Arsenal: Reasons to be cheerful after Mikel Arteta's Gunners show quality

It’s been a good Christmas period for Arsenal - now they have to keep it going

Arsenal: Reasons to be cheerful after Mikel Arteta's Gunners show quality

It’s amazing how a couple of wins can completely change how you feel, not just about the football but day to day as well.

The fact that two of those wins last week involved Arsenal playing some tremendous football made it all the better.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m one of those who firmly believed Arsenal were in a relegation scrap a fortnight ago.

In truth we’re still not totally clear of it now if you look at the league table (a couple of bad results and we’re back where we started) but we’re also in a position where maybe we can start to look up the table as well as down it.

I’d been keeping on for weeks on Twitter that Arteta had to change things to get us out of the hole we’d made.

I was sick of watching the likes of Willian and Pepe consistently providing nothing in attack and not working anything like hard enough at the defensive side.

I was sick of seeing every player who wasn’t a defender (with the notable exception of Bukayo Saka) constantly turning back towards their own goal with the ball and passing it to Gabriel or Rob Holding.

I was sick of Bernd Leno passing the ball to the nearest Arsenal defender having spent what seemed like ten minutes making up his mind to do the same thing he does every time the ball is at his feet.

We’ll never know if Mikel actually decided it was time to jettison the game plan and get the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli in the side, while switching to a back-four, allowing Saka to play as a proper attacking winger.

Or was he forced into it because Willian had to isolate and Pepe had done literally nothing to warrant a place in the side?

Whatever it was it has worked a treat and the Alex Lacazette, for example, looks a different player with the youngsters buzzing around him and dragging defenders away from him.

What a joy it’s been to see Arsenal players passing the ball forward, beating their man with a dribble, actually taking shots at goal!

Some players still look woefully out of form and/or disinterested (I’m looking at you, Auba) but the energy and enthusiasm brought about all of a sudden by the presence of young, exciting attacking players has been a joy. 

For me the turning point came, to an extent, mid-way through the first-half of the League Cup defeat to Man City – Martinelli chased the ball across the City defence from the left wing to the right, closing down each defender in turn.

It didn’t make a difference to the outcome but you’d have had to be blind to be a senior player out there and not see him working and think “Christ, I’d better do some of that because none of us have been up to now.”

Ultimately the season in terms of the Premier League is a write-off, but getting into that Champions League race isn’t yet quite beyond the team if they can put together a consistent run of results.

Trophies are what matter to me, however, so I want to see proper line-ups in the FA Cup and Europa League as that’s where the true glory might still await us come May. 

It’s a difficult balancing act for Arteta now in keeping the youngsters in the side, but at the same time not burning them out. Smith Rowe, Martinelli and Saka look like three special talents that we must see nurtured and protected.

I’d love to see more of Nelson and more of Maitland-Niles too as a backbone of players from the youth system might just see the sort of effort applied we don’t necessarily see from big money signings. 

It’s been a good Christmas period for Arsenal. Now they have to keep it going.

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