The Gunners were missing key men in Saturday’s 0-0 draw at the Emirates but still managed to showcase their increasing belief and strength in depth
Arsenal’s progress under Mikel Arteta continues.
They may not have got the win they were hoping for against Manchester United on Saturday, but the 0-0 draw was another step in the right direction for the ever-improving Gunners.
The fact they could have easily inflicted a first away league defeat in over a year on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s title contenders without three of their most influential players speaks volumes of their improvement since Christmas.
Two months ago, you wouldn’t have given them a chance of getting anything from the game without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney, but they more than matched the team that currently sits second in the table.
And had their finishing been a bit better – especially in the second half when Willian, Nicolas Pepe and Emile Smith Rowe all failed to take good chances and Alexandre Lacazette rattled the crossbar with a free-kick – they would have made it six wins from seven in the Premier League.
There were some nervy moments, with Edison Cavani twice somehow missing from point-blank range and Bernd Leno denying Fred with a fabulous save, but given the circumstances, it was another encouraging performance from Arteta’s side.
Despite missing Saka, Tierney and Aubameyang and losing Gabriel Martinelli to injury at half time, they ended the game the stronger team and almost snatched all three points in the final 10 minutes when the impressive Pepe rolled a shot just wide.
There have been plenty of questions asked about Arsenal’s strength in depth this season, especially during that miserable run up to the Christmas period, but they showed against United they do have the ability to cope without key personnel.
Cedric Soares performed well playing out of position at left-back to cover for Tierney, Pepe was bright in place of Saka and even the much maligned Willian produced a strong showing after replacing Martinelli at the break.
At the back, Arsenal have now kept five clean sheets in their last six league games – only table-topping Manchester City have a better defensive record this season.
Rob Holding and David Luiz were excellent against United and justified Arteta’s decision to stick with them as his centre-back pairing rather than bringing Gabriel back into the defence.
Granit Xhaka continued his fine recent form in midfield and Emile Smith Rowe showed once again that he is more than capable of performing at this level, causing United all sorts of problems with his pace and movement whenever he beat their press.
There was also a late cameo for new signing Martin Odegaard, who replaced Smith Rowe for the final seven minutes following his loan move from Real Madrid earlier in the week.
Arteta now has plenty of options to call upon and he should certainly have Tierney and Saka back for Tuesday night’s trip to Wolves. Aubameyang could also be in contention for the game at Molineux, although the captain has yet to receive clearance to link-up with the squad following his trip abroad to be with his ill mother.
The Gabon international needs to follow strict Covid-19 protocols before being given the green light to return and Arsenal are hoping that could come in the coming days.
Saturday’s draw against United moved them up to eighth in the Premier League, four points off fifth-placed West Ham – although Aston Villa, Southampton and Chelsea all have the opportunity to move above them before the end of the weekend.
When you consider they were four points off relegation in 15th after losing at Everton on December 19, that shows you have far they have come in a short space of time.
There remains plenty of room for improvement, but the progress has been clear.
The manner of the performance without so many key men on Saturday night was another indicator of that and Arteta will believe that when Tierney, Saka and Aubameyang all return, his side’s upwards trajectory will continue at pace.
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