Mikel Arteta has hardly had time to breathe since he came to Arsenal.
The Spaniard has surely made the Gunners tough to beat at that moment, but successes have stayed hard to come by, particularly in the Premier League.
Therefore, following the draw Burnley last time out, the Spaniard was delighted to get the opportunity to whisk his squad off for a mid-season break in Dubai.
Given how packed the program was after his birth, Arsenal’s head coach has had precious little time to work with his players on the training pitch on anything aside from forthcoming fixtures.
To have had four times at the United Arab Emirates was a welcome present to Arteta and one that he took full advantage of. Every senior player apart from Calum Chambers made the trip.
It wasn’t only about the training; Arteta used the time off to sit down with his players — as a team and individually, to discuss the last six weeks and the direction in which he wishes to take the team during the final months of the year.
“I made a significant overview of what we have done in these five or six months,” Arteta told Arsenal’s official website. “The matters where we can enhance, the regions where we’ve improved and that we must maintain, that we can’t lose.
“Hopefully we can take another step forward as a team today.”
Arsenal have now arrived back in London and focus has changed to Sunday’s match against Newcastle at Emirates Stadium.
With the Europa League due to restart the next Thursday, with a last-32 meeting with Olympiacos, and the FA Cup fifth-round tie at Portsmouth coming, this is a vital period for Arteta as he tries to salvage something from what’s been a miserable season for the north London club.
There have certainly been indications of developments during his short time in charge, but there are still a few problems that need resolving if Arsenal are to begin getting the results they need over the coming months.
Arsenal seem much better defensively since Arteta’s coming, with the back four functioning well as a device and, possibly, more importantly, the midfield currently offering the sort of protection which has been missing during Unai Emery’s tenure.
The times of Arsenal letting 31 shots on their target, as they did at Watford, seem to be supporting them, with teams now finding it much more challenging to start the Gunners up.
But there’s still more work to be done along with the accession of Pablo Mari on loan from Flamengo in January is an intriguing one.
The 26-year-old was a sin in Brazil after coming from Manchester City, together with his ability to read the game and his unique assortment of passing which makes him a key part in Flamengo’s historical Copa Libertadores success.
But it is going to take a while for him to adapt to the Premier League and if Arteta seem to bring him to the group right away, it will also imply David Luiz moving away from his favorite role as the left-sided centre-back.
The Brazilian has already said that will not be a problem, insisting he is going to be pleased to play anywhere, but the change could cause some disruption — that Arteta will be eager to limit.
With Kieran Tierney also due back soon from the dislocated shoulder he suffered against West Ham, Arsenal’s head coach will also need to choose his first-choice left-back.
Teenage winger Bukayo Saka has done well there in the lack of Tierney and Sead Kolasinac, but it is unlikely he’ll continue in that role once the senior players return to full fitness.
Obtaining Alexandre Lacazette shooting again is arguably the most pressing issue Arteta should solve if Arsenal are to finish the season well.
It is now nine games because the France international last scored a goal and his optimism is obviously at rock bottom.
But after missing a fantastic early chance, Lacazette was a passenger against the Clarets and never really got into regions that caused the home side any issues.
The sterile at Turf Moor also suggests that it’s more than a year because Lacazette last scored an away goal in the Premier League.
He’s working in a deeper character and his pressing has become key to Arsenal winning the ball back higher up the pitch, particularly in the home.
Regardless of that, Lacazette’s lack of goals makes it much more difficult to justify moving a natural finisher such as Aubameyang out wide to accommodate him.
Arteta will hope that the separation in Dubai was what Lacazette had to recharge his batteries and the striker can end his long, barren run when Newcastle see the capital on Sunday.
If he fails to find the target again, then it could be time for the Spaniard to test somebody else upfront.
Things to do with Mesut Ozil?
Among the key problems behind Lacazette’s struggle for goals is the lack of imagination behind him.
Whereas Aubameyang is the kind of striker that could conjure something out of nothing owing to his pace, Lacazette wants a supply line to give him opportunities in and around the playground.
Arteta has put his faith firmly in Mesut Ozil because he came, together with the German starting all but one of his nine matches in charge up to now.
And whilst there’s been an upturn in form from the playmaker after his battles under Emery, the prior Real Madrid guy has yet to register one aid since Arteta took over.
According to Opta, they’ve mustered just 67 shots — that balances out as 9.6 attempts per game, which can be fewer than they had been averaging under Emery (12.5) and interim boss Freddie Ljungberg (10).
Given the improvements they’ve made defensively, that’s perhaps no surprise. In making Arsenal more challenging to beat, the assault has suffered a bit.
However, if the Gunners are likely to trouble teams at the latter phases of the Europa League or FA Cup, then they will need to begin creating more opportunities for the strikers. Ozil is vital to that.
Regardless of the abilities of Dani Ceballos and the capability of Joe Willock to carry the ball from deep to the last third, the German stays Arsenal’s best creative talent.
So, the fact he’s averaging a goalcontribution once every 684 moments in all competitions this year is not really good enough and something Arteta knows he should attempt to solve.
When Nicolas Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli came in the summertime, nobody would have predicted that it would be the Brazilian adolescent who’d have a larger impact on Arsenal’s season.
Pepe was expected to place the Premier League alight following his team-record $93m signing from Lille, while many considered Martinelli would play the majority of his football at the Under-23 level.
Martinelli, who had been playing state soccer in Brazil before signing for Arsenal, is averaging goal participation once every 90 minutes, that is a better rate than anybody else in the group, and by some space too.
Pepe, meanwhile, has scored five goals, two of which have been from open play, and contains the exact same number of assists.
There is no doubt Arsenal could have expected more in their big-money coming and will want to do all they can to get the most out of him so he could begin showing the type of form that saw him shine so brightly for Lille final season.
However, with Martinelli in such fine shape, it makes it hard for Arteta to leave him out, as shown prior to the mid-season break once the teenager was favored to Pepe, who was an unused substitute against Burnley.
Reiss Nelson’s impending return to fitness will also be problematic for Arsenal’s club-record signing.
Arsenal’s head coach has been placing lots of time into getting more from Pepe. He’s been showing him movies and working on his placement in training, trying to make him more of an influence in the last third.
There have been some promising signs and Pepe will be given every chance to demonstrate his worth, but the development of Martinelli signifies his place in the starting XI can not be taken for granted.