In a world where spirits have dropped since Christmas following yet another lockdown in the United Kingdom, those of Arsenal fans have soared. Well, as much as they can during the midst of a global pandemic.
After ending a run of seven league games without a win, the Gunners have used the momentum of a 3-1 win against Chelsea on Boxing Day to make it five games unbeaten in the Premier League.
Although they have impressed in this recent run, the real mark of any improvement under Mikel Arteta will be seen during Arsenal’s upcoming league fixtures.
Having beaten Brighton, West Brom and Newcastle, Arsenal’s mettle will be put to the test against Southampton, Leeds, Wolves, Aston Villa, Leicester and both Manchester clubs, each of whom they face before the end of February.
As daunting a set of fixtures as that sounds, Arsenal are far better equipped to tackle them than they would have been three weeks ago.
The emergence of Emile Smith Rowe, effortlessly gliding around the pitch like an albatross in flight, has injected an incisive and direct quality to Arsenal’s midfield that was sorely lacking earlier in the campaign. His fellow Hale End graduate Bukayo Saka has also been instrumental, with three goals and two assists in his last five league matches.
Much has been made of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s malaise this season. Before Monday night’s match, the Gabon international had netted just once in 11 Premier League outings. A timely brace from their skipper is just what Arsenal needed before coming up against more stubborn defences.
Speaking of defences, Arsenal’s has been far more regimented and organised in recent weeks.
They have now kept five consecutive clean sheets in all competitions for the first time since February 2009. The comfort that the defenders, in particular Rob Holding, have demonstrated on the ball means Arsenal look a lot more confident in possession.
This is in stark contrast to when they were panicked and pressured into making avoidable mistakes that left them chasing games far too often over the autumn.
They have the chance to put that right against the likes of Villa, Leicester, Wolves and Manchester City in the coming weeks. The squad as a whole must prove their sub-par start to the season was a blip, by being smarter and more pragmatic in these reverse fixtures.
In the humbling 3-0 loss to Villa, the Arsenal players’ lack of responsibility and tactical naivety was apparent, as they were picked off at will by well-drilled opposition. The same happened against the Foxes, with Jamie Vardy once again proving to be a painful thorn in Arsenal’s side.
This is where Arteta deserves credit for being able to motivate a group of who looked disorganised and disinterested. Judging by the timing of Arsenal’s upturn in fortunes, N7 must have been awash with festive cheer at Yuletide.
The Spaniard has also found a key element to building a squad, one that has not been present in north London for quite some time. Balance.
Under his predecessor Unai Emery, the Gunners were gung-ho, all aboard the crazy train. However, Arteta is rather more Fleetwood Mac than Ozzy Osborne, considered and mellow in the dugout.
A change in performances was needed and, as he has done very often throughout such a short time in charge, Arteta has got the best out of his players when most needed. This must continue if Arsenal are to return to anywhere near the top of the league.
Following their sluggish start to 2020/21, Arsenal are already playing catch-up and can ill afford another set of inconsistent performances should they wish to be playing European football next season.
Just as these last three weeks have been full of positivity and progress, the strides forward made by Arteta and Arsenal could be quickly undermined if the players allow old habits to creep back in under pressure.
It has been a bright start to 2021 for the Gunners, but they have a lot more work to do to make this season a successful one.