Mikel Arteta at Arsenal: First year in charge shows there are no quick fixes

This Sunday marks the first anniversary of Mikel Arteta’s appointment at Arsenal. It has been a year of highs and lows. Few could have predicted his side would lie 15th in the Premier League table just four months after winning the FA Cup.

But transforming Arsenal’s fortunes was never likely to be easy – least of all for a 38-year-old with no prior managerial experience. Arteta inherited a club in chaos and a squad in need of rebuilding. He has had to contend with problems off the pitch as well as on it.

Arsenal remain a long way from where he wants them to be. In fact, the Premier League table suggests they are further away than ever. So how did they get here? And does a brighter future lie ahead?

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FA Cup win raised expectations

It is of course to Arteta’s immense credit that he was able to win silverware only months into the job. Arsenal’s FA Cup triumph in August, achieved with impressive victories over Manchester City and Chelsea, generated excitement and optimism among supporters.

There was more positivity when Arsenal overcame Liverpool on their return to Wembley for the Community Shield. They then started the Premier League campaign with three wins out of four. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang agreed a new contract. The club completed a £45m deal to sign Thomas Partey.

Expectations were raised. Arsenal had limped to an eighth-placed finish in the previous campaign, but it felt like they might have it in them to compete for a top-four finish in Arteta’s first full season in charge. Arsene Wenger rather unhelpfully suggested they may even be able to win the title.

Soon, though, the optimism began to fade.

Victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford last month was another glimpse of progress, but there were defeats to Manchester City and Leicester before it and there have been four more since. They add up to Arsenal’s worst start to a season since 1974.

In truth, the underlying numbers on Arsenal’s performances were always ominous.

Arteta improved results against big-six rivals. He introduced structure on the pitch and brought clarity off it, with players queuing up to praise him. But the fundamentals of generating scoring chances at one end and preventing them at the other remained problematic.

Across his 12 months in charge, Arsenal have consistently ranked in the Premier League’s bottom half for both shots and expected goals. In addition to those attacking shortcomings, there is enduring defensive vulnerability. Only Sheffield United, West Ham and Newcastle post worse numbers for expected goals against.

Arteta’s side were able to defy that data thanks in part to the ruthlessness of Aubameyang – who scored 16 goals in 22 appearances under the Spaniard last season, despite meagre service – and to the wasteful finishing of their opponents.

But there was always a suspicion it was unsustainable and so it proved.

Aubameyang’s goals dried up and…

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