*Ozil (left) and Gunners Manager, Arteta
With the return of Mikel Arteta as Arsenal Manager after that better forgotten reign of Unai Emery, the Gunners are up and running again. The question now, and it is one at the forefront of Mikel Arteta’s mind, is over how much further those players can go and at what speed.
If there was one pertinent observation from their home win over their bitter rival, Manchester United on Wednesday, aside from the lifting of the murderous mood at the Emirates Stadium, it was the marvellous fury of Arsenal’s movement in the first half and the quite sudden way in which that intensity dropped in the second.
A pattern had already been established when they faded to defeat from a winning position against Chelsea on Sunday, so it is for good reason that Arteta is resisting some of the excitement that has spread following his first victory at the third attempt. It is one thing to get his players moving again but it is another to keep them from slowing up in games.
The new manager made a call for greater fitness in the aftermath of the 2-0 win over United and he stressed the point again on Thursday, saying: “I wanted to play a different rhythm than what I was watching (before taking over). I tried to implement this and at the moment it lasts until one moment in the game. They can cover the distance, probably yes, but at the intensity I want for 90 minutes? No. But it is coming. It is improving a little bit each game and it will get better.”
The improvement since Arteta’s appointment is undeniable, even if one point from games with Bournemouth and Chelsea amounted to something less than a bounce. The impact has been greater demonstrated in the nature of the performances and specifically in the energy of the players. It remains the greatest slur on the Unai Emery reign, and one equally directed at the players involved, that the basic requirement of a sustained effort could not be guaranteed.
The absence of a distinct playing style meant any running they did under Emery may have been a wasted journey anyway, but Arteta seems to be on the right track in pushing to emulate the pressing machine used by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Early days, of course, but the numbers coming out of Wednesday’s win told an interesting and impressive story. Namely, they are collectively running around five miles more per game than under Emery, up from 107.1miles per game before Arteta’s appointment to 112.1miles per game since he came in.
That jumped Arsenal from 11th in a table for distance covered per game to fourth. They are also up from 12th to eighth for turnovers of possession high up the pitch since Arteta came in, and perhaps the most telling detail in that regard concerns Mesut Ozil. Remarkably, a forward who was frozen out under Emery and rightly maligned over his defensive contributions, ran 7.1 miles against United – the most in the team and his personal best for two years. Arteta was asked about those numbers on Thursday and smiled. “I haven’t checked the physical stats yet,” he said. “But just by looking at him and what he did on that pitch, I would say it is true.”
Again, it would be fair to wonder if and why Ozil suppressed his efforts on the occasions he was used by Emery, but it can only be a good thing in Arsenal’s predicament that such a talent is engaging with the new manager’s plan. To learn that Ozil regained possession 10 times against United was a staggering inversion of expectation. But that could be the norm in an Arteta plan.
For too long at Arsenal, lack of effort was an easy criticism to make. The early indications are that it will be different under this manager. If they find a way of sustaining the pace, progress will surely not be long in coming.