Mikel Arteta is one of the managers of the season

When Arsenal lost their first three Premier League games of 2021/22, many wondered whether Mikel Arteta would even see out the season. Seven months on and the Spaniard is now a contender to be crowned Manager of the Year.

Whichever of Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp wins the title will probably be voted as the top-flight’s best coach. But if Arteta does guide Arsenal into the Champions League, he will deserve to be in the conversation.

Few expected the Gunners to finish in the top four this term. They ended last season in eighth, only two points ahead of Leeds United and Everton, and the same distance from the bottom half of the table as the final Champions League spot.

Arsenal spent more money than any other Premier League club last summer, splashing out £156.8m on Ben White, Aaron Ramsdale, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Martin Odegaard, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Nuno Tavares.

It is fair to say there were significant doubts over many of the new recruits. Tomiyasu, Tavares and Lokonga were unknown quantities. At £50m White was pricey for a defender with only one season of Premier League football under his belt. Ramsdale was written off by large sections of the fan base before he had even played a game for the club.

Yet Arsenal have been proved right with time. Tomiyasu, currently injured, caught the eye with his tenacity and aggression in the first half of the season.  White has formed a solid partnership with Gabriel Magalhaes at centre-back. Ramsdale has been one of the standout goalkeepers in the division. Odegaard is arguably the most in-form player in the league in any position.

Taken collectively, the signings pointed to a new approach. There was a conspicuous effort to lower the average age of the squad; the oldest of the recruits, White, is still only 24. This has helped in two regards.

On the field it has brought more dynamism and energy to the side, allowing Arteta to implement a more effective pressing style. Off it, it has brought the fans closer to the team. The supporters are enjoying watching hungry players with something to prove, whether it is academy products like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, or outsiders like Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli.

When Arteta first took charge at the Emirates Stadium, he already had a very clear idea of how he wanted Arsenal to play. There were a fair few teething problems early on. When Arsenal struggled to build play from the back, Arteta was urged to change tack. But the Spaniard stuck to his guns. Now that he has the personnel he wanted, his approach is paying dividends.

Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Leicester City was one of their strongest showings of the Arteta era. In his first 74 Premier League games at the helm, the Gunners took 20 shots or more six times. In their last 10 outings, they have also taken at least 20 shots six times. Arsenal’s attack is purring, and the whole team is playing slick, incisive football. They have also tightened up at the back and cut out the defensive mistakes that previously plagued them on a regular basis.

“We have to be there [in the Champions League]. We should be there,” Arteta said after Sunday’s win. “Our history obliges to be there but we are not there yet and there are still a lot of games to play.

“We have an excellent group of people at the club who believe in what we do. Then you have to put performance into results. The last few months, we have been more consistent.”

That is certainly true. Arsenal have taken 28 points from the last 33 available – more than any other team over the same period, including Manchester City and Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s side visit the Emirates on Wednesday. That will be a test of how far Arsenal have come. It is testament to Arteta that it will be a thorough examination of Liverpool too.

Author: Lucas Carlson