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Arteta's Arsenal are on the right path despite Sheffield United setback

3:06 AM MYT 19/01/2020
Gabriel Martinelli Nicolas Pepe Arsenal 2019/20
Had Nicolas Pepe been awarded a penalty then there's a good chance Arsenal would be looking towards the top six again but instead they are 10th

On the face of it, this was another result to add to what has been a miserable season for Arsenal.

In front from the 45th minute, they couldn’t hold on against a spirited Sheffield United side who snatched a 1-1 draw with a late, deflected equaliser.

The stalemate - an 11th of the season for Arsenal - leaves them 10th in the Premier League and means Mikel Arteta has now won just one of his first five league games in charge.

Some may look at that and say the honeymoon is over, but those people would be missing the point.

From the moment Arteta walked through the door and inherited the mess created by Unai Emery, it’s been about trying to repair the damage that had been done by the previous regime.

And what we saw again from Arsenal this afternoon was a team that are slowly beginning to find their feet again after months of confusion under the previous coach.

Had Arsenal held on for the win it would have been a fine result against a Sheffield United side who are four points above them in the Premier League for a reason.

The Blades arrived at the Emirates Stadium having only lost once in the league away from home all season and with the second best defensive record in the top flight.

Since the start of the campaign they have been everything that Arsenal haven’t. They have been solid, disciplined and they have played to a clear vision that has been drilled into the majority of them for years by their manager on the training ground.

Arsenal are just five league games into a new era. They may have only won one of those, but there have been positive signs in every match that they are moving in the right direction under Arteta.

Defensively they are much improved and they are conceding far fewer shots on their goal, which was a major problem under Emery.

With Emery in charge, they were allowing an average of 15.8 shots per game; that has now dipped to under 11 since Arteta came in.

Everything that happens at Arsenal now needs to be viewed with the long term in mind. There is no short-term fix. The table doesn't lie.

“I inherited a team that was in a difficult situation and we're trying to improve it as much as possible,” said Arteta after Saturday's draw.

“In the second half, Sheffield United didn't generate any efforts on goal - it's just one long ball, a second ball and then someone put it in the goal from an incredible angle. It's difficult to control it.”

Arteta is well aware of the size of the task he faces, as are most of the Arsenal fans. It’s totally unrealistic to think he will just come in and improve things immediately.

But when you look at the performances since he has taken over you can see that what he is trying to introduce is having an impact. There is a structure now to the side which had been lacking.

David Luiz is playing his best football since signing from Chelsea, Bukayo Saka is excelling as a makeshift left-back while Ainsley Maitland-Niles is impressing on the other side of the back four. In front of them the midfield is much improved, with Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka linking up well.

The big problem for Arsenal now is killing teams off. They should have beaten Bournemouth, but wasted several chances and failing to get the second goal ultimately killed them against Chelsea, Crystal Palace and now Sheffield United.

“In the Premier League, if you don't put the game to bed then in the last 10 or 15 minutes you just need a long ball, a second ball, a set-piece, and you can give the points away,” Arteta lamented after the draw with the Blades.

It didn’t help, however, that his top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was sat it the stands through suspension, that Alexandre Lacazette stretched his run of games without a goal to seven, or that Nicolas Pepe was denied a clear penalty when the score was still 1-0 and he was tripped in the box.

Had that spot kick been given, Arsenal would more than likely be sitting level on points with Spurs now and just three adrift of sixth-placed Wolves. But instead they head to Chelsea on Tuesday night 10th and they sit closer to the relegation zone than they do the top four.

That is the reality of where Arsenal are right now and it’s a result of the mess that Arteta inherited.

It’s going to take a lot longer than just five league games for Arteta to fix things in north London, but for the first time in a long time it feels like Arsenal are at least on the right path.