Arsenal reinvigorated by Arteta's young Gunners in win over Chelsea

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On Boxing Day 2019, there was an undeniable sense of optimism around Arsenal – the Mikel Arteta era was beginning and simultaneously the club looked to be trying to implement a long-term plan based on entertaining football.

While Arteta's very first match was by no means outstanding, a 1-1 draw away to a Bournemouth side that went on to be relegated, there were certainly signs of promise during the early months.

Much of that positivity seemed to have vanished in the last few weeks, their 1-0 win at Manchester United on November 2 followed by a chastening run of five defeats and no wins in seven Premier League matches.

So bad have Arsenal been at times that Arteta's future had been put in doubt, with many supporters becoming convinced his appointment was nothing more than a hopeful punt that backfired spectacularly.

Some pundits have even suggested they could get sucked into a relegation battle – after all, they were 15th on Christmas Day.

But a year on from his first match at the helm, Arteta came out swinging.

All of a sudden, on the back of Sunday's (AEDT) 3-1 win, the outlook at Emirates Stadium seems a lot less bleak.

SMITH ROWE ANSWERS THE CALL

Arteta's starting XI will have set off alarm bells among many fans – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was only fit enough for a place on the bench; Willian, David Luiz and Gabriel Magalhaes were all ruled out; Pablo Mari and Gabriel Martinelli were handed first league starts since June; for Emile Smith Rowe it was a first line-up appearance in the top flight since December 21 last year.

But as it happened, Arsenal barely put a foot wrong all evening.

The presence of Smith Rowe was a particularly curious one. Undoubtedly talented, the 20-year-old has struggled to really build on his early promise and some might suggest he was being pushed in at the deep end here.

Yet, credit to Arteta, the youngster was a breath of fresh air in Arsenal's midfield. Not only did he offer composure in possession, as he laid on two key passes (one to release Bukayo Saka for the third goal), Smith Rowe also showed urgency when not in possession.

His 5.8 kilometres covered in the first half beat everyone else on the pitch, as did his average speed of 7.5km/h.

Additionally, the youngster's use of the ball was positive. Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka and Martinelli were Arsenal's most threatening players, and they were also the individuals Smith Rowe passed to most frequently.

So often this term, Arsenal have been crying out for a body to operate in the hole behind the main striker, and on Sunday's evidence Smith Rowe might just be the answer with his effective blend of technical competence and energy.

SAKA AND MARTINELLI PEG CHELSEA BACK

Martinelli had been a big miss for the Gunners. A promising first season was cut short by injury when he looked set to become a potentially important player in 2020-21.

Back in the starting XI for the first time this season, the Brazilian helped keep Reece James occupied and his four shots was more than any other Arsenal player managed.

It would have been unfair to expect him to maintain his first-half level throughout, so it was unsurprising to see Martinelli withdrawn before the end given his recent injury problems.

But his relentless approach in the first 45 was in keeping with the effort desired by Arteta but often missing – his 14 sprints were more than anyone else achieved, and his top speed of 33.1km/h was the quickest in the first half. He also chipped in with an Arsenal-high three tackles. James certainly had his hands full.

Saka did a similar job on the right flank but arguably even more impressively, with Ben Chilwell unable to get forward as often as he liked and therefore limited to just four crosses.

Though there was obviously more to Saka's performance than just limiting Chilwell's attacks – his wonderful goal, although perhaps fortuitous, was a deserved reward.

The 19-year-old's work rate was notable, covering more ground (11.5km) than anyone else over the 90 minutes, and he was frequently looking to test the Chelsea defence with his seven crosses, more than double any other Arsenal player.

He took home the Man of the Match award, and while debates may rage about whether he meant his goal or not, there's no doubt what an asset he is to Arteta.

EVERYTHING COMES TOGETHER FOR ARTETA

To say a 3-1 Arsenal win was on the cards before this match would be a complete lie – few would have given them a chance, with a draw arguably the best they could have expected, particularly given the depleted nature of their squad.

But in such trying circumstances, Arteta had little choice but to throw caution to the wind and trust his youngsters, and they certainly repaid his faith.

Of course, Arsenal got a little fortunate towards the end, with Bernd Leno's save from Jorginho's penalty crucial. But, given their issues of late, the Gunners were almost due a rub of the green.

Ill-discipline, questionable commitment and underperforming 'star players' have marred Arsenal in recent times.

But when Arteta had to turn to the kids, Arsenal suddenly clicked once again. A year on from the coach's first game, has the penny finally dropped?

Source Omnisport