Arsenal: How Mikel Arteta embraced the chaos to revive season as Gunners take control of top-four battle

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Arsenal: How Mikel Arteta embraced the chaos to revive season as Gunners take control of top-four battle
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Arsenal’s latest win on Saturday summed up what was a hectic week for Mikel Arteta and his players.

Their two matches against Chelsea and Manchester United in the space of four days were at times played in a chaotic and end-to-end fashion, a far cry from the usual controlled football expected from Arteta’s teams.

The games did, however, yield two wins for Arsenal and once again the momentum in the race for Champions League qualification has swung. After Tottenham drew at Brentford on Saturday evening, Arsenal are now fourth in the Premier League and two points clear of their rivals.

That would have been the dream scenario for Arteta this time last week and the fact it has become a reality has lifted the mood at Emirates Stadium ahead of next month’s crucial north London derby.

“This is why we are here, to play big matches that can define big moments and that’s the beauty of this game,” said Arteta.

Arsenal may have been tight on time last week, but they used it wisely. Those at Stamford Bridge may have noticed Granit Xhaka spending the first minute motioning to the bench, walking around with his arm in the air.

That was done as Arsenal had devised multiple tactical plans for Chelsea, with those in defence able to play in a three or a four-man backline.

The game was still played in a breathless manner, though, as summed up by Bukayo Saka’s late penalty. Arteta was unsure who would take it and in the end the England winger, who missed a spot-kick during the final of Euro 2020, stepped up to score. It was a decision fuelled by emotion, rather than thorough planning.

Saka was the hero for Arsenal on Saturday as well, scoring another penalty in the 3-1 win over United. Like the Chelsea game, this was a chaotic match and one where the momentum swung on multiple occasions.

Arsenal claimed all three points, but it could have been a different result on another day given that United hit the woodwork three times, Cristiano Ronaldo had a second goal marginally ruled out for offside and the visitors also had two first-half penalty shouts waved away.

Arsenal are two points clear of Tottenham in the race for fourth after back-to-back victories (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Arsenal are two points clear of Tottenham in the race for fourth after back-to-back victories (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

“For us it was a bit of a rollercoaster,” said Arteta. “We had a period of five to ten minutes where we weren’t really clear on what to do and we were trembling.”

Arsenal had a tight turnaround from the Chelsea game to United. Thursday was spent doing a light recovery session, then on Friday they trained at 6pm at Emirates Stadium before spending the night in a nearby hotel.

Even the post-match celebrations were of an unusually busy nature and the tunnel at the Emirates was a hive of activity on Saturday.

As United’s squad headed towards the away coach with their heads bowed, players from Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ team went to the home dressing room.

The likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry were in attendance on Saturday and came down after the game to speak to players. They were generous with their time and Saka and Emile Smith Rowe were still picking their brains more than an hour past the final whistle.

Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp dispensed advice to Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp dispensed advice to Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

The sight of Saka and Smith Rowe talking to Bergkamp and Henry summed up what a crazy week Arsenal had just experienced. It has been breathless and Arteta will be glad for some calm over the coming days.

Arsenal do not play again until Sunday, when they travel to West Ham, and the gap will give Arteta the chance to restore some normality and control to proceedings, even if a hectic few days have been profitable for the Gunners.

“This is the beauty of this game, and these things, I don’t control them,” said Arteta, reflecting on Xhaka’s long-range strike against United. “I am not trying to control them.”

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