Arsenal’s disappointing season has shown some signs of positivity following the appointment of Mikel Arteta as head coach in December, the Spaniard beginning to exert his influence over the north London side.
Arteta faces a significant rebuild and will be fully aware of the significant task facing him at the Emirates, but has already shown his capabilities to improve a side by instilling a spirit and resilience that had been sorely lacking in recent seasons.
Several members of the Gunners’ squad have also shown signs of development under his guidance to date, and we’ve decided to look at five players to have made positive starts to the new coach’s reign.
Here are five players whose form has improved since Mikel Arteta’s appointment as Arsenal boss:
Granit Xhaka’s career at Arsenal looked all but over in the early months of the season, the midfielder having been stripped of the club captaincy following an angry reaction towards his own supporters during a draw with Crystal Palace in October.
Arteta’s arrival has coincided with a remarkable redemption for the Switzerland international, however, who turned down winter window interest from Hertha Berlin to re-establish himself as a key figure in the new manager’s set-up.
Xhaka’s role – for so much of his Arsenal career unclear – has been redefined under the Spaniard who has placed faith in the star and emphasis on his strengths, focusing on his fine passing range and ability to anticipate danger as a selfless presence in the midfield.
The 27-year-old has proven a finer leader in the absence of the armband and his turnaround has been a feel-good story of Arteta’s reign to date, moving on from the toxic atmosphere surrounding his early season explosion to become a vital cog in a machine that – whilst not finished – is making significant progress.
Now let’s make something clear, we’re not trying to suggest that Shkodran Mustafi is the long-term solution to Arsenal’s defensive woes, or that we aren’t still completely baffled how the German ranks amongst the most expensive defenders in history, but he has improved under Arteta.
The bumbling centre-back has endured a difficult Arsenal career up until this point, his penchant for wayward passing, calamitous cock-ups and general brain-farts marking him out as a much-maligned figure amongst the north London side’s fanbase.
Told to find a new club at the start of the season under Unai Emery, Mustafi has remained and featured regularly since Arteta’s appointment, with the team’s greater defensive organisation benefitting a player who has often been exposed amid a fragile backline.
So often the weak link in past performances, Mustafi has made progress of late and with each performance providing less frequent errors, is slowly beginning to win credit with both Arteta and the Gunners’ faithful.
Arsenal’s signing of Dani Ceballos on a season-long loan deal from Real Madrid was largely viewed as an inspired piece of business last summer, with the midfielder’s initial performances in English football raising hopes he could prove a key figure in the Gunners’ side.
The Spain international’s bright start faded as Arsenal struggled during the opening months of the season, however, whilst a muscle injury that left him sidelined throughout the festive period further halted his progress.
I live for Dani Ceballos’ celebrations after goals that he didn’t even score. pic.twitter.com/BsQwFg5gwB
— Patrick Timmons (@PatrickTimmons1) July 21, 2020
Ceballos initially took time to win favour with his compatriot following Arteta’s arrival but has since formed a fine midfield partnership with Granit Xhaka since the Premier League‘s restart, operating in a deeper role which allows his creative talents to flourish amid increased touches.
After looking as if his loan spell may peter out in similar fashion to former Barcelona loanee Denis Suarez, Arteta has begun to get the best from Ceballos and there is reportedly interest from both sides to extend his spell at the Emirates into a further season.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has established himself as one of the Premier League’s finest forwards since signing from Borussia Dortmund two-and-a-half years ago, boasting an outstanding goalscoring record and winning the division’s Golden Boot last season.
The Gabon international was amongst the few positives for the Gunners during the early part of the campaign but the arrival of Arteta has improved his all-round game further, the club captain adapting to Arteta’s methods to become increasingly influential.
— The Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) July 20, 2020
Arteta has chosen to deploy the forward on the left-hand side of his attack, with Aubameyang buying into the new role and providing an increased work-rate alongside his notable goalscoring threat.
The positional change could easily have upset a player who has been Arsenal’s key man in recent seasons, but Arteta’s methods seem to have won favour with the club’s leading scorer who remains pivotal to his side’s success amid continued speculation surrounding his future.
Bernd Leno’s season-ending injury could have proven a major blow to Arsenal’s hopes of success with the Germany international amongst their most consistent players in recent months, but the form of Emiliano Martinez has softened the blow of the goalkeeper’s absence.
The 27-year-old’s career has been one of limited performances but he has taken his opportunity in style, impressing with several smart saves and providing an assured presence behind an ever-improving backline.
Emiliano Martínez has the best save percentage in the Premier League this season, the only goalkeeper above 80%.
Since his first start against Southampton, no goalkeeper has made more saves in the competition.
Is he coming for Bernd Leno’s spot? ? pic.twitter.com/I2WZ99eRCf
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 23, 2020
Martinez’s eight league appearances have seen him post the best save percentage of any goalkeeper in the Premier League, whilst he has also shown his ability with his feet with fine distribution.
Several clubs – including newly promoted Leeds United – are believed to be monitoring the goalkeeper, and it remains to be seen whether the player can hold onto the number one position at the Emirates upon Leno’s eventual return.