It was a sunny August bank holiday weekend when Mikel Arteta’s injury-hit Arsenal made the long journey up to the Etihad Stadium for a blockbuster encounter with reigning Premier League Champions Manchester City.
The morale in the Arsenal camp was low, and their makeshift back five on the day only amplified that concern for the football world to see. Arsenal were played off the park that day, with Granit Xhaka’s first-half sending off compounding their misery after already falling two goals behind.
The home side then started to turn the screw even more and added another three goals to complete an emphatic 5-0 win on a really demoralising day for the Gunners. The pressure was mounting on Mikel Arteta to pull something incredible out of the hat to save his job as Arsenal boss.
Since then, Arsenal have turned a corner with five losses, seventeen wins and three draws in the following fixtures.
The initial secret to Mikel Arteta’s success since such a horrific start to the season is now clear for all to see, something of which was banded around sarcastically on social media as ‘trust the process,’ with improbable results now a reality rather than a simple pipe dream.
The Gunners now sit in fourth place and very much in control of their own destiny, with significant distance between themselves and their Champions League-chasing rivals.
Following the result at the Etihad back in August, the confidence-shot Arsenal side scraped to a 1-0 at the Emirates against Norwich and have since seen a respectable fifty-four points from a possible seventy-five, something of which has attracted significant interest from both fans and managers of other teams.
It is important to take note of the fact that Arsenal have not yet achieved anything, and the final ten games will be something of a roller coaster for those players to achieve that for which they are aiming.
It would be criminal not to mention the decisions that Arteta has made since the start of his tenure, with some going public and some not so public, but let’s start with the most obvious one. Since Mikel Arteta was appointed as Arsenal boss, he has maintained the idea of ‘non-negotiables.’
Such a statement in his first press conference as Head Coach gave us an inclination of what was set to come, and getting rid of bad eggs in the squad has been a perfect example of what he was referring to when he spoke to the media that day.
The first high-profile player to leave the club during Arteta’s tenure was Mesut Ozil, who was effectively paid to go away after a number of issues with the club’s hierarchy and it has since shown that the decision to force him out was a good one.
The warm-weather training camp in Dubai and an outburst of self-indulgence and arrogance from Matteo Guendouzi towards Neal Maupay against Brighton gave Arteta another opportunity to be rid of a player exhibiting toxicity within the squad, and the most recent case was of course Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
After giving the Gabonese a lucrative £350,000-per-week contract, Arteta showed extreme faith in Aubameyang by making him the vocal point of his attack.
His form then curtailed in dramatic fashion, compounded by two COVID-19 infections and not least, malaria.
Aubameyang was rumoured to be suffering mentally after issues in his personal life and the club eventually granted him compassionate leave to fly to France and collect his sick mother after a turbulent period of health problems.
He then broke the agreement that he and Arteta had shaken on by returning to England a day late – a decision that irked the Spaniard and his seniors.
This was the beginning of the end for Aubameyang, and he was eventually isolated from the first-team picture and was made to train alone until leaving for Barcelona on transfer deadline day back in January.
The decision to sell the striker and then fail to recruit someone as a sufficient replacement annoyed large sections of the fanbase, but Arsenal’s form since then has been nothing short of brilliant.
Alexandre Lacazette now remains the only clear option for Arteta as a stand-alone striker, with Eddie Nketiah not in the picture after a number of disappointing cameos.
Arsenal are now thriving under Arteta and the vision is clear and has been for a while. Recruit young talent, get rid of the ‘bad eggs’ and stick to your principles.
Furthermore, the signings of Ben White, Martin Odegaard and Takehiro Tomiyasu have been particularly successful, with Odegaard drawing rave reviews from the football world after a period of excellence.
The young team are exhibiting confidence and fearlessness, and players such as Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli are at the forefront of the resurgence.
The last ten fixtures will show which cloth these players have been cut from, and such an exceptional period of form will be quickly forgotten if they cannot sustain the top four challenge and consolidate their Champions League place.
By: Tom Norton / @tomnorton_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Catherine Ivill / Getty Images