A chance for Arsenal to close the gap - temporarily - on the top four was squandered on Saturday as Jordan Ayew's deflected strike ensured Crystal Palace were granted a share of the spoils at Selhurst Park; in turn making it five points from four matches under Mikel Arteta in the Premier League.
Not great by any stretch of the imagination, but you'd have been foolish to presume anyone, let alone Arteta, would be able to come in at the club and turn around the fortunes of a side deeply in the mire so quickly.
For the first time in a year, Arsenal took to the turf with no changes from their previous Premier League lineup. Arteta knows who he wants to play. That in itself means he's realised who is fit for purpose or, at least, who he has at his disposal who will perform his 'non-negotiables'.
Just 12 minutes in, all was running smoothly.
Controlling the game in midfield with the reinvigorated pivot of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira, the performance was commanding and assertive. Looking swift in transition and leaving the Palace players unable to get any meaningful time on the ball, it was one-way traffic.
The goal was right out of the top drawer. David Luiz fed Mesut Ozil, whose flick fell to the feet of Alexandre Lacazette, with the Frenchman holding the ball for just the right measure of time to play Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in. The Gabonese striker did the rest.
Arteta is all about playing on the front foot. Something seen against Manchester United was when the side are in possession, a flat five-man front line sits high up the pitch with Sead Kolasinac on the left and Nicolas Pepe on the right. This continued up until the 40th minute, when the performance was everything the Spaniard is trying to implement laid bare for all the see.
As sides have seen away at Palace over the years, it's nigh-on impossible to keep that momentum up for 90 minutes. The small pitch means a turnover in possession doesn't take long to end up as an assault on goal.
The players lost an ounce of confidence from that point, and it carried over into the second period.
1-0 up at half-time and barring a brief spell towards the end, all still seemed rosy.
You can see Arteta's effect on the team already.— 90min (@90min_Football) January 11, 2020
Arsenal have had all the possession so far and the intricate passing in the build up to Aubameyang's goal was fantastic!#CRYARS
This is where the issues began to surface. As seen in the recent FA Cup win over Leeds, Arteta is fully capable of giving his side a rollicking during the interval. It was almost roles reversed against Palace, though, as the hosts came out the hungrier and their pressure eventually told.
Individual errors have plagued the Gunners for nearly two years, but no amount of one-to-one coaching or tactical tweaks have prevented them from happening again. This time, Luiz was at fault.
Sure, it seemed as if everything was against Arsenal in south London. The heavily deflected goal, Torreira's injury, Aubameyang's red card and Pepe striking the post. On the worst of days perhaps only two of these occur during the game so, in that sense, Arteta's hands were tied in his quest for three points.
In the end, it was a decent point. Not a great one, but a valuable one nonetheless.
The players are slowly buying into what the rookie Spanish tactician wants. It will take time, but even still the little tweaks he's making to the setup are working.
At Selhurst Park he aimed to utilise Luiz's distribution to full effect. Having Xhaka drop into the left side of a back three, he allowed the Brazilian time on the ball to find his wide players and eliminate Ayew and Wilfried Zaha from proceedings.
In defence he's also rejuvenated Ainsley Maitland-Niles, playing him further in-field - as has been seen during Pep Guardiola's Manchester City reign - as opposed to far wide on the right. In doing so he limits the amount of times he gets caught out down the right flank, where his natural midfield instincts are better suited.
One of the more noticeable differences that was bizarrely overlooked by Unai Emery and Freddie Ljungberg is playing Torreira, a holding midfielder, as, yes, a holding midfielder. Who'd have thought? When the Uruguayan went off injured at half time, it left a glaring void. He's a brilliant footballer when played in his actual position.
Up front he wants Pepe to be an out-and-out winger, occupying the space on the right-hand side of the box and leaving forays into the 18-yard-box for the more composed finishers.
One of those composed finishers is Aubameyang who, despite featuring on the left in each of Arteta's games in charge, is still coming up with the goods in central positions. Lacazette likes to drop deep and allow Ozil to run from deep, while Kolasinac is essentially a left winger who lets Aubameyang drift infield.
That said, it is the players' mentality which evokes the greatest sense of improvement. For all the work done on the training ground, Arteta has been transparent with his desires.
Essentially, 'do as I say, or you're out of the team'. Something his predecessor most certainly did not. The win against United was the best performance of the season, therefore the same players should play again. Simple. Keep that up and signs for the future point upward, not downward.
5 - Arsenal have failed to win five Premier League games when leading at half-time this season (D4 L1), their joint-highest total in a single campaign in the competition (also five in 2010-11). Pieces. #CRYARS— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 11, 2020
In essence, there are countless little tactical alterations that are making Arsenal look a significantly improved side. From the minor to the more major differences, his style of play is being administered in the best way possible to suit his players.
For the most part, it's working. However, just as Arteta is learning as a coach, his players are learning his methods. It will take time. Probably, a lot of time.
The draw was a disappointing result, no question. But given the way the game panned out, it's about the best they could have hoped for. At this point, focus on the upsides. That's imperative. Because results aside - no matter how rather important they are - it's one small step in the right direction.
Source : 90min