90min
Arsenal

There can be no more caveats now Mikel Arteta has 'his' Arsenal

Grey Whitebloom
Mikel Arteta oversaw Arsenal's first Premier League victory of the season in a less than convincing 1-0 win over Norwich
Mikel Arteta oversaw Arsenal's first Premier League victory of the season in a less than convincing 1-0 win over Norwich / Julian Finney/Getty Images
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As recently as March, Mikel Arteta left no room for ambiguity when asked how close Arsenal were to being his side: "Very far. Very, very far."

However, a few months and almost £150m worth of investment later and there is scarce cause for contradiction from the Spanish manager; this - specifically, the side that earned the club's first Premier League win of the season at home to Norwich on Saturday afternoon - is now Arteta's Arsenal.

Mikel Arteta
Mikel Arteta celebrates Arsenal's first goal in more than six hours of Premier League football against Norwich / Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Sitting at the foot of the embryonic table, fresh from three consecutive league defeats, Arteta called upon his cadre of handpicked recruits, starting five of the club's six summer signings against the Canaries.

Despite the flood of new faces, Arsenal began the game with a fluency that belied the lack of familiarity among the squad. Enjoying a monopoly of possession, almost exclusively in Norwich's half, Arsenal had 65% of the ball and rattled off eight shots (four inside the box) to the visitor's one in the opening 20 minutes.

A throbbing Emirates Stadium gleefully watched on as debutant Takehiro Tomiyasu threw his considerable weight around the pitch. Alongside a game-high seven successful aerial duels, the Japan international showed a rapid appreciation of the complex hybrid role Arteta's asymmetrical system demands of the right back; tucking inside to make a three-man defence while also offering an option on the overlap depending on the details of the sequence of play.

The £50m-man Ben White, in a much more assured performance than his debut, teased the watching fans with flashes of the composure and ball progression that demanded such a lofty evaluation. At ease dribbling out of his own penalty area despite Norwich's press, White played nine passes into the final third from his centre back berth. Yet, in a telling reflection of Arsenal's first half display, only one of these searching balls came after the opening half-hour.

As the minutes ticked by with the game still goalless, a timidity seeped from the crowd into Arsenal's play, nudging Norwich into the contest. While fatigue may have certainly played a role in the diluting intensity of the Gunners' press, they weren't able to rest on the ball like the great possession sides Arteta has worked at and aspires to - in the final 25 minutes of the first half, Norwich boasted 58% possession and more shots than their hosts.

The contest continued to even out after the interval until Arteta introduced two more players he can only emphatically consider his own; Emile Smith Rowe (who made his breakthrough into the first team under the 39-year-old) and Thomas Partey, the second-most expensive signing during Arteta's reign.

It was the latter that proved the catalyst on Saturday afternoon. All too often Arsenal's attacks under Arteta descend into a mind-numbing sequence of tame lateral passes that form the shape of a capital U. Within a matter of seconds of his arrival, Partey punched a refreshingly incisive pass into the feet of Bukayo Saka, slicing through the imaginary vowel. The 20-year-old rolled a pass out to Nicolas Pepe who conspired to strike both posts before fortuitously bundling the ball into the path of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to prod Arsenal ahead.

The game may have concluded in deceptively jittery fashion - Norwich's Teemu Pukki had a pair of strikes blocked in the box in stoppage time - but Arsenal were well worth the win. By the end of the game the home side had bombarded Norwich's goal with 30 shots - the highest figure recorded under Arteta and a tally unbeaten by the club since the reign of Arsene Wenger in December 2017.

A whopping 20 of those efforts came after the interval, following the tweak in system which saw Arsenal end the match with five attacking outlets on the pitch, lining up in a 4-3-3 anchored by Partey at the base of midfield flanked by Smith Rowe and (another new(-ish) boy) Martin Odegaard.

If this fresh-faced side - the XI that started against Norwich is so far the youngest across the Premier League this season - can retain the free-wheeling, incisive verve that bookended the weekend's performance, there won't be many more trios of goalless games hereafter.

Ahead of the match, Arsenal's technical director Edu - who was sitting rather more comfortably at the final whistle than the squirming figure pictured at half-time - laid out the extenuating circumstances behind the club's winless start: "To be fair, we have had three games and I haven't seen the team playing together yet," he told Sky Sports.

“I want to see the team play together and then let's judge the team when they play together. Then, after that, no problem. Judge us then.”

Then is very much now after the Norwich game. There will be far sterner tests than a newly promoted side at home, but the judgements will be positive - if not overflowing with unbridled praise - for Arteta's Arsenal. Until the next game that is.

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