Fourth at mid-season, Arsenal are back this year. The Gunners remain on four straight victories and find their game of yesteryear.
The adage is that you miss a being so that everything is depopulated. Arsenal is the perfect counter-example. The “Gunners” followed Sunday a fourth victory in a row at Norwich (5-0), still without their captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
No Aubameyang, go party
Nothing foreshadowed such a return to form a few weeks ago. Stuck in the soft underbelly of the championship, Mikel Arteta dismissed the Gabonese from the group, for disciplinary reasons, suggesting a major crisis on the horizon.
What a boy. Since this decision, everything has been fine with the Gunners. After 5 games without their scorer, Arsenal gleaned 12 points and climbed back to fourth place. Better yet, the Etihad Stadium has reviewed for the first time in years the outbursts of the game advocated by Arsène Wenger during his 22 years in office.
A rediscovered philosophy
The Gunners finally master their meetings. On their winning streak, they had possession 58% of the time, while struggling to reach 50% before. Alexandre Lacazette’s teammates are then less exposed to opposing offensives and have conceded only one goal during this period.
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This defensive impermeability is also to the credit of individuals. Gabriel has established himself as a real taulier in central hinge, a position that has long failed at Arsenal. Good in the recovery and aggressive in the duels, the former Lille finally justifies the 30 million euros that had been paid to buy it in the summer of 2020.
Even when the Brazilian is overwhelmed, he can count on the excellent Aaron Ramsdale. The English goalkeeper, snatched this summer in Sheffield against 28 million, relegated Bernd Leno to the bench. His saves, in his spectacular style, capsized Emirates Stadium and earned valuable points for his team.
On the other side of the field, it is the young shoots that light the wicks. This season, 17 of Arsenal’s 32 league goals were scored by players born after 2000. Smith-Rowe, Saka and Martinelli shine with their liveliness and technical skills. In competition with Odegaard, they form an explosive line in the 4-2-3-1 of Arteta, just behind Alexandre Lacazette.
The Frenchman has become the leader of a whole team. Since Aubameyang was sidelined, the former Lyonnais has been doing everything on the ground. Decisive, with 3 goals and 2 assists over the last four victories, he is also essential in the defensive and construction phases. The number 9 is the first to press the opposing defenders and does not hesitate to win to relieve his teammates in the raises. An undeniable contribution, when Arsenal garners 2.32 points per game when Lacazette is the holder.
Towards a qualification in the Champions League?
With 6 points ahead of Tottenham, who are 3 games behind, Arsenal are in contention for fourth place at mid-season. An unthinkable situation at the start of the season. At the end of August, the “Gunners” had still not scored a single goal, or even a single point.
Worse still, Mikel Arteta’s players had been humiliated three times. By Brentford (2-0), who played his first match in the top flight since 1947, by Chelsea, who flew over the London derby (2-0) and especially by City, who had crushed and highlighted all the shortcomings of the team (5-0).
Arteta, whose resignation was requested, will have the opportunity to take revenge on Guardiola on Sunday. The Gunners will host Manchester City on Sunday, who have scored 30 times in their current streak of 9 straight wins. The opportunity for Arsenal to show all its progress and see if it has the makings of a contender for fourth place. After two seasons finished in 8th place, the Champions League would return for the first time to the Emirates Stadium since 2017.