Arsenal have been arguably the story of the Premier League season so far and continue to go from strength to strength under the management of Mikel Arteta.
Following an initial rocky period, Arteta has built one of the division’s most impressive sides and Gooners everywhere have began to dream of the Premier League title. Pre-season optimism of a top four finish has been replaced with genuine hopes of being crowned champions for the first time since 2003/04.
The north Londoners boast a five-point advantage at the top of the division, with Arteta’s achievements having come with the youngest side in the Premier League, having moved on overpaid and underperforming assets to create a team filled with hunger and talent.
Arteta’s clear vision has led to mass changes from the side he inherited, with just three of the starting XI from his first game currently a part of Arsenal’s title challenge. We’ve looked back at Arteta’s first Arsenal XI, fielded against Bournemouth on Boxing Day 2019.
Goalkeeper: Bernd Leno
Bernd Leno was the established first-choice at Arsenal upon Arteta’s appointment and remained so across the Spaniard’s first 18 months in charge, but lost his place to Aaron Ramsdale during the 2021/22 season.
Ramsdale was initially signed to provide competition for the German, but was brought into the side after a nightmare start to the season and cemented his status as number one at the Emirates.
Leno made 125 appearances across four seasons with the Gunners, before departing to sign for London rivals Fulham last summer. He has been a central figure in the Cottagers’ impressive return to the Premier League this season.
Right-back: Ainsley Maitland-Niles
Ainsley Maitland-Niles was a regular during Arteta’s first season and earned five caps for England after a number of impressive performances at right-back. However, a desire for a central midfield role saw Maitland-Niles fall out of favour and he has since spent much of the past three seasons on loan, taking in spells at West Brom, Roma and Southampton.
The 25-year-old has failed to make an impression with the latter this season and is expected to leave Arsenal on a permanent basis at the end of the season.
Sokratis formed part of a disappointing recruitment drive led by Sven Mislintat, with the Greek defender brought in from Borussia Dortmund to provide experience at centre-back.
Sokratis struggled to convince after his £17.6m arrival and was criticised for his ability in possession, shortcomings which saw Arteta move to marginalise the defender from the side. Having failed to make an appearance across the first half of the 2020/21 season he signed for Olympiacos on a free transfer in January, after his contract was cancelled by mutual consent.
Centre-back: David Luiz
Arsenal brought in David Luiz from London rivals Chelsea in 2019, as the Gunners looked to add trophy-winning experience to the squad.
Luiz’s best days were behind him, however, as the erratic Brazilian failed to address Arsenal’s defensive issues. His first season saw Luiz set an unwanted record of five penalties conceded, the most penalties conceded by a single player in a single season. He was released from his contract in 2021 and returned to Brazil to sign for Flamengo.
Left-back: Bukayo Saka
One of the success stories of the Mikel Arteta era, Bukayo Saka established himself in the Arsenal side at left-back during the Spaniard’s first season, following injuries to Sead Kolasinac and Kieran Tierney.
Since then the Hale End graduate has developed into one of the most exciting attacking talents in European football, operating in an advanced role on the right for Arteta’s title challengers. Winner of Arsenal’s Player of the Season accolade in consecutive campaigns, Saka is in contention for the Premier League’s Player of the Year award after a brilliant season which has seen the 21-year-old score ten goals and provide a further nine assists.
Getting better and better with each performance, he is a pivotal part of Arsenal’s fast improving team.
Midfield: Lucas Torreira
Lucas Torreira’s arrival was designed to bring bite into the Arsenal midfield, but the Uruguayan failed to build on a promising first season in north London. An ankle injury disrupted his second campaign at the club and he struggled to regain favour following Arteta’s appointment as manager.
After loan spells at Atletico Madrid and Fiorentina, the midfielder signed for Galatasaray on a permanent deal in 2021. His exit saw Arsenal make a £20.2m loss on their initial investment.
Midfield: Granit Xhaka
If Arsenal do go on to claim the title, the tale of Arteta’s transformation will be scrutinised and celebrated. Among the sliding doors moments was the decision to persuade Granit Xhaka to remain in north London, with the midfielder’s relationship with the club appearing almost irreparable upon Arteta’s arrival.
Booed off the pitch by his own fans and stripped of the captaincy just weeks before Arteta’s appointment, Xhaka was ready to call it quits. Talks with the new manager proved persuasive and the Swiss international has since developed into an integral figure in the rebuild.
This season Xhaka has produced some of the finest football of his career, where he has been given greater attacking licence in midfield and has served as a captain without the armband. It has been a remarkable redemption tale, from ostracised outcast to a darling of the Arsenal support.
Midfield: Mesut Ozil
Arteta, if anything, has not been afraid to make big calls. Among them was the decision to unceremoniously remove Mesut Ozil from his plans, banishing the club’s then-highest earner from the squad.
Reportedly unhappy with Ozil’s application, Arteta’s stance was firm and sent a message that the Spaniard’s standards must be met. Ozil was left out of the Arsenal squad for the 2020/21 campaign and moved on to Fenerbahce on a free transfer in January 2021. He has since struggled to make an impact in Turkey and is currently with Istanbul Başakşehir.
Right-wing: Reiss Nelson
Reiss Nelson started Arteta’s first game in charge and proved a popular Plan B option for much of the Spaniard’s first season in charge. The academy graduate has since struggled to break into the senior side at Arsenal and spent the 2021/22 campaign on loan at Feyenoord.
Approaching the end of his contract with the club, Nelson’s future appears uncertain, but the 23-year-old has made a crucial impact when called upon this season.
In just 103 minutes of Premier League football as a substitute this season, the winger has scored three goals and provided two assists. His recent late winner against Bournemouth could be a decisive moment in Arsenal’s season, if the Gunners go on to be crowned champions.
Left-wing: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
A relationship that started so well but soured rather quickly.
Aubameyang – the newly-appointed club captain at the time of Arteta’s appointment – inspired Arsenal to FA Cup success during Arteta’s debut season, scoring both goals in the final win over Chelsea at Wembley.
That contribution led to a lucrative new contract, but Aubameyang’s form, contribution and relationship with Arteta soon deteriorated. The Gabon international was stripped of the armband after alleged disciplinary breaches during the 2021/22 season and the fallout led to a January exit to Barcelona.
He departed having scored 92 goals in 163 appearances for Arsenal, but with his reputation damaged following a rather public spat with Arteta.
Forward: Alexandre Lacazette
Alexandre Lacazette led the line during Arteta’s first game in charge at Bournemouth and remained with the club until 2022.
Lacazette was signed in a then-club record £46.5m deal from Lyon in 2017, but struggled to replicate his prolific record in French football in the Premier League. The forward scored 71 goals in 206 appearances for Arsenal and was named as the Gunners’ Player of the Season in 2018/19.
He returned to Lyon on a free transfer last summer and has enjoyed a renaissance in Ligue 1, with 16 goals in 24 league appearances so far this season.
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