After a huge 4-0 victory over Newcastle at the weekend, Dan Critchlow discusses how Mikel Arteta’s side are finally getting the attacking returns to complement their recent defensive displays.
After Arsenal’s 4-0 win over Newcastle United on Sunday, we’re finally starting to see the fruits of Mikel Arteta’s vision for the team.
Ahead of the match this weekend, some Arsenal fans were starting to ask questions of the new boss. The previous draw with Burnley was definitely disappointing, not just in terms of the result, but also due to the lack of clear-cut chances in the second half.
The starting lineup and substitutions also raised questions. Lacazette kept his place on the back of eight games without a goal, Aubameyang was forced out wide, and Pépé didn’t even get the chance to come off the bench.
Martinelli – winner of Arsenal’s January Player of the Month award while playing on the left – started on the right instead. When you make those kinds of big calls and your team draws a blank, people will complain. That said, I was never overly worried; you could see the progress Arteta was making with the team, even when results weren’t going our way.
Emery never once managed to win a Premier League game by three goals and keep a clean sheet. On Sunday, Arteta’s Arsenal went one better by scoring four.
The defeat to Chelsea at home – Arteta’s only loss so far – could’ve been very different had Jorginho picked up a deserved second yellow card. The trips to Selhurst Park and Stamford Bridge saw Arsenal grind out draws with 10 men, and the Burnley game only finished scoreless after both Aubameyang and Lacazette missed early sitters.
Defensively speaking, Arsenal are levels above where they were under Emery. They’ve conceded eight goals in 10 games (half of them to Chelsea), in comparison to 29 in Emery’s 20 games at the start of the season. That’s 0.8 goals per match, down from 1.45 – a stat which has seen us keep four clean sheets in half as many games as Emery’s side took to reach five.
All that comes from a collective team effort, combined with a clearer idea of what they’re supposed to be doing at the back. As Leno said at the start of the month: “You can see every player – even the strikers and wingers – are defending very well.”
The only thing left was to start pairing that with goals (another area where we’ve previously struggled). Emery never once managed to win a Premier League game by three goals and keep a clean sheet. On Sunday, Arteta’s Arsenal went one better by scoring four.
Most pleasingly, there were some nice team goals in there – not least Arsenal’s third, on the back of 35 passes. There were no solo efforts or long-range screamers. Each goal was just as impressive for the way it was set up as the way it was dispatched.
It’s not a bad thing when Martinelli runs the entire length of the pitch to score at Stamford Bridge, or Hector Bellerin curls one in on his left foot from the edge of the box. It’s just not as easy to replicate those kinds of goals. It’s less of a team effort and more an individual moment of brilliance.
The best sides do both. They have a system that consistently creates chances, but also have the individual quality to compensate when they meet their tactical match. Arsenal have that quality – with the likes of Aubameyang, Martinelli, Lacazette and Pépé in forward areas – they’ve just been relying on it too heavily for the last year or so.
It’s still going to take time for Arteta to get all his ideas in place. He needs everyone to know where their teammates are going to be without thinking, and that only comes with months of work on the training ground.
The early signs are encouraging though, and the Newcastle match gave us a glimpse of what we’re aiming for.