Arsenal’s form has peaked and troughed in recent years, but this season’s low has been worse than others.
Arsenal have a long way to go to get back on track and even with the win over Chelsea they remain only 15th in the Premier League.
The victory is though, as defender Kieran Tierney put it, “a start” and now the challenge is for Mikel Arteta to build off the back of it.
“We’ve been looking to get that first win, the three points, but this is just the start,” said Tierney.
“We needed that today and we needed to give the fans something to be positive about. We’ve had a few bad results this season, so it’s a start.”
The positive for Arteta is that Saturday’s win did at least give him a blueprint for how he might get Arsenal’s season heading in the right direction again.
It was a performance inspired by youth. The oldest player for Arsenal was 29 (Alexandre Lacazette) and the average age of the XI was 24.6.
The senior players, of course, played their part – most notably Bernd Leno and Granit Xhaka – but it was the youthful injection of Bukayo Saka (19), Emile Smith Rowe (20) and Gabriel Martinelli (19) who inspire hope going forward.
The trio lined up behind the sole striker of Lacazette and they transformed Arsenal’s attack – with and without the ball.
In recent weeks, the Gunners’ forward play has been stagnant and stale, but Martinelli, Saka and Smith Rowe brought it to life. They showed no fear and each of their passes was followed by a movement that asked questions of the Chelsea defence.
Crucially, their work off the ball was evident too, as they pressed, harried and tracked back to win possession. Arteta has publicly called for “fighters” and against Chelsea his youngsters showed they’re ready for battle.
“They have been showing us in the last few weeks that they are capable of starting the games and I had no doubt they would respond today and I think they were really, really good,” said Arteta.
The drive and work rate of Arsenal’s youngsters is infectious and that could be seen against Chelsea. Indeed there was one moment in the first-half where Martinelli was making another of his lung-busting attempts to press the Blues’ defence and Lacazette, watching on, felt compelled to join him and followed suit.
And that is one of the benefits Arteta should feel if he trusts youth going forward. Not only can they deliver for him on the pitch, but their performances should provide senior players with the impetus to up their own games.
Arteta has arguably placed too much faith in his senior players during Arsenal’s current plight, backing the likes of Willian to play themselves into form. Ultimately, they have not delivered but the sight of teenagers taking their place could well spark them into life.
And, even if it doesn’t, Arsenal’s youngsters showed against Chelsea they could be the foundation of a resurgence. Only time will tell whether they are or not, but they certainly deserve the chance to prove they can be.