Arsenal Season Review: Progress Evident Under Mikel Arteta

Arsenal Mikel Arteta
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: Arsenal Head Coach Mikel Arteta with goalkeeping coach Inaki Cana Pavon and assistants Steve Round and Albert Stuivenburg after the FA Cup Final match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on August 01, 2020 in London, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Arsenal and Mikel Arteta ended a topsy-turvy 2019/20 season with the glorious high of another FA Cup triumph. Victory over Chelsea at Wembley extended the Gunners’ fantastic record as the competition’s most successful side.

A season of ups-and-downs leading up to that final game was a campaign like no other for every Premier League side. But for Arsenal, in particular, the drama has been immeasurable, and so too the number of talking points.

Arsenal Season Review: Mikel Arteta is Already Making Progress

The Unai Emery Nightmare at Arsenal

We begin by casting our eye over a dreadful first half of the season overseen by Unai Emery. The disastrous reign of the former Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain manager seems like a long time ago in the eyes of the neutral. Arsenal’s season was reaching some historic lows when the axe was brought down on Emery following a 2-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt on 28 November.

That awful home defeat made it seven games without the taste of victory for Arsenal, their worst run of form since 1992. The man brought in to reverse the decline that tarnished the final Wenger years was actually making it worse. He just had to be replaced.

An insistence on playing out from the back produced erratic results, which was entirely predictable given the defensive playing staff at Emery’s disposal. Indeed, in a 3-1 loss to eventual-champions Liverpool in August, the Gunners lost the ball 13 times in their own defensive third.

Additionally, an insistence on approaching every game with the objective of adapting to the opponent produced ever-changing tactics that only served to confuse the players. Emery’s side were overly pragmatic in their approach towards achieving their goals. As a result, the wins stopped coming.

Finally, Arsenal’s season lacked sufficient leadership to achieve any success under Emery. The manager stripped Granit Xhaka of the captaincy following that substitution debacle against Crystal Palace. What’s more, Emery allowed the players to vote on who would replace the Swiss as their leader on the pitch.

These are the actions of a manager with no authority. Emery constantly deliberated over what to do with a demotivated Mesut Ozil, and when the Spaniard was mercifully removed of his duties after that dismal loss to Frankfurt, Arsenal’s season was on track to become an historic failure.

The Mikel Arteta Resurgence

To change that direction, step forward Mikel Arteta.

Arsenal were an absolute shambles when their former midfielder bravely swapped his role as assistant in Manchester for the top job in London. And while Arteta simply did not have the time to prevent the club from their lowest league position since 1995, he did set about changing the culture, and improving the playing style.

The culture shift has been the most important factor behind the club’s resurgence over the second half of the season. Arteta has instilled a sense of discipline that can only take Arsenal forward, no matter the personal consequences for the few who are not on board with the plan.

Unlike under his predecessor, Arteta has made it clear that poor trainers such as Ozil will play no part in the club’s rebuild. Emery criticised the German’s behaviour; Arteta actually did something about it. At the time of Arsenal’s most-joyous moment of the season at Wembley on Saturday, Ozil was so far out of the picture that he was actually in Turkey while his team mates were lifting silverware.

Young Frenchman Matteo Guendouzi has felt the full consequences of his outrageous petulance against Brighton and Hove Albion after Project Restart. The standard has been set by the attitude of Granit Xhaka following his aforementioned moment of madness: The Swiss international has since met his manager’s demands, and is playing some of the best football of his career.

The right values at the club have been restored, and results on the pitch are picking up. Sandwiched in between Arsenal’s miraculous run to cup victory was a comeback win over Liverpool in the Premier League. The Gunners would have lacked the courage and belief to pull off such results before. No longer is that the case.

Game of the Season – Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea

No prizes for guessing this one. A record-extending 14th FA Cup triumph was Arteta’s reward for all his good work.

In the early stages of the game, Arsenal struggled to get to grips with the movement and skill of Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic in behind Oliver Giroud at Wembley. They went into the first half drinks break trailing in the final.

Arteta worked his magic once more, and his side came out firing and took control of the contest from that moment onwards.

Chelsea finished the game with ten men (the result of a shambolic refereeing decision, it must be said) and were unable to really threaten extra time as Arsenal secured the trophy and created more FA Cup history.

They also guaranteed Europa League football with that result, and gave themselves a platform to keep moving forward under their excellent new manager.

Player of the Season – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Again, no prizes for guessing this one. The Gabon striker continually outlined his world class status over the course of the season, netting 22 league goals and almost pipping Jamie Vardy to the Golden Boot award.

Aubameyang also scored a brace in both the semi-final and the final of the FA Cup. Arsenal would not have reached, or won, the final without him.

Though he dropped the famous old trophy prior to lifting it, the striker now knows how it feels to win silverware with the club. His manager hopes such a feeling will convince the player to stay at the Emirates. Arteta certainly needs him to.

Overall – A platform for Moving Forward

This season cannot be seen as an overall success for the North London club. Finishing below Tottenham can never be seen as acceptable, and neither can a mid-table league position.

But another cup success is a true moment to savour, and Europa League glory next season is an achievable target for the Gunners as they look to continue on the right path.

In the meantime, Arsenal need urgent defensive reinforcement, and they need to convince Aubameyang to sign a new contract, whatever the cost.

The club’s short-term targets are now clear. They have the right manager to lead them towards them. This season has absolutely not been an unqualified success for the club, but it has been a first step towards it.

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