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Three games, three wins, top of the league: How Arsenal went from misery to magic

11:44 EAT 22/08/2022
Mikel Arteta Arsenal 2022-23 GFX
An unrecognisable starting Xl, a revitalised attack, and a process worth trusting in...

Wind the clock back 12 months and Arsenal were in crisis after their worst league start in history. Now, after opening their campaign with three successive wins for the first time since 2004, they are sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround, with Saturday’s 3-0 success at Bournemouth taking them top of the table for the first time in six years and leaving them as the only side in the league who still boasts a 100 per cent record this season.

Three games, three wins, nine goals scored, two goals conceded.

Compare that to the start of last season - when Arsenal were rock bottom having lost their opening three games without scoring a goal - and you can understand why everyone at the club is smiling right now.

Arteta’s job was under intense scrutiny one year ago, but on Saturday he left the field at the Vitality Stadium with the away fans chanting his name to the rafters.

“Our emotional state is very different,” Arsenal’s manager admitted, when asked to compare the feeling around the club now to this time 12 months ago.

“You can notice that individually and then obviously with everybody that is around the club because losing football matches has a very negative impact, it doesn’t matter how you play or what the context was.

“Obviously everybody is happy [now], everybody is enjoying it and we need to maintain that moment, be humble and keep improving.”

Arteta insisted after Saturday’s game that hitting top spot in the Premier League meant nothing.

“It’s just three games,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anything.

“What it means is that we have managed to win three games, that we are scoring goals, keeping clean sheets and the team is playing and performing well.”

Arteta is of course right to suggest that going top means little at this stage of the season.

But what Arsenal’s start to the current campaign has shown is just how different things are at the club now than there were 12 months ago.

Look at the team that were hammered 5-0 at Manchester City on August 28th, 2021, the defeat that sent Arteta’s side into the first international break rock bottom of the Premier League without a point or goal to their name.

Just three players from that starting XI - Bukayo Saka, Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard - started against Bournemouth on Saturday evening.

The change has been dramatic. 

Arsenal were a mess one year ago. In those opening three games they mustered just seven shots on target without success, this season they have fired in 15.

At the other end they faced a staggering 55 shots (18 on target) on their goal, this year that number has been reduced to 22 (five on target).

The improvement at both ends of the pitch has been stark.

Gabriel Jesus has transformed the attack, which now looks unrecognisable to the forward line that was largely lethargic and one dimensional during 2021/22, while Oleksandr Zinchenko has added so much quality to the squad.

Both have made a dramatic impact following their moves from Manchester City, while William Saliba’s incredible form following his return from his loan spell with Marseille has coincided with two clean sheets from three games.

“He’s incredible.” Zinchenko said, while discussing Saliba following Saturdays’ win at Bournemouth. “It looks like this guy has got a lot of experience in his bag, but he’s still so young. 

“Fingers crossed, we’ve got an unbelievable centre-back.”

Jesus, Zinchenko and Saliba have added so much quality to Arsenal’s starting XI during the early weeks of the campaign and we’re still waiting to see what £30m summer addition Fabio Vieira will bring to the midfield.

With at least one further signing expected before the end of the transfer window, Arsenal’s squad is now looking very strong and settled - with Arteta having multiple options to call upon if needed.

But it’s not just on the pitch that things have changed at Arsenal.

Off the pitch, the club is now in a far more united state than it has been in many years.

Arteta and technical director Edu have asked many times for fans to ‘trust the process’ which started when the Spaniard was appointed three years ago. And that patience is now being rewarded.

The squad has been completely reshaped, with big names and big earners from previous eras removed.

Division that has existed behind the scenes has been tackled, with Arteta working very hard to bring everyone together - from first-team players to the coaching team and the staff around the training ground.

Club sources hail the recent pre-season campaign as a major success.

It was the first normal pre-season Arteta has had since he arrived at the club. With Covid measures finally scrapped, he was able to work with his players without restrictions.

Arsenal moved quickly to land priority targets early in the summer so they had plenty of time to bed in before the Premier League got underway.

Jesus and Vieira were signed before the US tour, while Zinchenko put pen to paper while it was ongoing and Arsenal flew him to Florida so he could be a part of it.

Arteta used that trip across the Atlantic to forge a close bond within the squad.

He ensured that players switched tables each day during team meals so that they would sit next to different team-mates. 

And one night Arteta brought the entire touring party, players and all club staff, together for a BBQ. All of the tables were mixed up and games were put on throughout the evening to bring everyone together.

Another summer party was held last week at London Colney, with staff from the Hale End academy and the Highbury House offices all brought over on coaches to the training ground for a get together which included the men and women’s teams.

There was a BBQ and paella, while both Arteta and Jonas Eidevall (women’s team head coach) got up on stage and did Q&As.

From the moment he returned to Arsenal from Manchester City in 2019, Arteta has been determined to try and unify a club he found to have been fractured by the difficult years it had endured prior to his arrival.

That process has not been a swift one, but few could argue that as a club, Arsenal is now as unified as it has been for many a year - something that has been perfectly encapsulated by the support the team has received from fans since the start of the season.

The Emirates rising to support Saliba in the moments after his own goal against Leicester was a prime example. As was the fact that the away fans sang Granit Xhaka’s name at Bournemouth on Saturday, something that would have been unthinkable not so long ago.

Arsenal’s support now mirrors the team in many ways. It has been energised in recent years, with a more youthful fanbase noticeable both home and away.

The atmosphere is as good as it has been for a long time and that is something Arteta has been driving for since he was appointed to succeed Unai Emery.

One thing he will know, however, despite the excellent start to the season, is that there is still an awful long way to go.

“We can still get much better,” he said after the win at Bournemouth.

“Now it’s about Monday, starting training again and getting better at the other things that we have to do well. The focus is on Fulham [this coming Saturday].”

Arsenal's improvement under Arteta has been clear and those dark days of 12 months ago now feel like a long time ago.

There is still plenty of work to do, however.

The process might be moving forward, but it’s far from complete.