Mikel Arteta thinks his players are growing in stature and reserved special praise for the efforts of Martin Odegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for their contributions to the 1-0 win over Burnley.
The Norwegian grabbed the headlines for his match-winning free-kick but it was the midfielder’s defensive shift, something matched by captain Auba, that really struck a chord with the boss.
“I think we are building some leadership in the group,” Arteta told Arsenal.com. “It’s a really young group, with a lot of players under 23.
“Martin is the captain of the national team and Sambi was the captain at Anderlecht. Martin has this capacity to do that [lead] with his talent, taking the ball in moments where others probably refuse to, but as well with his attitude, his rhythm and the way he presses and puts people under pressure.
“He’s probably the first to do [those defensive responsibilities]. I was really impressed with Auba as well – I think his rhythm and high pressing was fantastic.
“It was a real commitment and purpose because you can go to try and win the ball or put pressure [on] – but you can tell when you are really doing it or when you’ve been told to do it.
“There was a big meaning behind it and when you go to places like that, when you are having difficult moments and you want to start to get results, I think you have to go to those basics and have every single player do that, even the ones that came on – I think they were superb, lifted the momentum of the team and took us to a different level. I think that’s really important.”
On the importance of defending from the front as a team, he added: “Absolutely. It’s a whole unit that has to be compact and stay compact the whole time. The only way to do it when the ball is moving is to have everybody moving. If somebody starts to walk, the distances start to get split, the unit breaks and there is nothing.
“As well, the coaching, I like that there is a lot of coaching going on around the team. Young players are starting to talk and communicate and that facilitates a lot of things in the defensive phase.”
Able to pick from a near full squad – only the suspended Granit Xhaka and injured Mo Elneny miss out – Arteta is still expected to ring the changes when AFC Wimbledon visit the Emirates in the third round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday.
The boss is hoping that whoever he fields – he was coy on what he might do on that front – can continue to build momentum heading into Sunday’s north London derby.
“After the difficult start we had in many different aspects, when you start to win two games, you can win the third one, it gives more momentum, more confidence, everyone is back and it starts to create a different feeling,” he said.