Mikel Arteta has led Arsenal on a run of six Premier League games without loss and his side are showing hallmarks of significant improvement compared to last season
One of the many problems which plagued Arsenal last season was an over-reliance on individual quality rather than a unified team effort.
Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Kieran Tierney were among those who shouldered this burden as the Gunners slumped to an eighth-place finish in the Premier League.
The demands placed on Tierney were especially concerning, with the left-back performing his defensive duties while also acting as one of his side’s key creative outlets.
Of course, full-backs have grown increasingly important to attacking build-up over the last few years, but the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joao Cancelo, Andy Robertson and Reece James flourish on the front foot because they have a strong midfield platform to complement them.
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Arsenal had no such solid base last season, while the reliance on Tierney as a key defensive and offensive player was stark when he was ruled out through groin and knee injuries.
Cedric Soares struggled to deputise on the left of defence as senior players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette endured sub-par campaigns.
Since early September, however, Mikel Arteta’s side have shown clear signs of improvement and the emphasis on togetherness has come to the fore.
After losing their opening three games, Arsenal are unbeaten in their last six top-flight fixtures, winning four of those.
Even when injuries have rocked the Emirates, Arteta has had a suitable option waiting in the wings and ready to seize the opportunity.
Albert Sambi Lokonga slotted into midfield following Granit Xhaka’s serious knee injury, and on Friday it was the turn of Nuno Tavares when Arteta dropped bombshell news regarding Tierney.
The Spaniard admitted he does now know how long the former Celtic star will be out of contention with bruising to his ankle.
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This update would have filled Arsenal fans with dread last season and many supporters were likely concerned about the prospect of Aston Villa’s fine attack facing a Premier League full debutant in Nuno Tavares.
The Portuguese arrived from Benfica for a modest sum of £8million in July and he remained a relatively unknown factor after four substitute appearances in the top flight.
But Tavares showed why Arteta and Edu pursued him this summer with a dynamic display from left-back, notably linking up with man-of-the-match Emile Smith Rowe as Arsenal registered a convincing 3-1 victory.
The 21-year-old’s performance suggests Arsenal have finally found a quality back-up option for Tierney, and it also bears testament to their improvement as a team in recent weeks.
Thomas Partey and Lokonga’s flourishing midfield partnership allowed Tavares the freedom to get forward and he even came close to getting on the scoresheet himself.
Arteta will demand more of the same as Arsenal take on Leeds United on Tuesday with a spot in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals at stake.
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