Throughout what has been a disjointed and inconsistent first quarter of the season for Arsenal, Thursday night wins have become routine, with the Gunners beating Dundalk 4-2.
The only team to win all six of their group-stage matches in European competition in
2020-21, the Gunners breezed through to the last 32 of the Europa League but have not won a Premier League game since 1 November.
Now, with no more continental football until February, Arsenal must translate their accomplished performances in Europe into the Premier League.
Playing in the Europa League has given Mikel Arteta and his players some much-needed confidence after going more than a month without a win in domestic football, which was evident in the way Arsenal went about their business in Dublin.
The chance for academy graduates to impress Arteta has continued, with the likes of Folarin Balogun, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith-Rowe and Miguel Azeez all impressing under the Thursday night lights. Hale End products continuing to shine in the first team also has the added benefit of putting pressure on some of the club’s more established players, who have been underwhelming in the league.
At the Aviva Stadium, Arsenal moved the ball with purpose and precision, intent on breaking down the Dundalk defence. This is in stark contrast to their past two league matches, where they looked lost for ideas against the discipline and determination of Tottenham and Wolves respectively.
They will come up against another resolute side on Sunday, when they face Burnley at Emirates Stadium. If Arteta needs any inspiration for his game plan, then he should continue the policy of picking a mixture of young talent, blended with experienced heads. The Spaniard must send a message out to the squad that no player is infallible, and a smart way to do that would be by including youngsters who have shone in Europe.
Indeed, after netting against Dundalk, Nketiah is now Arsenal’s top scorer this season, with five goals. In addition, Willock is the first Arsenal player to reach both three goals and three assists in a European campaign since 2016/17, when both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil did so in the Champions League, according to Opta.
Arteta has also been bold with his choice of formations in Europe, often favouring an unorthodox 3-5-2. Therefore, it is no coincidence that Arsenal have looked far more dangerous in the Europa League, with 20 goals from their six matches.
With goals hard to come by against admittedly tougher opposition, Arteta should not be afraid of tinkering how Arsenal set up in the Premier League, where they need to inject urgency and fluidity into their play. The Spaniard has preferred a more rigid structure in domestic fixtures, but the extra emphasis on his players’ shape has left them devoid of any attacking instincts.
Arsenal currently sit 15th in the Premier League table and have a favourable run of fixtures heading into Christmas. As well as the visit of Burnley, the Gunners host Southampton before a trip to out-of-form Everton. These matches seem like the ideal time for Arteta to try something new that gets his team amongst the goals again. Even if wins have to be ground out in the dying minutes, rather than achieved with glitz and glamour, anything will do for Arsenal.
Just as Arteta got the best of his players by guiding them to an FA Cup trophy, he must lift the squad again, as the focus now shifts to an improvement in Premier League performances after getting the job done in Europe.