A Season-Changing Win for Mikel Arteta

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Bukayo Saka and Gabriel are triumphant

San Francisco / September 26, 2021

The first-half of today's North London derby was the best Arsenal has played under Mikel Arteta. This Arsenal team was in control on defense, aggressive when they had the ball, and took advantage of small openings to score. I have been very skeptical of Mikel Arteta's skill as a strategist, but today he overshot my expectations. 

Arteta started Ramsdale in goal, Tomiyasu-White-Gabriel-Tierney on defense, Partey-Xhaka in central defensive midfield, Saka-Odegaard-Smith Rowe at attacking midfield, and Aubameyang at striker. This lineup was better than the past few lineups. Ramsdale played top tier goalkeeping. His fingertip save in the final few minutes was world-class. Takehiro Tomiyasu is very dominant. He slows down the attacking player and wins the vast majority of duels. Ben White made a couple of mistakes in the prior match and was way better today. He is very good in the air and handled Harry Kane. Gabriel played very solid. He made a couple of important clearances when the team was in danger. Kieran Tierney was effective and intense as usual. He should be Arsenal's captain. Tierney always puts forth 100% effort. Thomas Partey is a first-rate holding midfielder. He puts himself in useful positions, wins possession, and makes very skilled distributional passes. Granit Xhaka works very hard but he is not good enough to start for this team. I respect his effort, but Arteta should put Albert Sami Lokonga in that role. Xhaka gets out-skilled in many duels and commits fouls in response. Arsenal must use him as a substitute going forward. The trio of Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard, and Bukayo Saka played very well today. This is Arsenal's best attacking midfield setup. In the prior match, Arteta started Nicolas Pepe at right wing and it was not effective. Arsenal should use Pepe as a substitute. ESR-Odegaard-Saka is the best arrangement at midfield. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang played well today. He scored and was sharper today than in previous matches. I don't think he is playing as well as he did 2-3 years ago, but he was very effective today.

If Arsenal can maintain the level of play in the first half for the rest of the season, this team can finish in the top 6 of the Premier League, maybe higher.

There is still room for improvement. Arteta must figure out how to give younger players more opportunities in the first team. Arteta should give opportunities to players like Gabriel Martinelli, Charlie Patino, and Folarin Balogun. This is a difficult balancing act that every Premier League manager struggles with.