Just seven days into the new year, Arsenal lost to Liverpool ending any hope of a 15th FA Cup success and for many, leaving the season at breaking point. The Gunners had not won for three weeks, had fallen away from Liverpool in the title race, and were out of both domestic cups.

On the pitch, performances had become incredibly frustrating. Losses to West Ham and Liverpool had unbelievably, seen Arsenal pepper their opposition with 48 shots without a goal. While a loss to Fulham had portrayed a team who had been figured out, and lacked any cutting edge.

Yet a mid-season break in Dubai and five games later, everything appears to be back on track and even better than before. Mikel Arteta’s team look entirely refreshed and new thinking. With 21 goals scored and just two conceded, Arsenal have thrust themselves back into the title race and the demand for a striker has subsided.

5-0, 0-6 and 0-5 destructions of Crystal Palace, West Ham and Burnley respectively have come in the last few weeks but undoubtedly the most important of victories came against title-rivals Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s team likely would’ve been out of reach had they taken three points from the Emirates but goals from Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard secured a massive win for the Gunners and kept them in touching distance of the Premier League leaders.

The main standouts in Arsenal’s revival are exactly who you would expect. Saka has looked back to his best, clocking up seven goal contributions in his last five games including back-to-back braces against West Ham and Burnley. Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard has been outstanding, deployed in a slightly deeper role and finally being rewarded with assists for his ingenious passes.

Declan Rice especially stood out against his old club, West Ham. He claimed two assists from set-pieces before slamming in a sixth goal for Arsenal as home fans teemed out of the London Stadium in their thousands. Gabriel and William Saliba also deserve plaudits for their consistent brilliance, reducing their opposition to just two shots on target in the last three games and grabbing a few goals between them.

Leandro Trossard has stepped up in Gabriel Jesus’ absence, the Belgian grabbing goals from the false-nine position against West Ham and Burnley to add to his goals against Liverpool and Crystal Palace. Jesus looks to have a real battle on his hands if he is to return to that position following his return.

While Arsenal have benefitted massively from the contribution of their ever-reliable stars, credit must equally be dished out to players who have stepped up amid months of doubt over their roles in the squad following their arrivals.

  • Kai Havertz

Havertz was a hugely controversial signing when it happened and has remained as such for a lot of the season so far. Arteta’s decision to replace Granit Xhaka with a player who, it was largely agreed, had flopped at Chelsea for such a large fee was highly questioned and rightly so. The position the German had been bought for was one he had never played, and, on the face of it, didn’t seem to have the qualities for.

Havertz has certainly had his moments this season. The late winner at Brentford, the goals against Luton and Brighton and the assist for Martinelli’s winner against Manchester City. It is also fair to say he has often frustrated. Off the ball, the German’s pressing has been constant but on it, he has regularly looked unconfident and weak. While Xhaka was ever-present in the team last season, the German midfielder has had to share his minutes with a mix of Fabio Vieira, Emile Smith Rowe and Trossard at times.

However, in the last three games especially, things seem to have taken a big turn for the positive for the German.

Against Liverpool, Havertz was selected to lead the attack following injury to Jesus. Faced up against the very imposing pair of Virgil Van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate, the 24-year-old did not shy away. His constant movement in behind the centre-backs and deeper into the midfield created constant space for Odegaard and the Norwegian found Havertz’s run in the build-up to Arsenal’s first goal.

Havertz served as a particular nuisance to Frenchman Konate, who was sent off following two yellow cards delivered for tussles with the Arsenal striker.

Against West Ham and Burnley, Havertz was dropped back into his more typical left-eight role and Trossard was deployed as a false-nine. It was against Burnley that Havertz delivered perhaps his most impressive performance for the club to date.

Havertz and Trossard clearly have a great understanding between each other and perform the ‘big man – small man’ partnership perfectly. The ‘small man’ in this case, Trossard, is free to drop deeper to involve himself in build-up and often taking a defender with him, allowing the ‘big man’, Havertz, to run in behind and receive. The runs from Havertz were nonstop and created endless problems for Burnley’s backline.

Photo: <strong><a  data-cke-saved-href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2024/01/29/arsenal/1170432-arteta-blasts-totally-fake-news-linking-him-with-barcelona.html' href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2024/01/29/arsenal/1170432-arteta-blasts-totally-fake-news-linking-him-with-barcelona.html'>Premier League</a></strong> via Premier Sports
Photo: Premier League via Premier Sports

This was perfectly exemplified by a minute period in which the German was found running in behind on three occasions in rapid succession. One created a great chance for Trossard, one found Odegaard and one won a corner for Arsenal. This continued and when Havertz found Trossard following another run, the Belgian was taken down for a penalty.

