As the Premier League gears up for a return this month, we equip you with an in-depth view of everything about Arsenal and their season so far.
In recent years, Arsenal have veered away from the top echelon of English football. Mediocrity surrounding their players, performances and a quick change of the managers have all been factors determining their struggle to keep up with Premier League giants like Liverpool, Manchester City and even Chelsea.
However, the Gunners still boast one of the most resounding fanbases in world football. Although they haven’t had much sporting success in recent years, the club’s popularity, as well as their brand, has only increased.
This has a lot to do with their attractive history, having been the only English club to remain unbeaten in a Premier League season. They also have 13 league titles to their name as well as 13 FA Cups – a tally bettered by no other club.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will be doing a rundown of Arsenal’s 2019/20 campaign as the footballing world braces itself for the return of the Premier League, later this month.
Arsenal’s season so far
Arsenal’s season began with a lot of optimism, especially following a promising end to the 2018/19 campaign under Unai Emery. In fact, the expectations were sky-high after a spending spree in the summer that saw the club sign a host of talented individuals including the likes of Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos.
However, the Gunners endured an awful start to the season, winning just two of their first seven opening league games. And while the club still managed to somehow remain inside the top four, particularly due to other top clubs also enduring an equally disappointing start, a horrendous run of form from early October till mid-December pretty much sealed Unai Emery’s future.
As a matter of fact, Arsenal registered only one victory from 6th October till 6th December – a run that would push them into mid-table. Arsenal ultimately sacked Emery at the end of November, appointing Freddie Ljungberg as the interim manager. However, the Gunners looked clueless under the Swede before the club eventually hired Mikel Arteta as the new permanent head coach, just before their clash against Everton in the middle of December.
The ex-Arsenal midfielder had a slow start to his managerial career, as Arsenal played out a series of draws. But, the players showed much better resilience and were willing to fight for their team – a spirit that was personified in their late comeback draw against Chelsea in mid-January.
Arsenal’s steady improvement under Arteta paid off for the club as they had secured three back-to-back wins prior to the Premier League’s suspension due to Coronavirus. They are also the only English team to remain unbeaten in this calendar year, having last tasted defeat back in December against Chelsea.
Currently, the north London giants are dawdling at ninth position in the league table, just one point behind arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. But since they do have a game in hand, they could realistically overtake sixth-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Manager: Mikel Arteta
When Mikel Arteta took charge from Freddie Ljungberg, there were question marks over his lack of managerial experience. He had worked as an assistant manager to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City prior to his Arsenal appointment. But, in fairness, no amount of experience could have prepared him for what followed.
During his first week in charge, the Spaniard was dealt with the responsibility of bringing back the confidence in a dejected squad and stamping his footballing identity. And this is something he did incredibly well, with his most notable achievement being the rejuvenation of once, seemingly non-redeemable former club captain, Granit Xhaka.
Arteta’s man-management clearly caught the eye of fans and players alike. It was his authority and modest nature that injected a sense of spirit into the club – a spirit that was perfectly demonstrated in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea or in the 2-0 win against Manchester United.
The ex-midfielder would later go on to play a key role behind the return to form of players like David Luiz, Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi, who has arguably been the best performing Arsenal defender since the turn of the year.
However, perhaps the most shining element in Arteta’s managerial career so far has been his influence in convincing the players to take a pay-cut amid a Coronavirus crisis that inflicted massive damage to an already economically weak Arsenal team.
The 38-year-old still has some way to go, and his next big task will be to convince the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka to prolong their stay at the club. So far, Arteta has been a success at the Emirates and Arsenal certainly have a promising future under the leadership of their former midfield star.
Tactics & Playing Style
Mikel Arteta’s tactical setup is influenced by Pep Guardiola’s Juego de posicion style of play that requires a great level of positional understanding with set patterns of movement. Now, the Spaniard definitely deserves credit for injecting those ideas in the squad in a quick period.
As a result, he has found significantly more success with the 4-2-3-1 setup that changes to a 4-4-2 during defensive phases. The players’ positional understanding under Arteta’s leadership has led to Arsenal conceding fewer goals now. In addition, it has also made them much more effective in transition.
Especially in the press, the two attacking players look to operate centrally and force the opposing defenders to distribute the ball out wide. It serves as an ideal incentive for the two wide attackers to restrict the opposition from spreading the play, with good use of covershadows, with central midfielders like Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira ready to cut off passes in the middle third of the pitch.
In the build-up, the Gunners employ a much more sophisticated system under Arteta. Xhaka tends to act as the auxiliary centre-back. But, instead of staying deep in the middle, he tends to move into the left-hand side, allowing David Luiz more freedom to use his remarkable ball-playing technique. It has been a key reason behind the Brazilian’s return to form this year.
The full-backs, meanwhile, have also played a key role. Hector Bellerin is usually given a deeper role, but the Spaniard does have the license to move forward and penetrate the opposition lines with a cross from the byline. Bukayo Saka, however, tends to camp himself in the final third, exchanging possession with the other attackers, thus keeping the defence occupied.
Speaking of the attackers, they usually operate in a compact manner, looking to penetrate the opposition with quick interplay or probe them from a slightly wider area of the penalty box. While Alexandre Lacazette hasn’t done well in front of goal, Arsenal have looked much more threatening when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has led the attack.
Marquee Player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Aubameyang is, without a doubt, one of the best strikers in world football right now. He has performed exceedingly well since coming from Borussia Dortmund back in 2018 and has been a consistent source of goals for the Arsenal team.
Indeed, the Gabonese international plays a vital role in the club’s offensive department. While his pace is always a bonus, it is his brilliant positional sense, awareness and maturity that has added a new element to Arsenal’s attacking unit.
This season, for example, Aubameyang has netted 17 goals in 26 matches – a tally only bettered by Jamie Vardy in the Premier League so far. It is almost 50% of what Arsenal have managed as an entire unit, which is quite astonishing, to say the least.
Aubameyang’s contributions in front of goal has become even more crucial if we consider the underachievement of his strike-partner Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman has looked out of place and consistently struggled to find the back of the net. Had it not been for his Gabonese teammate, Arsenal would have been dawdling at the bottom end of the table this season.
One For The Future: Bukayo Saka
Saka is the hottest prospect in the Arsenal side right now. The young attacker has emerged as one of the rising stars in English football this season, having made 18 league appearances for the Gunners. Yet weirdly, the youngster has not been utilised much in his preferred left-wing slot.
Instead, Arteta has used him as a left-back due to the injury problems of premier full-backs Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac. And the 18-year-old has settled into his new role perfectly, making perfect wide transition and integrating himself into Arteta’s left-sided overload.
Saka is tipped to play a major role in the Arsenal first-team next season. However, with his contract expiring at the end of the campaign, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the youngster.
Arsenal, no doubt, have shown promising signs under Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard has utilised his resources extremely well, which is combined with his tactical understanding and man-management – making him a stable genius at the Emirates’ helm.
However, Arteta will be tested in the transfer market this summer as he looks to cope with the club’s limited budget amid the Coronavirus crisis. The club already has a host of weaknesses. And with players like Aubameyang being linked with a move away from north London, decision-making and scouting could be vital as Arsenal look to embark on a new era under their new manager.