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Gunner Thoughts

Monster Mikel and His Band of International Stars

Sure, Arsenal dropped what I imagine was — because I couldn’t watch and am definitely not going back to watch on Arsenal.com — their ugliest performances of the season; but chips on the table, who didn’t have mixed feelings about that match anyways?

I wanted us to win, I thought it was an easy competition to score man-management points and play fringe players looking for some minutes to keep them happy, while also keeping those subs match-sharp. In the same breath, schedule congestion in the second half of the year is inevitable and this competition — as snobby as some clubs might take this — just doesn’t rank high in the priority list.

Personally, I believe the players will feel this way as well and move past this loss like water on a ducks back. Which is why Arsenal should be riding high as they head into their final match before the World Cup break. Can you blame them? What a first half of season it has been.

Arsenal sit on top of the table, they look fearless as they enter even the hostile grounds like Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, two away matches Arsenal have dominated. And as much as Arteta is getting his praise, he might still deserve more. The crowd rings out with, “we’ve got super Mik Arteta” a few times every week, and his energy on the sidelines is infectious.

People tried to deny it for a long time, but Arteta has become the living, breathing embodiment and driving force behind this club’s overhaul. Spurred on by budding star talents, which can’t be ignored and certainly goes a long ways, but the work over the last few years behind the scenes is translating to “top of the league” performances.

In fact, in an interview with Rio Ferdinand, Pep Guardiola stated that Mikel has been a coaching monster since before he arrived at Manchester City.

“You created a monster,” said Rio Ferdinand.

“No, absolutely not,” responded Pep. “He was already. I know Mikel, they see him, the sporting director Edu and the club, how he works, we saw in the documentary. Rely on him. It’s a process.”

What a statement year is has been for this monster of a process. Arteta said it would ‘bang’ and at the time it really didn’t. He was laughed at. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he felt it would bang a lot earlier. But I doubt many people will have predicted a start to the season quite like this, and it feels like the project has well and truly banged.

The team has accumulated points and sit in first place, of course, but the underlying stats are spectacular as well.

  • 34 points (1st)
  • 31 goals (2nd)
  • 11 goals against (T-1st)
  • 24.1 xG (2nd)
  • 11.2 xGA (2nd)
  • 15.9 shots per game (3rd)
    • 5.69 SOT (3rd)
  • 57.5% possession (4th)
  • 194.9 touches in the atk 1/3 per 90 (2nd)

Obviously hand picked stats, but what a remarkable place to be for a team that was in the running for top 4, but let it slip last year. Yes, improvement was expected because the players were a year older, the project ready for one season worth of steps further, and more money was spent — but did you slate Arsenal to be top of the league with 11 wins 1 draw and 1 loss?

Arsenal are not only in first, most stats suggest this is where they deserve to be. The improvement over the summer has been remarkable, and it’s come in the form of a full squad looking like they are on the exactly same wave length as each other and their manager. The tactics look sharp, the exploitation of opposition weaknesses has looked devastating at times, and these young Gunners are not only grasping it, they are executing it incredibly.

I keep saying this, but the club will still feel like this team is running ahead of schedule for this project. If they play their cards right to keep this success-window open, we could be looking at a team that competes at this level in the Premier League, and adds more esteemed competitions into the fold, for the next decade. They are the youngest team in the league and even if Arsenal were to make no more purchases, the players in this squad would improve this team simply by aging another year and gaining experience. 

The best part is that Arsenal won’t sit on their hands with this success. Mikel demanded more ‘firepower’ in the Summer window, and you better believe he has all the argument he needs to writing a few more checks in January and the summer. As long as Arsenal maintain this project’s plan and don’t get hasty with proceedings, the success will continue to roll.

It’s a small, vanity point of growth but as the World Cup approaches, and squads have mostly been announced, it’s clear Arsenal will have an extremely heavy presence. Just four Arsenal players attended the Euros in 2020 — Leno, Xhaka, Tierney, and Saka — and while it’s not the whole picture, it tells a story. This Winter, Arsenal will have 10 players at the World Cup:

  • Aaron Ramsdale
  • Ben White
  • Bukayo Saka
  • Gabriel Martinelli
  • Gabriel Jesus
  • William Saliba
  • Takehiro Tomiyasu
  • Granit Xhaka
  • Thomas Partey
  • Mat Turner

Eight of those players are regulars in Arsenal’s starting lineup, one is constantly nipping at the heals of his fullback counterparts to earn more time, and Mat Turner going to the USA means both goalkeepers are attending.

Not to mention, of Zinchenko, Gabriel, and Ødegaard — the XI regulars not going to the World Cup — two of them would be going if their countries qualified. Add in Elneny, another figure who won’t be attending but plays regularly for his national side and we see the sort of presence Arsenal have on the international stage.

As I said, it’s not some quantifiable value or a concrete fact, but if your squad is breaking into and contributing to national teams, it’s a good sign. I mean, what other club has ‘won the World Cup’? Exactly.

There’s one more game to play in the first chunk of this season and Arsenal have the opportunity to end it with 37 points out of the first 42, a 2.62 points per game pace. To do that, Monster Mikel and his band of international stars would have to roll into Moline Stadium and get a win. Wolves have 2 wins, 2 draws, and 3 losses at home, while Arsenal are the best team in the league on road this season. It’s all good vibes right now and Arsenal would give everyone a final piece of joy if they completed this great start and left us with a win before the long time off.

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