Premier League: Can Mikel Arteta's Arsenal pain propel team to the title?

Mikel Arteta's belief in the Arsenal squad is unwavering

Premier League: Can Mikel Arteta's Arsenal pain propel team to the title?

Seye Omidiora 21:20 - 11.08.2023

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side have the motivation to usurp Manchester City in the Premier League. The Gunners may not have a better opportunity.

A look at both benches in Sunday’s Community Shield between Arsenal and Manchester City was telling.

It was not only about who was on it but who was not. Mikel Arteta was without Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Jorginho, whereas Pep Guardiola had the full complement of his squad at Wembley Stadium.

Arsenal’s Community Shield defeat of Manchester City

Despite the Arsenal absences, the North London side’s substitutes comprised more matchwinners and a promise of depth for the 2023-24 season.

Arsenal Manchester City
Arsenal now have a deeper squad for sustained Premier League contention // IMAGO

Leandro Trossard, who has taken to life at the Emirates Stadium like a duck to water since January's move from Brighton & Hove Albion, and netted a fortuitous equaliser at Wembley, was among the nine. As were Edward Nketiah, whom observers still sleep on his penalty-box threat, a healthy again Emile Smith Rowe, the talented Fabio Vieira, Jakub Kiwior and Takehiro Tomiyasu.

As for City, the options in reserve looked thin after Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden. It was fitting that Arsenal won the game.

Be that as it may, it is plain and frank; if Arsenal win this season’s Premier League, it would not be an upshot of Sunday’s victory over Guardiola’s men on penalties. Instead, it would be a consequence of the green shoots at Arsenal over the last 18 months that appears primed to reach a culmination this term.

Arsenal Man City Premier League
Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta should compete for the Premier League title // IMAGO

Delineating Arsenal and Mikel Arteta’s improvement

Even though Arsenal’s Premier League title challenge was unforeseen, Arteta’s team began showing encouraging signs of finally breaking into the Champions League places at the backend of 2021.

New Year’s Day in 2022 saw a performance against City at the Emirates that demonstrated this side’s potential against England’s best team. Arteta’s men lost the match 2-1, but their competitive edge and approach on the counter-attack before Gabriel Magalhaes’ sending-off on the hour was striking.

The improvement from the 5-0 thrashing at the Etihad Stadium in August 2021 was noticeable.

Arsenal Man City Premier League
Arsenal were annihilated 5-0 by Manchester City in August 2021 // IMAGO

Last season’s story saw the league’s youngest side compete with the eventual treble winners. But the schadenfreude that accompanied Arteta’s men losing the league jostle despite leading for as long as they did was untold.

Buried beneath all that castigation was failing to consider the newfound ability to thrive amid adversity and produce assured performances at grounds that had previously inflicted pain and despair.

They dominated Brentford and Chelsea in varying capacities, scoring three at the Gtech Community Stadium and barely giving the Blues a sniff at Stamford Bridge to claim a 1-0 triumph.

While Arteta has enjoyed an unbeaten run at the Bridge, last term’s victory was arguably the Gunners’ most assured against the West London side. Defeating Brentford so convincingly also banished the memories of a disappointing 2-0 loss at the same ground on the opening day of the 2021-22 campaign.

The 2022-23 season brought Arsenal’s eight-year wait for a victory at Spurs to an end as they sealed the double over Antonio Conte’s men before the unravelling that ensued at the Lilywhites.

Arsenal Man City Premier League
Mikel Arteta masterminded a victory at Spurs after an eight-year wait

A three-game winless run was halted with a rip-roaring 4-2 triumph over former manager Unai Emery — a game that saw Arsenal twice come from behind before the eventual turnaround. It put Arteta’s men back on track, and six more victories followed.

Even if the title charge petered out after a four-game wobble in April, there was time to claim a hard-fought victory at Newcastle United and complete the double over Chelsea — the second time in three seasons under Arteta, matching the number of times they managed it across all seasons between 1998/99 and 2019/20.

Unsurprisingly, social media was awash with opprobrium. No team in the league’s history had led the chasing pack without claiming the title. Understandably, their manager was hurt.

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“The first few weeks were very tough, because I went through it,” Arteta said on emotionally dealing with last season. “The first thing you have to do is look in the mirror and understand, ‘ok, is there something you should have done better, differently?’ and if that’s the case, learn from it.

“And then judge yourself: are you still the right person to drive the club, the team, forward in the way that you want and do you have that energy and that belief that you want to do it?”

Arsenal’s response to losing last season’s Premier League title

What Arsenal have done in the summer transfer window has not only signified their intent but shown an inclination to prevent last season’s perceived flaws from halting this term’s title hunt.

The club pushed the boat out and signed Declan Rice and Kai Havertz from West Ham United and Chelsea, respectively, backing their head coach despite a feeling they paid a premium for both players.

Arsenal's Declan Rice after the Community Shield victory over Manchester City Imago

The swiftness of both acquisitions and the arrival of Jurrien Timber early in the offseason have allowed for a smooth integration of all three and opened the door to a side with tactical variety.

Keeping Thomas Partey for another season should be beneficial.

Sunday’s Community Shield against City saw Havertz play a central striking role before moving deeper when Arsenal chased the game. The German’s initial role was an upshot of Partey playing with Rice in midfield and the erstwhile Chelsea man’s versatility, an approach that could be utilised in select games.

Havertz's first Arsenal goal silence critics
Havertz first Arsenal goal silence critics

Timber’s adeptness across multiple roles in defence means the Dutchman could replace Zinchenko at left-back, fill in at right-back and deputise at centre-back.

Arsenal were no flash in the pan last season, but they have got to go out to prove their title mettle. In a season where the Cityzens — at the time of writing — have lost Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan’s match-winning qualities and do not seem as settled, the Gunners may not have a better opportunity at toppling the Manchester outfit.

Matteo Kovacic’s ball-carrying and press-resistant qualities undoubtedly elevate the club’s ball retention, but the Croatian’s time at Chelsea suggests he lacks the box-crashing goalscoring of the new Barcelona man.

Matteo Kovacic Man City Premier League
Matteo Kovacic in Premier League action for Manchester City against Burnley // IMAGO

In a campaign that could bring another title jostle between both clubs, Guardiola’s men — who played 61 games last season and will participate in December’s FIFA Club World Cup, have ostensibly not improved their treble-winning side while the Gunners not only appear to have undergone qualitative improvement but more importantly, grown quantitatively.

Arteta’s troops are unlikely to be as affected by injuries to key elements of their side as last season. They are also unlikely to be as predictable with team selection and their broader approach in the new campaign.

The mental side could be their undoing, but Arteta reckons his team are undaunted by last term.

Arsenal Premier League
Mikel Arteta retains belief in his Arsenal side // IMAGO

“You still have the hunger and desire to go again. That’s a big motivation,” the Arsenal boss stated before the Community Shield.

Now his team have to walk the talk. This could be Arsenal’s year.