Arsenal began the 2021/2022 Premier League season in a miserable fashion as the Gunners lost their first three games and conceded 9 goals in the process. The 0-0 draw against Brighton on Saturday made it 3 clean sheets for Arsenal in four PL games since the first three.
After the 5-0 loss against Manchester City, there were calls for Mikel Arteta's sack and the rumours in the media had it that the Spaniard has until the ending of September to save his job with Antonio Conte possibly waiting to take over. In 4 Premier League games, after that embarrassing defeat, Arsenal have won 3 games, drawn 1 game and kept 3 clean sheets in the process.
The only goal Arsenal have conceded in this period (5 games in all competitions) was the one against Tottenham scored by Son Heung-Min, which was more of a consolation. For now, calls for Arteta's sack have massively quieted down.
**Son Heung-Min is the only player to have scored against Arsenal in the Gunners' last 4 PL games
How did Mikel Arteta transform a team that could not stop conceding goals into a team that is now proving very difficult to score against? A good way to answer this question is by taking a look at what indeed went wrong for the Gunners in the first place.
At the start of the season, most of the players that make up Arteta's current first choice XI were either injured or yet to join the club.
Aaron Ramsdale, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Martin Ødegaard were the players yet to join the club at the beginning of the season. Gabriel Magalhaes and Thomas Partey were down with injury. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was down with COVID-19 while new signing, Ben White also tested positive to the virus after the first game against Brentford. Bukayo Saka wasn't part of the starting XI at the start of the season as he was still building his fitness post-Euro.
Any team in the world missing as many as 6-8 key players would struggle. Chelsea got a taste of life without Mason Mount, Reece James, Christian Pulisic and N'golo Kanté as they suffered two consecutive defeats for the first time under Thomas Tuchel. Liverpool were not the same last season without Virgil van Dijk.
It is no surprise that the moment Arteta had his full squad available, the results followed.
Arsenal's 1-0 over Norwich as the first time Arteta was able to pick a team very close to his preferred XI. That was the first time Gabriel and White would partner together. Indeed what followed was a clean sheet. Another clean sheet against Burnley followed in the next game with the duo as the Gunners grabbed another 1-0 win.
**Gabriel (l) and White (r) started together for the first time against Norwich with Teemu Pukki (m) marked out by the duo
With Arsenal having a solid defensive base, the attacking players could go on the attack with much more confidence and Tottenham were the first big victims. The Gunners scored 3 goals in a stunning first half performance against Spurs and it took the brilliant Son to beat the excellent Aaron Ramsdale for the very first time in his Arsenal career.
**Ramsdale has only conceded one goal in his Arsenal career
Against a Brighton team that has been one of the best attacking teams in the EPL so far, it was business again for the Gunners defensively as the midfielders did their job in assisting the defence to keep another clean sheet. One moment of brilliance in the attack, and Arsenal could have secured a fourth consecutive victory.
Arsenal are not racking up the wins and keeping the clean sheets and kudos must go to Arteta for producing this impressive turnaround. However, the fact that he had his key players available actually helped a whole lot. One cannot but wonder how different the Chelsea and Manchester City games could have been had these players been available for those games.
Mikel Arteta has his job as Arsenal's manager preserved for now and he has the new-found defensive solidity of his team to thank for that.
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