The redemption run: Arsenal mid-season review 2020-21

(written by Morgan Harvey)

At the time of writing Arsenal have just beaten Newcastle 3-0 at The Emirates following on from a below-par performance against Crystal Palace, in which they drew 0-0. Despite the poor result The Gunners continued their clean sheet run, which is now up to 5 games without conceding. The run of form since their boxing day victory over rivals Chelsea has injected a new feeling of hope into fans after an awful first half of the season.

In the summer, Arsenal made some vital purchases to fix reoccurring issues from previous seasons. These included a naturally left-sided centre back in Gabriel Magalhães and a robust, energetic midfielder in Thomas Partey. Both players have shown incredible skill and ability. Even in Partey’s little game time, he has shown why he is considered amongst the world’s best with an incredible performance against the current league leaders, Manchester United. Gabriel has also offered much-needed solidarity at the back, helping Arsenal become a much harder side to break down, exemplified by the fact Arsenal have only conceded 19 goals in 19 games- one of the best in the league.

Arsenal took the opening matchday by storm with a strong 3-0 win over the newly promoted Fulham with new signing Willian the star of the show. This suggested they could be a contender for a top 4 place; however, even after 2-1 home victory against West Ham, you could see the cracks in the Gunners’ side showing a real lack of creativity from central areas.

As the games went on, Arsenal showed minor glimpses of greatness, but slowly dropped down the table, only being able to pick up wins occasionally. The main issue Arteta’s side suffered from was a lack of goals. It is common knowledge that when Arteta came in his key priority was fixing the defence, which in all fairness to him, he did. The previously shaky defence has massively improved however in the process it has potentially hindered his attack, going 7+ hours without a goal in the league at one stage.

The Gunners continued to struggle for goals and fans were screaming out for the return of Mesut Özil who, even in his later years, is still the clubs best playmaker. However, because of ‘footballing reasons’, Gooners could not see the World Cup winner play a single minute and instead had to settle for a poor Willian, who is yet to have a shot on target this season in the league. Fans were growing frustrated with the club’s awful form, heading into the Christmas period in 15th place, suggesting things can only get worse if lacklustre performers still don’t turn up. 

Arsenal headed into a Carabao Cup knockout round against Guardiola’s Manchester City with young prospect Gabriel Martinelli back into the fold. The game did not go well from the first minute, with Arsenal conceding an early goal to a Jesus header. The Gunners equalised with a class Alexandre Lacazette header after some brilliant footwork from Martinelli, however, unfortunately for Arsenal poor goalkeeping from Alex Rúnarsson put them back behind. The game finished 4-1 to the Citizens, which on face value is awful. However, a late substitution in Emile Smith Rowe showed potential promise for The Gunners who have been in need a natural playmaker.

The boxing day fixture versus Chelsea appears to be the game that has seemingly turned things around for Arsenal. The home side smashed three past the visitors, goals courtesy of Lacazette, Granit Xhaka and Bukayo Saka. This boosted the squad’s confidence over the next few games and Arsenal have gone on to win twice since, with victories away at Brighton and West Brom. 

On review, Emile Smith Rowe has been the key man, showing that he has been the missing piece to Arsenal’s puzzle. His attacking fluidity has proved vital and he is also displaying a fantastic G/A per minute ratio.

For this half of the season, the Arsenal players have all been below par with the exception of a few. Players like Bernd Leno and Kieran Tierney as well as Saka and Gabriel have all shown massive resilience and perseverance throughout the campaign, putting the other teammates to shame. Notable mentions such as Rob Holding, Lacazette and Xhaka have all had games where they have looked good, especially over the last few, showing some hope for the second half of the season.

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