How Mikel Arteta transformed Arsenal into title contenders again

How Mikel Arteta transformed Arsenal into title contenders again

It has been four and a half years since Arsenal decided to place their faith in Mikel Arteta, but it has been far from a cakewalk.

The Spaniard came in boasting a reputation as Pep Guardiola’s untested right-hand man and was tasked with reviving the fallen north London giants.

It has been a bumpy ride for the Gunners, a rollercoaster journey littered with frustration, elation, doubt and defiance.

However, after restoring Arsenal’s credentials as genuine title challengers, Arteta has finally lived up to his reputation as a promising tactician.

Under Arteta’s guidance, Arsenal have transformed into one of Europe’s most formidable teams, playing a brand of exciting, attacking football that has captivated fans and instilled fear in opponents.

He may have ended the 2023/24 season without a major trophy.

However, the Gunners faithful have plenty to be excited about as Arteta prepares to take on Pep Guardiola in another potentially mouth-watering 2024/25 title duel.

City are already favourites to retain their crown again, such is their dominance in the Premier League but Arteta will be keen to avoid a third consecutive runner-up finish.

This exciting narrative paves the way for another exhilarating title race. Fans looking to soak up all the action from the stands can purchase Manchester City tickets from seatsnet.com ahead of next season.

Arsenal’s exceptional 2023/24 season was a stark contrast to Arteta’s early struggles at the Emirates Stadium. Read on as we analyse how the Spaniard restored Arsenal’s status as genuine title contenders.

The transition from Unai Emery to Mikel Arteta

Following the declining final years under Arsene Wenger and the disappointment of the Unai Emery era, Arsenal seemed lightyears away from challenging for the Premier League title.

The prospect of UEFA Champions League football felt like a distant memory, and for many fans, it seemed like an unattainable dream under the current management.

Back in December 2019, Arsenal were going through a rough patch. Emery had left, and interim manager Freddie Ljungberg couldn’t quite turn things around, leaving the team in 10th place with just 22 points from 17 matches.

Arteta stepped in just before Christmas and made an immediate impact. It was clear that Guardiola’s influence was already at play.

Arsenal started playing in a more structured way, looking solid in defence and more organised when in possession.

Arteta’s honeymoon period at Arsenal was nothing short of impressive. He recorded just one defeat in his first 11 Premier League games in charge. By the end of the season, Arsenal had amassed 34 points from 21 games.

However, their remarkable FA Cup win truly stole the spotlight after the extended hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The empty Wembley Stadium witnessed Arsenal display Arteta’s tactical prowess as they triumphed over Man City with a 2-0 win in the semi-final.

Their brave build-up play was a precursor of what was to come, and they continued to impress, signalling a lift-off for Arteta’s managerial career.

Arteta’s struggles

However, the wheels began to come off for Arteta just one year into his tenure.

Arsenal languished in 15th place in the Premier League, with just 14 points from 14 games. Their brand of football was accused of being stale and uninspiring.

Having frozen out Mesut Ozil in the summer, and with new signings Thomas Partey and central defender Gabriel Magalhaes struggling to settle, Arteta’s tactics started looking too restrictive and demanding.

However, Arteta soon found a solution that allowed his players the freedom to express themselves on the pitch while implementing his tactical strategy.

A pivotal moment came on Boxing Day 2020. Arteta shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation, replacing Nicolas Pepe and Willian with Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli.

This change unleashed a dynamic young Arsenal attack, marking the beginning of a fantastic run of form with five wins in six games, propelling them to within five points of the Champions League places.

Martin Odegaard joined the club shortly after, adding creativity and flair to the Arsenal midfield while contributing even more firepower in the final third.

Arteta adopted a more daring approach, which resulted in a turbulent period, but the Gunners ended the season on a high note with an impressive 19 points from their final eight games.

Although Arsenal finished eighth, Arteta’s efforts earned him a well-deserved reprieve. Some fans noted the solid structure he was trying to implement, while others remained unconvinced.

Trust the process 

“Trust the process” became the rallying cry for Arteta believers. But faith was in short supply after Arsenal’s rocky start to the 2021/22 season, including a crushing 5-0 defeat to Man City.

