Mikel Arteta's is making progress with Arsenal – even if it's not always crystal clear

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Arsenal suffered their second successive Premier League defeat on Saturday at Aston Villa, prompting many fans to question whether, despite a positive run of results in the lead up to their loss against Wolves, the team has made any real progress under Mikel Arteta.

When the Spaniard took the reins at the Emirates Stadium, you’d have been foolish to overlook the sheer size of the task he was faced with. The appointment was one with a view to the longer term and the fact his first contract is 18 months longer than that handed to predecessor Unai Emery highlighted this.

While the club’s last two Premier League outings have ended in disappointment, it’s perhaps more important to analyse the performances rather than solely judging whether there has been progress based on the outcomes.

The need for results at a club the size of Arsenal will always be there and there is no getting away from the fact their current position of tenth in the league isn’t anywhere near good enough.

However, clear progress is being made on the pitch, even if the results haven’t always followed. A tactical evolution has taken place in north London in recent months and that’s something even Arteta’s biggest critics would struggle to deny.

Upon his arrival at the club, the decision to prioritise defensive stability over an expansive brand of football that Arsenal had become associated with under Arsene Wenger saw Arteta often play with a back five. And while the benefits of that change were felt defensively, the team undeniably lost some of their attacking prowess.

Mikel Arteta
Arteta’s Arsenal have looked more solid defensively | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

A switch of system at the back end of 2020, which has seen the Spaniard add a more advanced midfielder into the equation, has enabled the Gunners to strike a better balance between attack and defence, hence the improvement.

You could certainly make a case that the first-half performance at Wolves was one of the best under Arteta’s management. However, the sending off of David Luiz and subsequent penalty saw the pendulum swing at Molineux.

The larger population of Gunners fans came away from that one feeling a sense of injustice and misfortune. But the defeat at Villa has led to some, who perhaps aren’t as convinced of Arteta’s credentials to begin with, asking questions again.

Although Arsenal lacked a cutting edge in the final third, they managed to have the lion’s share of possession and more attempts at goal than their hosts, which if nothing else suggests they had been set up correctly. Unfortunately, on the day, a sloppy individual error and their inability to play the killer pass saw them leave the Midlands empty handed.

Looking at the league table, it’s difficult to clearly see ‘the process’ paying dividends at present. However, in order to understand the team’s direction of travel, you need to look a little deeper.

Arsenal’s defensive record is much improved with only two sides in the Premier League having conceded fewer goals this season. The club successfully moved on a number of players who clearly do not feature in Arteta’s plans in the longer term during the recent transfer window, and some of the younger talents are beginning to establish themselves.

Thomas Partey
Thomas Partey suffered another injury on Saturday | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Fatigue and the general unavailability of key players such as Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in recent weeks have no doubt made the boss’ job even more difficult. Arteta’s inexperience will no doubt mean that, along the way, mistakes will be made, and you can understand why some were against his appointment in the first place.

However, the progress has been there, even if it hasn’t always been crystal clear, and judgements on whether there has been enough progression should be reserved until at least the end of this crazy season.

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