How Mikel Arteta sparked Arsenal’s charge towards top four

The Gunners will return to Europe’s elite competition if they win at Tottenham on Thursday night

Mark Mann-Bryans
Monday 09 May 2022 12:38
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Arsenal are on the cusp of ending a five-year wait for Champions League football as their victory over Leeds solidified their place in the Premier League top four.

The Gunners will return to Europe’s elite competition if they win at Tottenham on Thursday night as Mikel Arteta continues to turn around a season that began in the worst possible way.

Arsenal were rock bottom of the Premier League, without a point or a goal, heading into the September international break but are now on the verge of a top-four finish.

Here, we look at just how Arteta has managed to instigate such a recovery.

The young ones

Bukayo Saka is Arsenal’s top goalscorer so far this season (John Walton/PA)

One only has to look at the statistics among the current Arsenal squad to see just how big of a catalyst the trust in youth has been at the Emirates Stadium this season.

Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah lead the way – 12, 11 and nine goals respectively – with only Alexandre Lacazette providing more assists than Saka’s six.

The team is by far the youngest average age in the English top flight, with the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Magalhaes and Takehiro Tomiyasu also impressing at different stages of the season.

Squad goals

Mohamed Elneny has enjoyed a recent resurgence in the Arsenal midfield (Frank Augstein/AP)

As well as a young squad, Arteta also has one of the smallest in the Premier League and – when both Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey were sidelined for the remainder of the season – concerns over the depth of resources.

Those worries have, so far, been eased by the form of the fringe players available to Arteta.

Rob Holding has come in for Ben White, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring issue, and done well.

Nketiah, too, has grasped his chance after replacing Lacazette as the first-choice striker but it is the form of Mohamed Elneny – having not kicked a ball for Arsenal this calendar year before being drafted in to start the win at Chelsea – who has epitomised the commitment to the cause for those not often called upon.

Sailing in the same direction

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left Arsenal in January as the club terminated his contract (Martin Rickett/PA)

“All the players that are here, I am counting on them. If they want on the boat, they are more than welcome and that’s always my mindset,” said Mikel Arteta in June 2020.

Since then a number of players who have clearly been deemed to not be “on the boat” with the Spaniard have been cast off.

Contract terminations of Mesut Ozil, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos last January were followed up with similar approaches to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sead Kolasinac this year.

Add to that loaning out Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira and, while Arteta’s squad is seemingly shrinking, those who remain have helped steer the Arsenal ship through some turbulent patches as the top four and the Champions League treasure troves move into view.

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