Defensive stability has not been a trait of Arsenal’s in the post-Wenger era, nor was it a characteristic of the Frenchman’s latter days in charge at the Emirates, but current manager Mikel Arteta appears to have addressed this long-standing issue.
Saturday’s dour 0-0 draw with Manchester United saw the Gunners see out a productive month with January yielding 11 Premier League points from a possible 15, with their FA Cup exit at the hands of Southampton being the only blemish on their record so far in 2021.
Arsenal only conceded two goals throughout January, with clean sheets coming in six of their last eight outings in all competitions. Indeed, Saturday’s stalemate with United saw the Gunners keep a fourth consecutive clean sheet at home for the first time in almost two years.
According to Opta Stats, Arteta’s side had a 54.9% duel success rate, meaning their players won the majority of one-on-one individual battles with United opponents, and it certainly appeared that way to the naked eye with David Luiz at the forefront and quite rightly named Sky Sports’ Man of the Match.
It was the first goalless draw between these two old foes in the Premier League since February 2014 and it ensured Arsenal are unbeaten against United in their last six league meetings.
Without in-form Bukayo Saka and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal did struggle to create opportunities and fluffed their lines when chances presented themselves, but it’s the new-found defensive stability which will have pleased Arteta the most.
Arteta’s Organisational Skills
Former Arsenal full-back Nigel Winterburn puts their solid defensive form down to Arteta’s organisational skills and insists the Spaniard’s back four is the best platform from which to build on in their 4-2-3-1 formation.
“If you look back from where we were 15 games ago, when things were looking very, very dire, all of a sudden we’ve won a few games and found some stability,” he told bookmakers.co.uk.
“I’ve always thought with Arteta that we’ve had good organisation and it just seems as though the combination of players seems to be clicking and growing as an outfit.
“We’ve now gone back to a back four and each of those players is doing a solid job, linking together to give protection for the goalkeeper.
“But it’s not just the back four – they have to rely on the midfield to slow the opposition down, and they’re doing that at the moment.
“There’s been a few key performers. Emile Smith Rowe has been one of them, Saka of course, Kieran Tierney and I actually think Granit Xhaka has been one of them too.
“Obviously, a clean sheet gives you a better opportunity to win a game of football so if Arsenal can continue the trend then they are going to win a lot more games and pick up a significant amount of points which will shoot them up the table very quickly.”
Arsenal Injury Concerns
The turnaround in Arsenal’s performances cannot be pinpointed on one specific player, according to Winterburn, although the form of 19-year-old Saka has certainly turned heads and Arteta will hope the winger recovers from a hip injury in time to face Wolves on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, left-back Tierney has missed Arsenal’s last two games having previously found his form around the Christmas period and Winterburn – a former left-back himself – hopes the Scotland international can return from a calf complaint as soon as possible so Arsenal can benefit from his attributes as a modern full-back.
He said: “You can see a marked improvement in players but with Tierney I was always confident, having watched him at Celtic, that he would come in and be successful at Arsenal, although you can never be fully sure until that player comes in and settles down.
“He arrived injured so he didn’t have the luxury of coming in and training with his new team-mates straight away, but he’s definitely found his feet now.
“His energy, his decision-making and his crossing – which is sensational – gives Arsenal a great option going forward and he’s pretty reliable defensively too, which is nice to see in a full-back these days because we’ve all moved away from the type of full-backs who are very resolute defensively without much attacking intent.
“So it’s nice to have a player who can excel in both disciplines – defensively and the attacking options that full-backs are now expected to provide as well.”