For Arteta, this was another low point. But with the right players and determination, he pushed forward, implementing Guardiola-inspired strategies that led to Arsenal’s impressive recovery and a renewed challenge for a top-four finish.

The Spaniard accomplished that by adopting a 4-3-3 system, with Odegaard playing a prominent role and Granit Xhaka emerging as a key player in a controlling midfield role. 

The additions of Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale also bolstered the defence, resulting in a more composed and confident Arsenal team as the season progressed.

An equally important change saw Arteta replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with Alexandre Lacazette after falling out with the Gabonese striker.

Similar to his handling of Ozil, Arteta was resolute in ushering Arsenal into a new era, free from player influence and high-earning stars that tend to disrupt dressing room harmony.

His rejuvenated team, characterised by youth, hunger, and discipline, was finally taking shape.

The highs and the lows of 2022/23

Arsenal’s journey under Arteta was a rollercoaster that finally hit its stride in the 2022/23 season. It took six transfer windows and some tactical tweaks, but the pieces were finally falling into place.

Arsenal’s previous playing styles weren’t random deviations from Guardiola’s approach but calculated adaptations as Arteta awaited the right players to fully implement his ideas.

The turning point came when Arsenal signed serial winners Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from Man City, along with the return of William Saliba from Olympique Marseille.

Suddenly, it all clicked. The team’s transformation was nothing short of remarkable. By the halfway stage, Arsenal had racked up an impressive 50 points — a level of blitz not seen since Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool in 2013/14.

Zinchenko was a revelation as an inverted full-back, the Odegaard-Thomas Partey-Xhaka midfield was better than ever, Martinelli had matured, and Gabriel Jesus appeared to be the missing piece in the puzzle.

Everything was in place — until it wasn’t. It was clear that Arsenal’s lack of squad depth played a major role in their inability to maintain their momentum throughout the season.

When Saliba was injured in March, Arsenal’s performance took a noticeable hit. They struggled to secure wins in his absence and even relinquished leads in crucial games.

Despite a strong start with Jesus in the line-up, Arsenal’s form suffered in January and February when he was unavailable.

This slump saw Arsenal secure just 34 points from their last 19 games, allowing Man City to swoop in and claim the league title.

Arsenal’s end-of-season capitulation led many to believe they were regressing despite their earlier success. But the reality was quite different.

The 2023/24 title challenge

After a heartbreaking finale to the 2022/23 season, Arsenal spared no expense to reinforce the team ahead of another title challenge, and their signings brought a breath of fresh air to the team.

David Raya’s distribution from the back added a new dimension to their game. Meanwhile, Kai Havertz’s incredible work rate as a false nine injected new energy into the team.

Declan Rice added leadership and control to the midfield as Arsenal sought to avoid another late-season capitulation.

The experience from the 2022/23 run-in only motivated Arteta to mount another title challenge, and his players also stepped up to the plate.

Arsenal’s 1-0 victory over Man City in October was perhaps the clearest indication that their title challenge was no fluke.

However, the real breakthrough came at the start of 2024, as Arsenal embarked on an eight-match winning streak in the league, scoring a remarkable 23 goals and conceding just four goals.

It became clear that Arteta had transformed the team into a powerful force, capable of grinding out wins when needed while boasting a formidable and free-flowing attack that could rival any club in Europe.

It still wasn’t enough to dethrone City, but Arsenal have been steadily progressing under Arteta’s leadership.

With points tallying 61, 69, 84, and now 89, it’s clear that Arteta has been diligently laying the groundwork, fine-tuning tactical strategies, and skillfully acquiring the right players to maintain his side’s competitiveness.

These consistent improvements speak volumes, and they left no room for doubt when Arteta promised the Arsenal fans that his team would return even stronger for the 2024/25 season.

The 2023/24 season might not have ended the way they had hoped. But in many ways, it marks the completion of their incredible transformation with Arteta at the helm.

Their focus must now be on stopping City from yet another title triumph, and a few strategic additions, especially an elite striker, to the squad could be a game-changer for their 2024/25 title challenge.

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