved drastically under the new head coach. Almost on the verge of leaving the club after a disastrous 2018-19 season, the German world cup winner has found a new lease under the Spanish head coach, taking advantage of illness to Sokratis and David Luiz’s suspension. Although the defender was responsible for Chelsea’s opener and Luiz’s red card against Chelsea, Arteta maintained his faith in the centre-back, which has acted as a confidence booster for the former Valencia player.
In seven matches this season, Shkodran has won 39 duels, more than double the number of duels lost. At the same time, his prowess in the air has allowed him to win 34 aerial battles as compared to the nine aerial battles lost. His average of 55 passes per game is a testament to Arteta’s passing game, a tactic he likely picked up under Pep Guardiola.
After the departure of Unai Emery, Arsenal needed someone to primarily instil confidence and a sense of winning mentality in the Gunners. This was evident in their previous game where the Spaniard dropped striker Alexandre Lacazette, who was suffering from a goal drought, for academy graduate Eddie Nketiah. “The message is very clear, whoever trains like they do and I see that they have the abilities, the quality and their hunger like (Nketiah’s) done to perform today, he’s got a chance to play,” Arteta said at the post-match press event.
Lacazette came from the bench to assist Ozil’s goal and then scored his own to end a nine-match goalless streak and mirroring his team’s performance in the second half. He even got a crucial away goal against Olympiakos in the Europa League Round of 32.
Although the benchmark for Arteta is still low – eleven matches, Arsenal have lost just one game, winning both their FA Cup ties as well as their away tie to Olympiakos. Playing his key players in cup fixtures exhibits a little of Jurgen Klopp’s initial days at Liverpool as well, where the players were made to work extra hard to fight for their place as well as build their fitness. While the German has led his team to a Champions League trophy and now on the verge of winning Liverpool’s first-ever Premier League trophy, the Gunner fans expect great things from Arteta, with Arsenal returning to a semblance of their initial self for the first time after the departure of Arsene Wenger.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Daniel Leal-Olivas