Successful clubs crave stability because that is what keeps them at the top. It is a trait Arsenal have lacked on and off the pitch in recent years but Mikel Arteta is bringing it back and putting them on an upward curve.
When Arteta arrived the team were all over the shop but he has brought together a cohesive unit thanks to his tactics and the club’s recruitment. The former midfielder has enjoyed plenty of highs and endured numerous lows in his two-year tenure while sticking to his principles, which is paying dividends.
A sign of the stability is that Arteta has picked the same starting lineup for the past four Premier League games. Players want continuity, especially when it comes to the goalkeeper and backline, so they can learn about their movements, strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to create an understanding and grow together. The defence is reaping the rewards and bringing a solid base for others to build on. Aaron Ramsdale, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Ben White have slotted into a defence that could stay together for a long time, which is fantastic news for the club.
Arsenal are being smart in the transfer market, signing only players aged 23 or under. It makes business sense, gives the players room to grow and offers the club financial gains because those players should hold or increase their value. Previous windows have not worked in terms of some senior signings, so bringing in younger players gives a little more freedom to allow time for development.
Young players are naturally eager and it is a coach’s job to harness that in training to keep them firing. They will be hungry for a couple of seasons because they want to get called up to their international squads, win trophies and keep progressing. There will come transitional periods where Arsenal need to freshen things up but they are on a really good path.
It helps that they have a number of young players for others to look up to. Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have come through the academy and become first-team regulars. It has been a privilege to watch them grow since they were blooded in the Europa League two seasons ago, because they show what hard work and talent can achieve.
I was at the Carabao Cup quarter-final against Sunderland on Tuesday and it was further evidence of the positivity around the Emirates. It was in effect their second string but they showed that competitiveness is running throughout the squad. Training must be very intense at the moment, with players pushing one another for their place in the team to ensure no one can rest on their laurels.
Nuno Tavares is one of those players putting pressure on the man in front of him. He arrived from Benfica in the summer almost under the radar having not been a regular for his previous club but he has stood in for Kieran Tierney and even been selected ahead of him a few times, and Arsenal have not missed the more experienced left-back.
This is not the case throughout the squad and is one of the areas Arsenal fall short in. Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have two players for every position to ensure continuity. That’s where you need to be if you have regular Champions League aspirations. Arsenal are going in the right direction but there are areas to improve on.
The major position holding Arsenal back is centre-forward, where they have problems. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s absence is well documented but he has also struggled for form over the past 18 months; Eddie Nketiah is yet to sign a new deal; and Alexandre Lacazette is doing well currently but it remains to be seen whether he is the long-term future as the main striker. They need to find some gem who will give them 20 goals a season if they are to reach the next level.
It is interesting to look at the Aubameyang situation. Arteta has come out and said some things but we do not know fully what has happened. He is trying to build a culture and set standards and is showing that everyone, regardless of their status, is required to follow the rules. That allows players to know where they stand, which will help with creating that stability.
Arsenal have struggled this season to compete with the three teams above them, losing those games in meek fashion. They have conceded 11 and scored zero goals against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, a statistic they will need to improve on to reach the same level.
The Gunners will hope to still occupy fourth spot at the end of the season. With everything going on in football and the outside world there will be plenty of twists and turns and it could be a case of who copes best with the ups and downs. If you look at the past two seasons the margins are minuscule when it comes to winning the league, earning Champions League spots and determining relegation. They just need to ride this wave of momentum, because you never know where it could take them.
Regardless of where Arsenal finish, the most important thing is that they improve on the previous campaign’s eighth place and keep on the upward curve Arteta and the squad have created. That is a challenge in itself but one they look set to meet.