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Pep reunion a test of Arteta’s progress


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Pep reunion a test of Arteta’s progress

If you can’t beat them, hire them. Perhaps Arsenal provided a twist on a familiar phrase. They were predictably and emphatically dismantled by Manchester City last December. In the week after that 3-0 setback, they confirmed Mikel Arteta as their new manager.

So Pep Guardiola’s old assistant faces his mentor in a delayed reunion that is a barometer of progress. Arsenal boast the Premier League’s only unbeaten record this year, though reaching June undefeated would have been more impressive without a three-month hiatus.

Arteta’s start has offered encouragement but Arsenal’s next 10 games, plus their FA Cup run, could shape their future for years to come.

His impact can be measured in several respects. Arsenal are more resilient, unbeaten in nine matches after five defeats in the previous 12. They have twice managed to take a point with 10 men, coming from behind against Chelsea for a 2-2 draw.

Arsenal have been far better defensively, conceding 1.5 goals per league game before his appointment and just 0.9 since. He has conjured more from some of Arsenal’s most-criticised players, building around David Luiz at the back, rehabilitating Granit Xhaka in midfield and restoring Mesut Ozil to the No. 10 role.

He has also trusted Arsenal’s next generation. Eddie Nketiah has been preferred to Alexandre Lacazette at times. Bukayo Saka has been a revelation as an attacking full-back and it will be instructive to see if a converted winger retains his spot now that the specialist left-backs Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac are fit.

When Saka has overlapped and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has come infield, it has given Arsenal a front five when attacking, a tactic Arteta has borrowed from Guardiola, who used that with both Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

However, Arsenal’s precarious position threatens to undo their progress. They are still on course for their lowest finish since 1995 and risk a first season with no European football in a quarter of a century.

No English elite side are more dependent on gate receipts and thus damaged more by a world without crowds. Arsenal’s players have taken 12.5 per cent pay cuts, but a £230 million (S$404 million) wage bill was bloated.

There is a need for reinforcements – the on-loan Pablo Mari could be bought – but a lack of funds. Cost-cutting is required.

They could finish this season without Luiz and face a summer decision about Aubameyang. Arteta believes Champions League qualification is key to keeping him.

Yet, and although their next generation brim with promise, stripping Arsenal of senior players could condemn them to another period of transition.

Paradoxically, the youngest manager in the Premier League is both a long-term appointment and in a race against time. Pivotal decisions must be compressed into weeks and depend, in part, on what Arteta can salvage from this season to position them for the next.


MAN CITY V ARSENAL

Singtel TV Ch102 & StaHub Ch227, tomorrow 3.15am


Match points: Manchester City v Arsenal

Key battles


PHOTOS:AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Kevin de Bruyne v Granit Xhaka

Arguably the best performance of de Bruyne’s superb season came when City won 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium in December. The Belgian scored twice then but with 16 assists, has created more. Arsenal, and Xhaka, have another reason to nullify him as the Premier League record of 20 assists belongs to the former Gunner Thierry Henry.


PHOTOS:AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Sergio Aguero v David Luiz

A bad-tempered rivalry. Aguero committed two horrific challenges on Luiz in the defender’s Chelsea days. This might be a final meeting, with the Brazilian potentially leaving Arsenal soon. It could be an encounter the Argentinian savours. He scored a hat-trick against Arsenal at the Etihad last year, including one in the first minute.


PHOTOS:AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Kyle Walker v Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Walker has had a difficult time of late after being criticised for twice breaking lockdown. He has rather more reasons to move tonight in a foot race with Aubameyang. With seven goals, the Arsenal captain has been prolific during Mikel Arteta’s reign, usually cutting in from the left, so Walker will have to combine well with his right-sided centre-back.

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June 17, 2020 5:00 AM

If you can’t beat them, hire them. Perhaps Arsenal provided a twist on a familiar phrase. They were predictably and emphatically dismantled by Manchester City last December. In the week after that 3-0 setback, they confirmed Mikel Arteta as their new manager.

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