Hector Bellerin knows Arsenal need to improve in front of goal, but he's confident improvement will come, thanks to head coach Mikel Arteta's tactical acumen. Arteta took over on December 26, and Bellerin believes the club's former captain has already changed the Gunners for the better.
Bellerin spoke to the club's official website during warm-weather training in Dubai: "Mikel has always been very tactical in his work and in his whole life, he's very professional with very clear ideas. It's very early doors in time. [Arteta] has a new philosophy and the way he has implemented it in the last few games that we've played, there's been a big change."
While Bellerin has been left impressed, Arteta's improvements haven't yielded a strong run of results. He's only lost once since entering the dugout, but the team has been blighted by draws.
Arsenal have won one, lost one and drawn five of seven in the Premier League. A lack of goals and consistent finishing have been the main issue.
It's something Bellerin is aware of:
"I think sometimes we need to be a bit more efficient in front of goal [but] that's also something that comes with confidence. When you see that you're playing better and controlling games better, the goals are something that's going to come. I'm sure you're going to see that very quickly."
The latter point is a good one because, while the Gunners haven't been regularly among the goals, Arteta has restored a dominance of possession. Stringing together multiple passes quickly and intelligently became Arsenal's hallmark under legendary former boss Arsene Wenger.
However, the style of play deteriorated under Wenger's successor Unai Emery. The Spaniard was less concerned with passing and more tailored to a philosophy based on pressing.
Emery's tactical shift led to an overhaul of personnel. Specifically, many of the playmakers who made the Gunners' artful and expansive, pre-Emery game possible, including Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, were jettisoned.
Emery was replaced by former Wenger player Freddie Ljungberg in November, before the Swede made way for Arteta. Wenger also signed Arteta back in 2011, with the midfielder winning two FA Cups before leaving to join Pep Guardiola's coaching staff at Manchester City in 2016.
Having learned his trade under Wenger and Guardiola, two coaches faithful to attractive, possession-based and attacking football, Arteta is using the same style to rebuild Arsenal.
When it's worked, the Gunners have produced some slick team moves leading to impressive goals. Those moves include Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's finish during the 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace in January:
There was also Bukayo Saka's emphatic shot to cap a multi-pass sequence to help beat Bournemouth 2-1 in the 2020 FA Cup fourth round:
When things have clicked, Arteta's ideas have been lauded. Yet there have been numerous occasions when Arsenal have been lacking when trying to put their inexperienced head coach's philosophy into practice.
The Gunners were particularly stunted and blunt going forward during the 0-0 draw away to Burnley last time out in the league. A lack of pace and guile to the passing left star strikers Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette starved of service.
It didn't help the main men up front wasted the few promising chances that came their way:
There has been extra pressure on the strikers to be ruthlessly efficient because of a lack of creativity from midfield, a problem compounded by Arteta so far failing to get classy but languid No. 10 Mesut Ozil back on track.
Instead, the club's highest-earner has been left isolated and ineffective without players of similar technique around him:
Statman Dave @StatmanDave
Mesut Özil under Mikel Arteta: ❌ vs. Norwich 🅰️ vs. Brighton ❌ vs. West Ham ❌ vs. Man City ❌ vs. Bournemouth ❌ vs. Chelsea ❌ vs. Leeds ❌ vs. Crystal Palace ❌ vs. Sheffield United ❌ vs. Chelsea ❌ vs. Burnley 11 games, 1 assist & 0 goals. Unleashed. 😐 https://t.co/i5o9VzSvS2
Ozil may be struggling, but he has appreciated Arteta's methods. The 31-year-old also offered praise from Dubai, per Ros Satar of Sky Sports: "Especially tactically we improve a lot and I hope in the future we will be more successful."
Lacazette shared a similar view, per the same source: "Tactically we are better and we're going to see a big improvement in the next few weeks."
A recurring theme of tactical improvement endorses Arteta's rapid development in his first senior job. It's also likely an unflattering reference to the dark days of Emery's tenure.
The former Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain boss defended his performance during an interview with France Football (h/t Get French Football News): "I obviously am partly responsible, but you see that the team has not exactly done better since I left."
While Emery will be accused of revising history, his critique of results since he left does contain an inconvenient truth or two for Arsenal. Arteta has made the Gunners tougher to beat, but the club is still 10th and 10 points shy of fourth and a place in next season's UEFA Champions League.
Bellerin, Ozil and Lacazette have all invoked the idea things will soon get better. There are positive signs, but it's dangerous to suppose success on Arteta's watch is inevitable.
The 37-year-old is facing a daunting rebuilding job at a club still dealing with high expectations and a fanbase anxious for a return to former glories. He needs to fortify a suspect defence, retool midfield and get younger at key positions.
Those things will require more than tactical tweaks. Arteta's vision has already won senior players over, a good sign, but he will need to be backed with heavy investment in upcoming transfer windows.