Arsenal climbed to the top of the Premier League table after having the best start to the season in the club’s history. The decision to back manager Mikel Arteta has been vindicated as the team appears to be galvanized and fans are optimistic. What exactly has changed at Arsenal to cause such a marked rise in results, performance levels and overall positivity? We’ve explored the five key areas where the Gunners have improved during their breakneck start to the campaign:
The summer signing of Gabriel Jesus has transformed Arsenal’s attacking fortunes. A return of five goals and three assists in 11 Premier League games is reasonably impressive, but his work-rate off the ball has played an even bigger part in the Gunners’ resurgence. The Man City manager recently described the Brazilian as the best player in the world defending up front, and that has been evident in the opening weeks of this campaign.
He has charged down the pitch like a man possessed, blocking opposition defenders and making clever runs off the ball. His intense, high-pressing nature has rubbed off on Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard, and Arsenal forwards have regularly won the ball back in dangerous areas of the pitch. His move also takes defenders out of position, creating more space for Martinelli and Saka to exploit, with both now on track for their most fruitful seasons in front of goal.
Last season, Arsenal’s intricate preparation game often held great promise, but Alexandre Lacazette’s lack of pace was his Achilles’ heel. He has returned to France, and Jesus represents a major improvement. As such, Arsenal are scoring 0.46 goals per game more than last season, and are now the second favorite for the Premier League title behind champions Man City in the spread betting markets.
A winning mindset
Arteta improved two key positions by signing Jesús and Oleksandr Zinchenko from Man City in the summer. Jesus offers more than Lacazette on both sides of the ball. He has also enjoyed the greater freedom that Arteta gives him on the pitch, as he is no longer constrained by Guardiola’s rigid system, and he can embark on labyrinthine runs with the ball at his feet, displaying archetypal Brazilian flair.
Zinchenko is more used to Arteta’s preferred approach – inverted full-backs sliding into central areas and overloading midfield – than Kieran Tierney, who is a more traditional full-back. The Ukrainian is extremely comfortable on the ball, and there has been a noticeable drop in the Gunners’ performance levels since he was injured.
However, Jesus and Zinchenko have brought more to the team than their technical prowess. They have acquired a winning mentality after spending several years with Man City, the dominant force in English football, and have injected that mentality into the team. Arteta worked with both men during his time as Guardiola’s assistant, and he knew they would give leadership to his talented young squad, enhancing collective morale and the desire to win.
The rejuvenation of Granit Xhaka
The Swiss midfielder was determined to leave the club when Arteta replaced Unai Emery as manager. Xhaka had fallen out with the fans and been stripped of the captaincy, so it seemed that he was at the point of no return. However, Arteta convinced him to stay and now he is reaping the rewards.
Ødegaard wears the captain’s armband, but Xhaka seems to be the spiritual leader of this group of players. His influence is clear, he is very vocal on the pitch and stands by his team-mates whenever there is a fight on the pitch, but he has managed to eliminate most of the unnecessary bookings, untimely fouls and deflected passes that characterized the first half of his time at the club.
Xhaka is playing a different role this season, and he’s much more effective operating higher up the field. He never looked comfortable as a holding midfielder, but his talents (eye for the pass, composure on the ball and ferocious shooting) suit his new role well. Thomas Partey tends to hang back, allowing Xhaka to support the attack, and he already has four goals and three assists under his belt. This is a clear example of Arteta’s work in training camp, and he deserves credit for unleashing Xhaka’s potential.
The appearance of William Saliba
A central defensive pairing of Gabriel Magalhães and Ben White never looked entirely convincing last season. The Gunners look much stronger this term, with White deployed at right back and Saliba partnering Gabriel at the heart of the defence.
Arteta was criticized for sending Saliba on successive loans, but insisted the young Frenchman was not yet ready for the rigors of Premier League football. Saliba’s third loan spell proved pivotal, as he was named Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year after shining at Marseille, and he made his first appearances for France.
The manager finally decided that Saliba was ready this summer and he has responded with a series of impressive performances. He is much more powerful than White and has formed a strong partnership with Gabriel. Both men have made individual mistakes, but have impressed overall. Arenal are conceding 0.26 fewer goals per game than they were last season, and improvements at both ends of the pitch have taken them to the top of the league.
Hungry youth compete for places
Now Arteta has put his stamp on this template. He has ruled out players who did not accept his methods, most notably Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Matteo Guendouzi. In doing so, he has drawn a line under Sven Mislintat’s tumultuous time at the club and put Arsenal on an upward trajectory.
Edu, the sports director, also deserves a lot of credit. They have rebuilt the team, and now it is dominated by young and hungry players. Competition for places is fierce, with the likes of Eddie Nketiah, Fabio Vieira and Tierney fighting to get into the starting 11, and that’s healthy for the club, so the future looks bright.