<strong><a  data-cke-saved-href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2023/04/08/arsenal/1143197-liverpool-vs-arsenal-premier-league-preview-gameweek-30-2023.html' href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2023/04/08/arsenal/1143197-liverpool-vs-arsenal-premier-league-preview-gameweek-30-2023.html'>Leandro Trossard</a></strong> wins a penalty following the pass from Kai Havertz. | Photo: <strong><a  data-cke-saved-href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2024/01/29/arsenal/1170432-arteta-blasts-totally-fake-news-linking-him-with-barcelona.html' href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2024/01/29/arsenal/1170432-arteta-blasts-totally-fake-news-linking-him-with-barcelona.html'>Premier League</a></strong> via Premier Sports
Leandro Trossard wins a penalty following the pass from Kai Havertz. | Photo: Premier League via Premier Sports

Havertz’s work-rate has been present for much of the season but it was especially prevalent against Burnley, the German winning an impressive 12 duels. He was rewarded for his constant running and work-rate late on, when he was found by a long throw and drove into the Burnley box nutmegging his defender in the process and finishing past James Trafford.

Havertz still has some way to go to justify his huge price-tag but at least one thing is true. The vision the Arsenal manager had when he brought his target to the club is starting to become clearer by the game.

  • David Raya

The signing of Spanish goalkeeper Raya in the summer caused a lot of confusion. Aaron Ramsdale was loved by fans and had finished the season in the PFA team of the year for last season. While the Englishman had his fair share of bad moments, it had been a strong season for the young goalkeeper and he was seen by most as the clear future number one at Arsenal.

The summer wasn’t the first time Arsenal had been linked to Raya however. Goalkeeper coach Inaki Cana had worked with his countryman at Brentford and Arsenal had been interested in signing Raya before eventually signing Ramsdale. The opportunity finally presented itself in the summer and Arsenal pulled the trigger.

Initially Ramsdale kept his spot but on matchday five, Raya started and has kept his place since, despite Arteta being adamant the two would be competing for rotation. In the months that followed, the debate over which goalkeeper should be starting dominated the media and conversations between fans. The massive attention clearly got to Raya, the Spaniard making multiple errors against Luton, Chelsea and Newcastle which only fuelled the debate.

However, when it became clear that Raya would be Arteta’s starting goalkeeper the conversation seemed to die down and with it, the pressure on the Spaniard. The decreased focus on Ramsdale has finally allowed for more appreciation for the attributes the goalkeeper has brought to the Gunners.

Raya has kept eight clean sheets this season, including three in the last five games but it is his ability to dominate his box and distribute that has stood out. According to stats supplied by FBREF, Raya has stopped a massive 14.9% of crosses entering the Arsenal box this season. The closest to him is Wolves’ Jose Sa who has stopped 10.8%. While the Spaniard is not the tallest goalkeeper, standing at just over six foot, it is his anticipation and decision-making that makes him such an effective claimer of crosses.

What he does once he has claimed that cross is crucial too. Ramsdale would often frustrate last season by holding onto the ball for too long and denying potential Arsenal counter-attacks. There is no such hesitation from Raya, and the Arsenal attackers know it. As soon as a cross comes into the box that looks catchable, the Arsenal attackers will begin their runs. Often Saka, Martinelli and Havertz have been the beneficiaries of long throws or kicks from their goalkeeper but the most impressive came to Jesus against Crystal Palace.

Following a Crystal Palace corner, the ball comes to Will Hughes on the edge of the box, and the midfielder loops in a cross that is easy for the goalkeeper to claim. As he prepares his jump, Jesus and Trossard begin their sprints towards the opposition half. As soon as Raya’s feet hit the floor, he charges towards the edge of the box and uses his entire body to throw the ball, causing him to almost flip in the process.

Trossard and Jesus begin their runs in anticipation of Raya's pass | Photo: Premier League via TNT Sports
Trossard and Jesus begin their runs in anticipation of Raya's pass | Photo: Premier League via TNT Sports

The ball, is a good one. It skids across the surface and lands perfectly in Jesus’ path, allowing the Brazilian to take a first touch into the opposition half without breaking his stride. Suddenly, through Raya’s quick thinking, Arsenal have a two versus one situation and a square ball to Trossard puts Arsenal 3-0 up.

Jesus runs onto Raya's throw | Photo: Premier League via TNT Sports
Jesus runs onto Raya's throw | Photo: Premier League via TNT Sports

As Raya has grown in assurance and confidence, it has become clear why Arteta was so keen to sign the Spaniard. Where Ramsdale thrives in chaos and is probably the man you want in your goal if you are to face multiple shots, Raya thrives in control. Arteta has taken steps to dramatically increase Arsenal’s control over the opposition this season and Raya’s box dominance, safety in possession and decision-making have certainly aided that.

By no means have Raya and Havertz entirely proved themselves to the Arsenal fanbase, or justified the transfer fees spent on them just yet. However, one thing is clear. Both players have been crucial to Arsenal’s mid-season revival and look to be finally discovering their places in the Gunners squad.