When the final whistle sounded at Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening, it felt like a missed opportunity for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal. A missed opportunity to secure a first away win against a ‘big six’ side since January 2015, when Arteta was still an Arsenal player.
Manchester City were certainly there for the taking. They were without an injured Kevin De Bruyne and conceded five goals in their previous game at home to Leicester. But once again, it was not to be.
However, this was a wacky weekend where Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool all dropped points.
The first positive in defeat comes from the fact that the Gunners stayed in the game for the full 90 minutes, not allowing a potent City attack to run riot. In tricky trips to the Citizens and Liverpool, Arsenal stayed in both games from first minute to last.
This is clear evidence that Arteta has prioritised substance over style in games where his team were the underdogs. Despite that making for frustrating viewing as a fan, it has resulted in Arsenal having the second-best defence in the league after five matches.
Gabriel’s first performances have shown early signs of promise. His ability to win aerial balls and assuredly play out from the back bode well for the future. Bernd Leno has also given spectators a timely reminder of his quality, re-affirming his status as first choice goalkeeper following the controversial departure of Emiliano Martinez to Aston Villa.
It is a testament to the performance of Arteta’s defence that, for the first time in an age, it is not the weakest unit in an Arsenal team. All the question marks have been centred around the creative capabilities (or lack thereof) of the team’s midfield. Arsenal are the only side in the league’s top eight to have scored fewer than ten goals.
Due to a lack of incisiveness in attack, it is worth reminding the reader that Arsenal finished eighth in the Premier League last season, drawing as many games as they won. Therefore, Arteta clearly identified a need to turn his side into one that is difficult to beat, so that potential draws can be turned into wins by staying in the game. Evidence of this came in a creaky performance at home to West Ham United earlier this season. The Gunners did not deserve to win that day but managed to do so through fight and fortitude.
For a fanbase that has enjoyed football as somewhat of an art form over the past two decades, this newly solid style may take some getting used to. Rest assured that this period is unlikely to last long – Arteta has a clear long-term vision to eventually alter the team’s formation into an attack-minded 4-3-3.
For now, it is about sitting tight and trusting the process that Arteta has for Arsenal.
Zac CampbellFollow @ZPRCampbell