Right now supporters are not quite sure what to make of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal.
Have we turned a corner? Are we progressing? Will any improvements inevitably be offset by our habit of shooting ourselves in the foot at crucial moments?
Well, to shine a light on how we’re really doing I want you to take a journey with me to a dark, dark place: we are going back in time to October, November and December last year. Don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand.
From October 17th to December 19th we played 10 Premier League games and ended up with a devastating stats line of: P10 – W1 – D2 – L7. We scored four goals and conceded 13.
Here are a few comments from a sample of the AA match reports from those fixtures:
October 25th – Arsenal 0-1 Leicester: the headline of our report was, with a degree of prophetic clarity: “Arsenal Lose to Leicester – It Doesn’t Bode Well.” The report referred to a “painful but entirely deserved defeat,” adding: “…we lacked creativity, we were slow to the point of glacial in moving into attack and too many players were below par.”
November 8th – Arsenal 0-3 Aston Villa: “We got outplayed, outfought and out-thought on our own ground…” and “Losing is always disappointing, but it is much harder when you go down without a fight. Last night we collapsed with barely a whimper. In fact, we put the ‘wimp’ in whimper.” In the player ratings Willian was awarded a 2, with this note: “A truly awful performance. Villa’s first goal came from Willian passing to a Villa player while not under any pressure. He gave away possession time after time and had zero impact as an attacking force. Has he been sent by Chelsea as a sleeper agent to help destroy us from within?”
November 22nd – Leeds 0-0 Arsenal: “Any complaints that we left Elland Road with only a point yesterday? I didn’t think so. We were second best for much of the game, we played with 10 men from the 51st minute, Leeds hit the woodwork three times and Leno had to make some outstanding saves.” “We are still striving to find a midfield that works to create chances. Consequently we create very few chances.” In the ratings Willian got 4, Pepe 3 and Aubameyang 5 with this question: “Where is the Auba of last year?”
November 29th – Arsenal 1-2 Wolves: The headline said: “Wolves Rip Gunners Apart,” with the report adding: “A third home-defeat in a row. A 14th place in the EPL. Another game without a goal in open play. Another game without Auba scoring. Another game with toothless attacks and sterile possession.”
December 13th – Arsenal 0-1 Burnley: “Frustration Building Up,” and “…another really tasteless and toothless performance… tonight was worrying on many levels…” Saka and Tierney were our highest rated players with 5 each, while Arteta was given a 2.
December 19th Everton 2-1 Arsenal: From the post game comments: “Whatever Mikel has time to do, he needs creativity! Arsenal have scored just three goals. Rank 20th; Arsenal have had 27 shots on target. Rank 19th; Shooting accuracy 35%. Rank 20th; Shot conversion rate 2.9%. 20th; And our xG is abysmal, so no matter who is in the lineup, if there is no creativity for our front three, it will be useless. From yesterday’s game: 2 shots on target in 94 minutes (the one off the post looked to be deflected).”
It’s a pretty painful march back down memory lane, isn’t it?
And you may be wondering why I have made you join me on that march… apart from pure sadism of course.
It is intended to show that there really is progress at Arsenal: that run was absolutely terrible not just because of the results (which were dire) but because of serious problems with the manner of our play. Our creativity was at rock bottom which meant that we were unable to score goals. We were dreadful to watch.
Opponents were so untroubled by our attacking threat that they could spend the entire game threatening us, usually with fatal results.
Fast forward to today and we are still a team with some problems, but they pale into insignificance when compared with that dreadful run up to Christmas last year.
These days we attack with verve and panache. We have the likes of Odegaard, Saka, Smith Rowe, Pepe and Tierney creating pretty passing moves to carve through opposition defences. Lacazette has found a role that suits him, although Aubameyang still struggles to find consistency.
And yes, our good work is still too often sabotaged by failures in concentration, but the curve is heading in the right direction. The arc of footballing history is bending our way.
I happen to think that one overlooked benefit of that bad run will be what it has done to and for Arteta. El Patron had to look into the abyss as the results kept getting worse: he will have been aware of all the speculation about his future, the calls for his head. Yet he came through it and started to put things right.
I would not underestimate the additional strength that that experience has given him. I think it will have made him harder and more willing to be ruthless if he sees a problem.
It’s too late to salvage much from this season unless we go all the way in the Europa League. That October to December run killed off our chances of a respectable finish in the EPL. But it may just have sown the seeds for something much better in the next campaign.