Arsenal’s next three Premier League fixtures will tell us a lot as to whether they are worthy of a European place or if it’s a bridge too far for Mikel Arteta’s charges this season.
When Mikel Arteta took reins of Arsenal following Unai Emery’s sacking, everyone knew it was going to take a lot of time to get the Gunners back where they needed to be.
The last few weeks under Unai Emery were difficult to stomach for every Arsenal supporter. They had seen the club they love nearly brought to its knees. With one poor result after another, there was growing discontent among the fan-base.
Things finally came to a head in their Europa League home loss to Eintracht Frankfurt, which signalled the club’s seventh match without a win, its worst run since 1992, It was ultimately Emery’s end.
Arteta took over from caretaker manager and former Arsenal favourite Freddie Ljungberg on 22 December 2019, with his debut match a tough away trip to Bournemouth, which ended 1-1 thanks to a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang equaliser in the 63rd minute.
The Gunners’ performances seemed to get better every week the Spaniard was in charge, most notably in their work rate and their willingness to cover the pitch and play together as a team, something that had been lacking for the final months under Emery’s leadership.
The fans responded to their team’s new attitude even when losing, knowing they were putting everything into getting a positive result and seeing Arteta’s willingness to play younger players over the club’s stars, such as Nicolas Pepe.
Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and returning loanee Eddie Nketiah were all given first-team opportunities and did not disappoint, in particular Saka, who played out of position at left back due to injuries, and Martinelli, who led the line in some cases. Both found the net, much to the excitement of the Gunners faithful.
So far Arteta has managed ten games for Arsenal, winning four, drawing five and losing only one. All the while he’s solidified the team’s leaky defence, which has conceded only nine goals, most in part thanks to their German keeper Bernd Leno.
The team’s best performance during the ten-game stretch was his first half against Manchester United at the Emirates. It was as complete an Arsenal performance as I had seen for a long time and led to a 2-0 victory, with goals to Nicolas Pepe and defender Sokratis Papastathopoulosm which signalled the players’ willingness to put their manager’s plan into practice.
With the obvious need to strengthen during the transfer periods, in particular the defence, there a number of first-team players who will be moved on. Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, Papastathopoulosm and quite possibly midfielder Mesut Ozil will all be looked at.
There will be a lot of change at Arsenal over the next 12 months. With spending limited due to COVID-19, the Gunners will most likely look at loans and player swaps in the short term while trying to keep captain Aubameyang from moving elsewhere, which is the most vital piece of business Arteta has to do during his short reign.
The signs look good for the Gunners faithful so far under Mikel Arteta. He has ironed out a few creases and has his team playing inspired football, and while they are indeed a long way from returning to the glory days, every Arsenal supporter has reason to be optimistic that with time and patience and with the Spaniard at the helm things will slowly turn around in North London.
As Gunners legend Tony Adam’s once said, play for the name of the front of the shirt and they’ll remember the name on the back. Arteta certainly has Gunners fans excited about the future.