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Opinion: Mikel Arteta’s building blocks finally clear in much-needed Arsenal win over Burnley at Turf Moor

In the grand opus of Arsenal’s history as a club, a slightly dull 1-0 win over Burnley is unlikely to feature much. And yet it could, in time, be reflected upon as one of the Gunners’ most significant results of recent times. That will certainly be the case if Mikel Arteta proves to be a success as Arsenal manager.

Arteta has, with some justification, faced a lot of criticism over the early part of the season. As the Spaniard approaches the two-year anniversary of his appointment at the Emirates Stadium, there has been little indication of his masterplan, if he has one. At a time when the best teams play with a clear philosophy, Arsenal still don’t have one.

But through tough times, Arteta has argued that he, and his team, could only be fairly judged when the transfer window closed and when injuries eased. The 39-year-old therefore surely felt some degree of vindication at Turf Moor where the Gunners, with the majority of their squad available, made it back-to-back wins.

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It wasn’t that Arsenal were necessarily emphatic in victory. In fact, there were stages of the match against Burnley at which they looked to be going through the motions. Had the hosts had a sharper cutting edge, they might well have snatched a point, a result which would have changed the landscape for Arteta.

For the first time this season, though, there were signs all over the pitch of growing relationships and of what Arteta envisages for Arsenal. The final scoreline, nor the performance as a whole, did justice to the potential significance of this for the north London club.

In defence, Gabriel Magalhaes and Ben White partnered each other for the first time. While the latter got away with a sloppy backpass that would have resulted in an opposition penalty had VAR not intervened, the former was a physical presence who handled everything thrown at him by Burnley.

Indeed, Gabriel made the most tackles (three), interceptions (eight) and clearances (two) of anyone on the pitch. In previous seasons, Arsenal would have crumbled against such a physical team, but their Brazilian centre back thrived in the circumstances. The balance, with ball-playing White alongside Gabriel, was also right with Aaron Ramsdale solid again.

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Takehiro Tomiyasu was another who stood out at Turf Moor. The Japanese international put in a tireless shift, winning 100% of his duels. He also made five successful recoveries of the ball and had the most touches of any Arsenal player. Tomiyasu, whose intensity is relentless, already looks to have absorbed many of Arteta’s ideas.

Most significant of all, though, was the performance of Thomas Partey who started his first Premier League match of the season. The Ghanaian ties everything together in midfield for Arsenal. Nobody else can do what he does in the centre of the pitch. With Partey anchoring the midfield, Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe had the freedom to dictate the match further forward.

“He’s the anchor. He’s the one who reads what is happening and makes the rest better,” Arteta said about Partey after full time.

How he manages the transition, his pressing, he has a charisma. That’s his biggest job to get the right balance in the team, the right fluidity in the attack. How he manages the transition is top, he has a charisma.

With Nicolas Pepe on the left wing and Bukayo Saka on the right, Arsenal played with balance. Having two natural wingers out wide stretched the pitch and opened up space for Odegaard and Smith Rowe to provide Arsenal with a genuine creative front, something they have frequently lacked under Arteta.

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Detractors will point out that Arsenal’s winning goal only came through a moment of individual brilliance from a set piece, but the building blocks for something even better finally appear to be in place. Not so long ago, Arteta risked meeting his end as Arsenal boss. Now, he might be at the start of something.

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09/09/2021 AT 13:50

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