Arsenal’s young guns continue to find their feet
Arsenal convincingly beat injury hit Leeds 4-1 in what was the only game to not be called off on a Covid-ravaged Saturday in the Premier League.
Gabriel Martinelli scored a first-half double before Bukayo Saka extended the Gunners’ lead to 3-0 going into the break.
In the second-half, Raphinha pulled one back with a thumping penalty before Emile Smith-Rowe came off the bench to seal the win in style.
Leeds had 9 players unavailable through injury or suspension tonight and entered the game coming off the back of a 7-0 pummelling at the hands of Man City in midweek.
The Gunners are now in fourth place in the league and will hope to maintain their form to stay in the Champions League places by the end of the season.
But after last season’s disappointment, what exactly has gone right for Arsenal this season?
Young guns firing
Arteta’s long term plan has been to build a team around the wealth of young talent that Arsenal possess.
18 out of Arsenal’s last 19 goals scored across all competitions have been scored by U23 players.
In Emile Smith-Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, they have three future stars in the making with the trio all on the scoresheet against Leeds.
They are quick, direct and hard-working and most importantly, they are combining their ability with output.
Martinelli’s mid-season emergence has come at the right time for Arteta. The pacy 20 year-old Brazilian has put last season’s troubles behind him and now has four goals in seven starts this season.
After being one of the few positives from last season, Smith-Rowe has further pushed on with his development this year. His goal tonight took the 21 year-old’s tally to 7 premier league goals in 11 games, an impressive return.
Saka continues to impress after showing great character to bounce back following the disappointment of missing a crucial penalty in the Euro 2020 final. His pace, work ethic and dribbling are valuable assets and he is developing a growing chemistry with Smith-Rowe and Martinelli.
Add these three academy talents to the more experienced - but still young - Takehiro Tomiyasu and Martin Odegaard, Arsenal have a solid spine to build on for the future.
After a rocky start to the season, Arsenal have seemingly found their feet and have recorded important wins recently against West Ham and now Leeds.
Arteta was able to name an unchanged starting XI for the fourth consecutive game with this stability clearly benefitting Arsenal.
The team have shown promising signs and have started to gel from back to front with the new signings now bedded in nicely.
The Gunners have also profited from a relatively injury free squad compared to other teams in the league who are nursing numerous casualties over the festive period.
As a result, Arsenal seem far more settled and Arteta has not faced any problems in picking his preferred personnel.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out of form and now officially deposed as captain after off the pitch misdemeanours, Arsenal should become even more solid as a unit in time.
No European distractions
As Arsenal slumped to an 8th placed finish in the league last year, the club was in turmoil after not qualifying for European football for the first time in 25 years. But this has proved to be a blessing in disguise.
The additional number of games last year in the Europa League meant that the Gunners were hampered by injuries.
However, no European football has meant that Arsenal have been able to keep the players fit and firing for the Premier League whilst also avoiding time-consuming away trips.
While most other clubs in the battle for the top four have had to deal with European football, Arsenal have been able to focus on the league which has yielded a massive improvement on last season’s domestic results so far.
Their absence from Europe may have also provided a wake-up call for the players who are now seemingly motivated to get back to playing continental football by having a strong campaign this year.
Whether Arsenal can make it back into the Champions League again remains to be seen.
But…can they do it in the big games?
The question for Arsenal now is can they do it in the big games against stronger teams. They were on a fantastic run earlier last month but were convincingly swept aside by Liverpool in a 4-0 defeat at Anfield. There is no doubt Arsenal as a team have improved from last year, but they still lack the killer instinct and quality to compete at the highest level.