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Mikel Arteta’s Magic had Arsenal on the Brink of Victory. Is it gone?

By: Luke Montalbano

Bukayo Saka, the young star of Arsenal, celebrates after scoring against Manchester United in the 53rd minute. Date: January 22nd, 2023. Photo Credit: The U.S. Sun

In the first half of the Premier League 2022/2023 season, Arsenal dominated the table for the first time since the 2003/2004 Premier League season when the North London team went undefeated across all matches. Going into 2023, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal stood at the top of the Premier League table at 50 points after their 3-2 victory over rivals Manchester United, placing them five points ahead of second-place team Manchester City.

Many commentators speculated that despite Arsenal’s dominance in the first half of the season, their form would decline back to what they were in previous years and how their roster looks on paper: a good above-average team but by no means dominant. What has helped Arsenal during this season is their strong balance of players across the pitch; they do not have the same amount of money as Chelsea or Manchester City and thus cannot afford to purchase top-tier players or young stars, such as Mudryk or Haaland, and seem instead to spread their budget across the pitch. What this culminates in is more than two or three players dominating the team’s tactics (which Manchester United suffered from until they parted ways with Cristiano Ronaldo).

In this sense, Arsenal have been able to build a squad that uses their fullbacks to play higher up the pitch than what conventional wisdom dictates, allowing their midfield of Martin Ødegaard and Granit Xhaka to push deep into the opponent’s half, setting up strong offensive plays for their attacking line. For much of the start of the season, the most prolific Arsenal players were Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Jesus, creating big chances for the Gunners and leading the team to strong finishes. However, with the latter injured, it seems that Arsenal’s offense has weakened dramatically.

Although Jesus was replaced by Nketiah, who proved invaluable in his first couple of games, his abilities are far weaker, which has shown in Arsenal’s recent 1-0 loss to Everton and 1-1 draw to Brentford. Despite Arsenal’s recent 3-1 defeat to Manchester City, the team was able to rebound with a 4-2 victory over Aston Villa in injury time, putting Arsenal two points ahead of Manchester City with a game in hand. However, Arsenal is nowhere close to safe.

It is my opinion that the only pathway forward for Arsenal will be the quick introduction of Jorginho into the team and the return of Gabriel Jesus to pair with Saka in the front. Additionally, it is my belief (and I certainly will receive flak for this) that Tomiyasu is chronically underplayed by Arteta. His defensive capabilities and football intelligence are both under-admired by fans and management alike. To prove this, we must only point to the 3-2 victory over Manchester United in January. With 90% pass accuracy, 2 chances created, 1 big chance created, and 1 assist as a substitute in the match, Tomiyasu showed his worth on the pitch. As such, it seems as if Tomiyasu should replace Ben White in Arsenal’s starting XI. Simply stated, Tomiyasu has played more or less consistently, while White’s form diminishes as the season goes on.

Much like Tomiyasu, Trossard is also underplayed. In recent matches, Trossard has shown that he is far more deserving of making the starting XI than Martinelli on the left wing, with the latter consistently underperforming expectations on the pitch. At this point in the season, Trossard is far more capable of creating chances than Martinelli and also has a stronger presence along the wing in both an offensive and defensive position.

Arsenal has a strong chance of winning the Premiership for the first time since 2003/2004 “Invincible” season, but this can only continue to be the case under two conditions: Mikel Arteta must adapt to a changing Premier League environment and Gabriel Jesus must return as soon as possible. The Manchester City defeat should serve as an awakening to Arteta: the strategy must change. It is clear that the fall squad is no longer suitable for success on the pitch; tactics have evolved in all PL teams, particularly after the massive winter transfers. As Hungarian-American businessman, Andy Grove said, “there are two options: adapt or die.”

Written by writer Luke Montalbano

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