Have Arsenal turned the corner under Arteta?

Arsenal fans have been hoping the team has turned a corner under Mikel Arteta ever since the Spaniard’s appointment in 2019, but false dawn after false dawn has dulled their optimism.

This time, though, there are signs that Arsenal’s recent improvement could be more permanent.

Going into the weekend, the Gunners are handily positioned in fourth in the Premier League table. They also have games in hand over everyone else in the race for the Champions League.

Having been considered as outsiders in the battle for a top-four finish at the start of the season, Arteta’s side are now front-runners to finish behind Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

So have Arsenal finally turned that corner?

 

Grinding out results

 

Arsenal have always been capable of turning on the style, but when the chips are down the character of the squad has often come under scrutiny in recent years.

Arteta has overseen four wins on the spin, with each of those victories coming by a single goal. That sequence was kicked off by an arm wrestle of a 1-0 win at Wolves, where a first-half goal by Gabriel Magalhaes was the difference. Arsenal held on despite Gabriel Martinelli’s idiotic red card and their players celebrated wildly when the full-time whistle was blown.

Some suggested Arsenal went too far with how they marked that victory, but it indicated the growing belief within the group. Arsenal had just been held 0-0 at home by Burnley, extending their run of games without a win to five in all competitions, but they bounced back impressively.

The Gunners followed that Wolves win by defeating an out of form Brentford side 2-1 at the Emirates, then they beat Bruno Lage’s men again, coming from behind to do so. Nicolas Pepe came off the bench to grab the equaliser before Jose Sa’s error handed Arsenal the points.

Suddenly, Arsenal were on a roll. The 3-2 win at Watford last time out means it is 12 points from 12 for Arteta’s men, who have not only climbed into the top four, but consolidated their position.

Although the ex-captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been in fine form for his new club Barcelona, Arteta’s big decisions during the January transfer window seem to be paying off.

 

Blossoming partnerships

 

Arteta’s Arsenal have occasionally been a little too free-form, but the freedom he gives players to express themselves is now starting to bear fruit. Homegrown stars Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe continue to link up intelligently and their partnership with Martin Odegaard looks more effective by the game. Odegaard has become the key man for the Gunners, with the former wonderkid’s appreciation of space making him an ideal successor to Mesut Ozil. It is easy to forget Odegaard is just 23 – he still has the potential to be among the world’s best.

Arsenal’s build-up play used to rely heavily on Saka’s understanding with Kieran Tierney at left-back, but now the Gunners can kick off their attacking moves from anywhere on the pitch.

Gabriel and Ben White have developed a deep understanding at the back, though Arsenal will need to become more solid at the back if they are to secure Champions League qualification.

Arsenal have recorded just three clean sheets in their past eight league games, with two of those coming against relegation-threatened sides in Norwich City and Burnley.

 

Proof is in the pudding

 

Arsenal’s recent run of wins has come against teams in poor form. In that regard, the fixture list has been fairly kind to them in the past few weeks, however they have taken full advantage. Upcoming games are trickier and this is where the test really begins for Arteta’s Arsenal.

Momentum must be maintained through a home double-header against Leicester City and Liverpool – who have won seven straight games in the Premier League – with a trip to Steven Gerrard’s unpredictable Aston Villa also on Arsenal’s agenda before the international break.

Arsenal have the benefit of a relatively clear run-in. They have no European commitments to worry about and, after being dumped out of the FA Cup, their sole focus is now on the league.

Arteta’s achievement in getting Arsenal into the top four at this stage of the season should not be underplayed, but the Spaniard has only done half the job so far. If Arsenal really have finally turned that corner, they will use their remaining games to secure their return to Europe’s elite.

Author: Lucas Carlson