Arsenal half-term report: Edu must deliver January signings for Mikel Arteta to build on mini-revival

A six-game unbeaten run has put a different complexion on Arsenal’s season so far, but if Mikel Arteta is to build on the mini-revival he has masterminded he will undoubtedly need some help from those above him over the course of the next 10 days.

The size of the task facing Arteta was laid bare over the course of a winless run that spanned nearly two months and had Arsenal nervously peering over their shoulders, steeling themselves for a potential relegation scrap.

Handing prominent roles to youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka has belatedly, perhaps accidentally, sparked Arsenal into life but Artea is still caught between trying to perform two jobs in undertaking a long-overdue cultural reboot and fulfilling his short-term objectives.

It would be a difficult ask of an experienced manager, let alone a near total novice, but the 38-year-old has coped admirably throughout a testing spell, made some hugely divisive decisions, and come out the other side with his reputation intact.

Whether a top six finish is attainable will likely rest on the remaining 10 days of the January transfer window where even a couple of smart loan additions could make the difference between European qualification or becoming mired in mid-table mediocrity.

Here reviews Arsenal season so far…

Best signing: Thomas Partey

Thomas Partey has returned to full fitness after a frustrating start to his Arsenal career
Thomas Partey has returned to full fitness after a frustrating start to his Arsenal career (Picture: Getty)

Arsenal have only seen glimpses of the transformative impact Mikel Arteta envisages Thomas Partey having on his side, but they have looked a far more polished and balanced team on the occasions the £45million recruit from Atletico Madrid has been available for selection.

Arsenal’s midfield has been crying out for the combative edge Partey brings to the engine room, but his range of passing and positional discipline have been the most eye-catching elements of his most impressive displays to date.

Gabriel Magalhaes, a £22million recruit from Lille, also made a promising start to his Premier League career, but Arsenal’s recent run of clean sheets has coincided with his omission from the team and he faces a battle to win back his place.

Worst signing: Willian

Willian has failed to settle in at Arsenal following his move from Chelsea
Willian has failed to settle in at Arsenal following his move from Chelsea (Picture: Getty)

While William Saliba’s fate neatly encapsulates the chaotic nature of Arsenal’s recent transfer dealings, it must be stressed that he was not Arteta’s signing and a loan move to Nice should hopefully reignite a career that has stalled badly over the course of the last 12 months.

Arteta does not, however, get a free pass for the decision to recruit Willian given he played such a prominent role in convincing the former Chelsea stalwart for cross the capital divide. Aside from an encouraging debut against Fulham, the experienced Brazilian has been a disaster and that’s leaving aside his ill-advised trip to Dubai or the fact his contract runs for another two-and-a-half years.

Strongest XI

Youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka are now first choice picks for Mikel Arteta
Youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka are now first choice picks for Mikel Arteta (Picture: Metro)

Best Performance: Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea

Granit Xhaka scored a sensational goal in Arsenal's Boxing Day win over Chelsea
Granit Xhaka scored a sensational goal in Arsenal’s Boxing Day win over Chelsea (Picture: Getty)

Although the victory at Old Trafford was a landmark one, given Arsenal’s dreadful away record against the ‘big six’, it must be said that Arteta’s side benefited enormously from Manchester United’s strangely unadventurous approach, while the quality of the opposition must be taken into consideration when assessing the merits of the 4-0 thrashing of West Brom.

Chelsea might be in a malaise right now, meanwhile, but when they pitched up at the Emirates on Boxing Day they were considered genuine title contenders. Arsenal, however, swatted Lampard’s expensively assembled team aside with a high-octane display, led by Saka, Smith Rowe and the returning Gabriel Martinelli. The Gunners pressed with purpose, attacked with genuine intent and only surrendered their total control on the game during an understandably fraught closing 10 minute period.

Worst Performance: Arsenal 0-1 Burnley

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored an own goal in Arsenal's defeat against Burnley
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored an own goal in Arsenal’s defeat against Burnley (Picture: Getty)

You could easily make a case for any of the displays which yielded four successive home defeats with the performances against Aston Villa and Wolves particularly abject.

Losing at home to Burnley, however, via an own goal from captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had gone 11 games without a goal from open play, in a game which also saw Granit Xhaka sent-off for customary rush of blood to the head, represented a particularly torturous experience.

Target for the season

European qualification would have been seen as the bare minimum requirement at the start of the season and while that is still attainable, the goalposts have shifted slightly over the course of a tumultuous six months, both on and off the field.

The almost unprecedented level of competition for a top six place, allied to the unrelenting fixture schedule, means Arsenal remain outsiders to land a Europa League spot via the Premier League.

And while finishing outside the European positions would represent a failure, the board are almost certain to retain faith in Arteta as long as there is clear evidence that a settled style of play, one that does not rely upon a 3-5-2 formation that yielded several noteworthy smash and grab wins last season, emerges.

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