On 12 March, 2020, Mikel Arteta tested positive for coronavirus – the first Premier League manager to do so. The response? “Call off Arsenal’s game and close the training ground. In fact, shut down all of English football.”
On 29 December 2021, Arteta again tested positive. The response this time? “Just work from home, mate.”
It highlights how much has changed: in the wider world, in our knowledge of the illness and its own impact on people, as well as in society’s ability to cope with such setbacks. In this case, for a football match.
What has also changed in that period of time is, well, almost everything to do with Arsenal.
While the Gunners had actually gone eight unbeaten in the league heading into the original lockdown at the start of the pandemic, they were still wildly erratic, had very little composure in games which didn’t run their way and negative moments had a way of being compounded. That unbeaten stretch, for example, followed a run of just one win in 15 matches – typical of their lack of consistency and slow rebuilding job which was required.
Fast forward to the very first day of 2022 and this side is almost unrecognisable.
First, in terms of actual play, they have gone through an at-times painful to watch transition of wanting to have possession, but not knowing what to do with it.
Then there were the familiar defensive failings which lasted through several managers and across a span of many seasons: Arsenal players were brittle, mentally fragile creatures without much ability to withstand a barrage of pressure or much more than a single setback. Organisation was a mere concept at times.
And finally, the big quest for any restructure, new manager or club project: consistency, which often goes hand-in-hand with the mental fortitude required at the top.
Arsenal didn’t beat Manchester City with Arteta watching from home. In the end, they didn’t even hold on for the draw. But the 2-1 defeat on New Year’s Day still suggests they are closing in on the latter, having found the answers to combat the first two issues on a regular basis.
Whereas it wouldn’t take much of a leap of faith 12 months ago, even four months ago, to suggest they would have crumbled following a typically unintelligent Granit Xhaka challenge and Gabriel Magalhaes’ needless red card – one of his yellows for scuffing up the penalty spot – here Arsenal took a different approach.
Instead of wilting, they regrouped. Instead of giving in to the inevitable, they bided their time, frustrated the opposition and even tried to mount a late rally of their own.
Ultimately it was to no avail, but so often the manner of the defeat says more about a team than the scoreline; this was Arsenal with a plan, even when the original script was ripped up. This was a side which believed in themselves and their style, their coaching and their set-up, and it almost paid dividends.
They remain in fourth for now, with other teams below having games in hand on them, but neither the league position nor the points already in the bag will likely give the housebound Arteta as much pleasure and cause for optimism as the response his side showed in adversity.
Once the initial irritation of a late defeat and VAR calls going against his side die down, of course.
For each major decision did go City’s way, on this occasion: no penalty given for Martin Odegaard, one given for Bernardo Silva. There wasn’t much to argue against with the red card, mind, but it was a setback all the same.
Arsenal, for too long, failed to hit back when things went against them. Perhaps this time they have hinted that they are ready to accept when they do, and simply get on with winning next time anyway.
Source Link Mikel Arteta’s twin Covid cases bookend period of immense improvement for Arsenal