Arteta needs tangible league position improvement to convince fans of his 'Project'
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
Since Boxing Day, only Manchester City, Manchester United and Leicester have acquired more points than Arsenal in the Premier League. The same 3 teams are also the only sides to have scored more goals than the Gunners in this period, whilst only the league leaders have conceded fewer. These results are backed by the underlying metrics, which suggest performance levels have also been very consistent. Only the two Manchester sides have accumulated more xG since Christmas day.
Some may say it was about time. It couldn't get any worse than what we saw pre-festive period, which was nothing short of diabolical. Arteta's team had been so ineffective offensively, and had spiralled into an awful run of form that saw them pick up just one win in 10 games. The team was clearly lacking confidence, but more tangibly, the systematic choices the Spaniard was making were hindering his team's creative expression. He confined his players to operating within their strict rigid structure, and relied heavily on the use of crosses from wide areas, which consistently was not working.
However, with the last throw of the dice, with things looking so dire and his job on the line, the lego-haired coach opted for a revolutionary new method of creating an actually good attacking team; he decided to start a creative player as a number ten. All of a sudden, Arsenal started creating chances and looked good again. Who would've thought?
In all seriousness, Arteta does deserve credit for the way in which he's turned it around from a point of seemingly no return. Although most could have identified actually using a creative player in order to create chances as a potential solution to this issue of not doing so previously, it takes more than merely deploying the personnel to see such a radical upturn in fortunes for what had been a shocking football team.
The Guardiola scholar has assembled a team that looks both structurally secure defensively, but also oozes with creative freedom in forward areas. He has constructed a front four that relies on the creative ingenuity of the three technicians behind an out and out goalscorer. He has formulated effective patterns of play that suit the players at his disposal. He has began to implement a cohesive pressing unit. All of these have seen tangible improvements in our performances, even if the results haven't quite been as consistent as we'd like.
Of course, we're far off the finished product. The team has a lot of room for improvement and are far from the eventual level we want to get to, but the signs of progression are evident for most to see. It may have taken a lot of tinkering and subsequent pain, but an identity is beginning to be forged. Mikel Arteta's Arsenal project has lift off.
Unfortunately, convincing people of this project developing is difficult when you sit 10th in the league. Despite all these tangible signs of improvement in our upturn in results and in all the metrics, the tangible improvement in our league position has been somewhat minimal. We may have climbed away from the depressive 15th place we found ourselves in at Christmas, but mid-table mediocrity still looms over Arteta and it probably will do for the remainder of the season. His critics will continue to cite this until there is a noticeable increase in our standing- and that is understandable.
The 'Arteta Out Brigade' may also point to the fact that this improvement was inevitable at some point, and it doesn't signal the beginning of a steady incline up the pyramid. With the quality in our squad, we were bound to not be stuck in 15th and to push to mid-table. 10th is still a decline from 8th last season, so how can you say we're heading in the right direction?
I get it, but I also think the table does lie. Despite sitting lower than we did last season (albeit we might end up higher), our overall metrics look more positive. Last season we over-performed to an extent, having finished a couple of places above where our metrics suggested we should've. This season, we're underperforming where we should be, even with our dire period between October and December.
Furthermore, I also think the upturn in performances is so drastic that it can't simply be dismissed as an "inevitable improvement due to the players we have". We were genuinely one of the worst teams in the league in the first half of the season. In the second, we've genuinely been one of the best- as the results and metrics demonstrate. What we're doing tactically is so different, that we should be able to compartmentalise the two periods almost as two different teams. Two different entities.
If this second Arsenal team this season is the new Arsenal, I genuinely believe we're at the start of a steady trajectory. If our performance levels do continue as they are, you'd expect the results to start becoming more consistent, whilst new recruits in the summer will only improve the way our system operates. I understand not everyone will get behind this because they aren't seeing a tangible improvement in our league position, and that's fine. Just have a bit more faith- and patience.