Six reasons for Arsenal fans to be oddly cheerful

Date published: Wednesday 5th February 2020 4:58

Gabriel Martinelli Arsenal

‘Arteta’s appalling win ratio at Arsenal WORSE than Ljungberg and Emery and Spaniard has second-worst record since WWI’

‘Arsenal legend Ian Wright already has doubts over Mikel Arteta’s future at the club’

Two headlines from two websites that seem at first glance to be very obviously connected; it’s little wonder that Wright has ‘doubts’ when Arteta is the second-worst Arsenal manager in a whole century!

Yet that statistic tells only a percentage of the story of Arteta’s reign, while those selected quotes from Wright omit the relevant sentiment: “Things are happening, but it’s going to take its time.”

This is no Ole Gunnar Solskjaer-style new manager bounce, but if the last 12 months has taught us anything it is that a new manager bounce can oftentimes lead to a new manager pop and a new manager flat on his face.

So we are here to offer perspective and see silver linings…

 

1) Arsenal are hard to beat
They are literally hard to beat. They are also hard to get beaten by and generally really very easy to draw with, but the fact is that the Gunners have lost just once in ten games since Mikel Arteta was unveiled as their new manager. For all the talk about win ratios – and that clearly needs to improve – this a team capable in patches of looking excellent and increasingly incapable of the kind of gutless capitulation that had become their trademark move.

In the ten games prior to Arteta’s unveiling, they had lost four times. Anyone seeking to paint their record since as anything other than an improvement is a fool with a narrative. This is an Arsenal side that recently recorded their longest winless run (nine miserable games) since 1977. That Arteta has presided over just one defeat is something akin to a minor miracle.

 

2) The defence is less slapstick
Let’s put that Chelsea game to one side for a moment – though gaining a point with ten men perfectly illustrates our first point; in Arteta’s seven Premier League games in charge, they have conceded just seven goals. Over the same period, only Liverpool and Tottenham can boast a better defensive record. For a supposedly ‘appalling’ team, that is quite some statistic. Contrast that with 12 goals conceded in the previous seven Premier League games and you see the pattern of a team improving at one end of the pitch if not the other.

There will always be hairy moments when David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi are your centre-halves – and a better finish from Jay Rodriguez would have exposed them on Sunday – but the German in particular was excellent at Turf Moor, repelling every attack and revelling in a ‘thou shalt not pass’ attitude. Which brings us to…

 

3) ‘Clowns’ have become key
“With me they have a clean slate. I told them that. You’re not going to be judged on things you have done in the past, whether they are negative or positive.” And Arteta has been absolutely true to his word, with Mustafi and Granit Xhaka being successfully reintegrated into the side to the point where they are not just tolerated by fans but applauded. At Burnley they were arguably Arsenal’s two best performers, making a mockery of the notion that neither would play for the Gunners again.

Arteta may well covet better players in coming transfer forays – and Pablo Mari might eventually replace Mustafi – but the Spaniard knew that his best chance of salvaging something from this season was to tease a tune out of the club’s £35m misfits. They are scapegoats no more.

 

4) The kids are alright
They might even be better than alright. The team that beat Bournemouth in the FA Cup featured five players under the age of 21, three of which then started against Burnley on Saturday. Gabriel Martinelli has been a revelation, but there is also hope that Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka could play significant parts in the future of this club. Their presence contributes to this team’s inconsistency but also its potential; most fans welcome that scenario over a predictable grind with predictable players.

But this is not youth for youth’s sake; Reiss Nelson has been hit with a rather large stick in an attempt to motivate him into fulfilling his early promise, while Emile Smith Rowe has been sent to the Championship. Across the board, there is a sense that places have to be earned, regardless of age or reputation.

 

5) Silverware is still a possibility
Arsenal are 8/1 to win the Europa League and 12/1 to win the FA Cup. That’s not bad for a season which has featured three managers, a mid-table Premier League place and a lifetime’s worth of negative headlines.

There could yet be something to be rescued from what is in essence a six-month pre-season/audition for their first real season under Arteta.

 

6) A change in attitude
Arteta spoke early in his reign about “commitment, accountability, aggression and passion”, all of which really boils down to ‘giving a shit’. It’s not just about haring around and making tackles – though there has been some of that – but also taking individual responsibility for the ball. That means passing has been cleaner and crisper, pressing has been more coordinated and decision-making – particularly from the instinctively rash Mustafi and Xhaka – has been noticeably more mature.

All of which has not brought wholly positive results because further up the pitch there remains a whole barrel-load of issues, but it has stopped the rot and given Arsenal fans reason to believe that players and manager are at least pulling in the right direction, albeit slowly and about 427 miles behind Liverpool.

Sarah Winterburn

 

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