Arsenal: Arteta's long-term vision coming to fruition
Mikel Arteta has endured a rocky ride as Arsenal manager but two years on from being appointed at the Emirates hopes are high that the Spaniard could finally take them to the next level.
Arteta, who replaced Unai Emery in the Arsenal hotseat in December 2019, has had plenty of obstacles to overcome and has regularly come under scrutiny when results have suffered.
However, there is a sense that Arsenal supporters have started to believe in his methods and that he could be the man to have finally steer them back to Europe.
The Gunners have spent two consecutive seasons outside the top-six, but four straight victories over a hectic Christmas period have moved them back where they feel they belong in the Champions League places.
The Londonders sit fourth with 35 points from 19 games, just six behind third-placed Chelsea, and are 14/1 to finish the season in the Premier League's top four.
Considering Arsenal lost their opening three league games of the season to nil, Arteta deserves praise for their upturn in form, but there are much bigger tests in the pipeline.
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Gunners must prove themselves
Arsenal were emphatic 5-0 winners at Norwich on Boxing Day, which was a fourth straight league win for a team evidently heading in the right direction.
The Gunners had previously won 4-1 at Leeds and recorded equally convincing home successes over Southampton and West Ham, but it is against the Premier League's elite where the amount of improvement that they have made can be truly measured.
And Arteta's side have the opportunity to silence their critics, with their next league clash coming at home to Manchester City on New Year's Day before the first of a two-legged EFL Cup semi-final with Liverpool. Arsenal also make the short trip to face London rivals Tottenham in just two weeks time.
Arsenal have faltered in recent meetings with supposed big-six sides. The Gunners were thrashed 5-0 by City at the Etihad in August and even when heading to Anfield on an eight-game unbeaten run in November were made to look silly in a dismal 4-0 defeat.
That shows Arsenal, who also lost 3-2 to Manchester United at the beginning of this month, have a point to prove against elite opposition.
The Gunners lost 2-0 at home to Chelsea earlier in the season too, so Arsenal supporters may want to wait until the end of January before determining their progress.
Arteta's men are 17/4 to get the better of City at the Emirates on Saturday while they are 4/7 to utilise home advantage against Liverpool in the EFL Cup just three days later.
Youth needs the chance to shine
Arteta has been happy to give youth a chance during his Arsenal tenure and that is something he should continue to deploy.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was stripped of the captaincy following a disciplinary breach earlier in December and, if anything, his absence has done them the world of good.
Much like when Mesut Ozil fell out of favour before leaving Arsenal, Aubameyang's performances have suffered on the back of a big-money contract extension and keeping him at the club could well do more harm than good.
But Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe have all stepped up when needed and the short-term future at Arsenal should be bright with that classy quartet spearheading their attack.
The Gunners are also looking more resolute defensively since the £50m signing of Ben White, who is surely their future captain in waiting, while Kieran Tierney has the potential to be one of the best full-backs in the division if staying injury-free.
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