Arsenal Show Shoots of Progress Early, With More to Come
After five games, three victories, and two defeats, it would not normally spell a particularly good start to a Premier League season. It is thus a reflection of the stuttering performances from other sides in the traditional top six that, despite this, Arsenal find themselves sitting in fifth place. Having already travelled to the Etihad to play Manchester City and Anfield to take on Liverpool, there is every reason for fans and players alike to be very satisfied with their start to the season. What is particularly encouraging, however, is that there is far more to come from this Gunners side.
One of the most impressive things about the Gunners in the opening fixtures has been their defensive solidity. Building up from the back now inspires more confidence, and fewer fans will now be cowering behind their sofas fearful of how it may end. This is in part due to new signing Gabriel, who has made a seamless transition to Premier League life and has been a breath of fresh air in the centre of defence.
His form has coincided with a fully fit Kieran Tierney and a revitalised Hector Bellerin, two key elements of manager Mikel Arteta’s system. Whereas last season it was easy to understand Arteta’s weariness to commit too many players forward through fear of a weak defence, the season openers will have helped to allay these fears.
It is easy to counter these signs of progress with a glance at the opposition, who many would expect Arsenal to beat, yet it is worth noting that the Gunners dropped four points across two fixtures against Sheffield United last season, and nine points against promoted sides more broadly. It was in these games, as much as games against the top six, that Arsenal needed to improve in order to change their fortunes for this season. On early showings, it looks positive.
From damage limitation to competing.
In winning the FA Cup, Mikel Arteta and his Arsenal side demonstrated determination, persistence and that in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they had a player of real superstar quality. Despite the victories, which certainly felt well earned, the games themselves were not particularly close, with the opposition dominating the ball and creating the majority of the chances. In the early part of this season, however, this seems less the case. Although the results have gone against Arsenal, the difference at the Etihad especially was paramount.
Exactly four months earlier, the Gunners had been on the receiving end of a 3-0 defeat which felt at times like a training exercise for the hosts. It is indicative of the progress made by Arteta and his side that following Saturday’s defeat, Arsenal fans’ biggest complaint was a potential penalty that was not awarded for a high foot in the first half. The side competed with a strong Manchester City team despite late changes to the side and were unlucky not to find themselves on the scoresheet.
A similar story can be seen against Liverpool. Whilst a 3-1 scoreline is not one which the Gunners will reflect on proudly, Arsenal were well in the game right up until the 88th minute, when Diogo Jota’s strike put the result beyond doubt. Judging by results alone, Arsenal have seemingly gone backwards. What is clear, however, is a changing mentality from a defensively orientated side into one capable of dominating sides, although games against the last two Premier League champions evidently came too soon.
Plenty more still to come
On top of these positives which can be taken from the opening five games of the season, Arsenal fans can be safe in the knowledge that more is still to come. Star player and recent beneficiary of a new contract, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been uncharacteristically quiet, netting just one goal in his five appearances so far. It seems unlikely, given his prolific scoring record, that this will continue, and Arsenal will benefit hugely from a return to form of the source of goals from which they heavily relied on last season. With a more solid-looking defence behind him, we could even see more chances created for the Gabonese international, as the Gunners dominate more and more games.
The other exciting part of the puzzle yet to fall into place is new signing Thomas Partey, recruited from Atletico Madrid on deadline day to much fanfare. It was always unlikely that the Ghanaian would start against Manchester City, having met up with his teammates just three days earlier following international duty, but Arsenal fans got a glimpse of their new signing as a late substitute. There is huge potential in the midfielder, and offers Arteta far more flexibility in how he deploys his side and how they build-up, all of which is positive news for the rest of the season.
The next fixtures will be far better indicators of Arsenal’s progress than the five opening games have been. Games against Leicester City and Manchester United, two sides that finished above Arsenal last season, will demonstrate just how far forward the Gunners have really come in the short time Arteta has been at the helm.