It’s been a long time since this Arsenal fanbase has had any genuine hope. The Unai Emery revolution was built on sand, and upon Mikel Arteta’s arrival in the winter, there was very little to smile about for the Gunners.
So why do we all keep tuning in to watch our team disappoint us week in, week out, even when we are 99.9% sure we will have nothing to smile about over the following 90 minutes? Because of hope.
Hope is what makes football so compelling, what gives supporters the strength to traipse to the stadium every week, and what inspires inferior players to believe they can pull off the biggest upset in the sport’s gargantuan history.
And for once, Arsenal fans have a bit of hope.
Arriving from Manchester City in December, there were plenty of people immediately questioning Arteta’s appointment, given his lack of experience as a head coach. But lest we forget, the Spaniard has had some of the best schooling that money can buy.
And watching him gesticulate frantically on the touchline, and barking instructions in several different languages from his technical area for the entire 90 minutes, it became deeply apparent that he has been ready for this role for quite some time.
After setting Arsenal up extremely defensively in their 2-1 victory over Liverpool, many expected the same from Arteta’s side against Manchester City. But the coach is clearly as pedantic over his tactics as his former boss, Pep Guardiola, and he adapted his game plan in relation to his opponents’ weaknesses.
And that’s not bad going, considering the Citizens have very few chinks in their armour at all. Arsenal packed the midfield when out of possession, forcing Man City to play the ball wide and cross into the box, a plan which Guardiola’s side often turns to in moments of desperation.
The Gunners also exploited their frailties issues in wide areas, and they were able to draw first blood through a deep, in-swinging ball which reached the feet of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Ruthless, and pulled off to perfection.
And of course, when Man City are behind, they take more risks. Arteta’s side were ready, pressing high up the pitch, with David Luiz stepping into the midfield to try and win first balls with the aggression that has made him a top-tier Premier League defender for so many years.
Man City had few answers for Arsenal’s impressive set up, and the north Londoners constantly laid traps for the Citizens, which their opponents naively stumbled into time and time again.
The second half played out exactly as the Gunners would have hoped. They dug deep, relied on resolute defending and last-ditch tackles, and then sucker-punched Man City with a ruthless counter-attack and finish. Something that would have been simply impossible under Emery, but now is becoming routine for this new-look Arsenal.
It was gritty. It was spirited. It was very un-Arsenal. It was nothing short of a masterclass from Arteta.
It’s heartening to see how far a limited and underachieving squad can be dragged with some rigorous training and good organisation, and Arteta’s abilities to squeeze every drop out of his players can only be a cause for optimism for the Gunners.
Suddenly, a team which needed completely overhauling now may only require five or six changes, or even less. And that’s good news, given the worrying noises surrounding Arsenal’s potential lack of investment over the summer, and the underwhelming renewal of several players’ contracts.
But with Arteta at the helm, Arsenal now have a manager who should be worth more to the fans than any superstar on the pitch. The upper echelons of the Premier League may still be a way off, but the fallen giants are building towards something special – and they have an FA Cup final thrown in for good measure.
Most of all, however, there is hope – and that’s more than the Gunners have had for a long, long time.