Inside the Arsenal renaissance – how Mikel Arteta has turned their season around

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Arsenal extended their unbeaten run to 10 matches with their 1-0 victory over Watford on Sunday, when Emile Smith Rowe scored yet again for Mikel Arteta’s side.

The win took Arsenal up to fifth place in the Premier League, only two points behind Liverpool. It has been a remarkable run of form, not least because they lost their opening three games of the league campaign without scoring a single goal.

Here, Telegraph Sport analyses the reasons behind Arsenal’s resurgence and their transformation into a team that suddenly looks capable of competing for the Champions League places at the end of the season.

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A settled side — at last 

It speaks volumes of the chaotic start to Arsenal’s season that Arteta made a total of 15 changes to his starting lineup in their opening four games. Injuries and illness had forced the Spaniard to cobble together an unfamiliar team in the first few games, and he was simply unable to find the right balance in attack or in defence.

A brief glance at Arsenal’s team for their match against Manchester City, which they lost 5-0, is an indication of the problem. Arsenal’s back six that day, including the goalkeeper, was as follows: Bernd Leno, Cedric Soares, Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Sead Kolasinac and Kieran Tierney.

Of those six players, only one (Tierney) stayed in the team for the subsequent league match, at home to Norwich City. None of the other five have started a league game since. 

It is a similar story in attack. The absence of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette from the opening game at Brentford meant that Arteta was forced to field an attack featuring Folarin Balogun and Gabriel Martinelli. Again, both players have hardly featured since.

By contrast, the team in the last two months has been much more settled. Arteta has averaged 1.2 changes to his starting lineup per game since the first international break, compared to an average of five changes per game in the previous matches. 

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Defenders proving their worth

Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes, Arteta’s undisputed first-choice defensive pairing, started their first game together at home to Norwich in September. It is not a coincidence that this marked the beginning of Arsenal’s current unbeaten run, as both players have been superb at the heart of the defence.

In White and Gabriel, Arteta has two of his own signings — and two players who were bought to play alongside each other. Between them, they have the right balance: Gabriel is a more front-foot defender, dominant in the air, while White has the speed and anticipation to sweep up around him. 

In the eight league matches White and Gabriel have started together, Arsenal have conceded just four goals. To put that into context, Arteta’s side conceded nine goals in their opening three matches of the campaign. 

This is essentially a different team now, with Takehiro Tomiyasu and Aaron Ramsdale also making enormous impacts at right-back and goalkeeper respectively. Tomiyasu brings a defensive solidity that has made Arsenal a far more solid unit, while Ramsdale has arguably been the Premier League’s standout goalkeeper in the past eight weeks.

All of these players are clearly benefiting from playing alongside each other on a regular basis, and together they have provided a foundation from which Arsenal can build. Such is the solidity of White, Gabriel and Ramsdale that Arsenal have barely noticed the absence of Tierney at left-back, where young Nuno Tavares has filled in expertly in the last three games.

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