Finishing eighth in the Premier League table is never a good thing for a club like Arsenal. After all, the north London outfit has won a plethora of significant trophies during their illustrious history and are used to qualifying for European competitions. While the 2020/21 campaign will be seen as one of the worst seasons in a few decades, there were some noticeable positives to help ease the pain of Arsenal supporters around the world.

The Gunners undoubtedly endured a rough start to their 2020/21 campaign. In fact, they found themselves 15th in the table after their first 14 Premier League matches. However, Arsenal managed to collect 47 points from their final 24 league matches (63% of the season). This was the second-most point total of any team in England’s top flight. So what helped turn their season around? A large chunk of the improvement comes down to a formation change and the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe.

Manager Mikel Arteta regularly deployed a 3-4-3 formation (or some form of a back three) throughout the first few months of the season. However, with his team struggling, both in terms of results and creating goal-scoring chances, Arteta finally went with a 4-2-3-1 for the match against Chelsea on Boxing Day. To fill the role of the number 10 position, the Spaniard chose Emile Smith Rowe. It wasn’t exactly an ideal time for the 20-year-old midfielder to make his first Premier League start of the season. Nevertheless, Smith Rowe played exceptionally well and even provided an assist in Arsenal 3-1 victory against their crosstown rivals.

The formation change and the play of Smith Rowe was a shot in the arm for the team’s anemic attack. Arsenal managed just 12 goals in their opening 14 league games (0.86 goals per match), but netted 43 total goals in their final 24 league matches (1.79 goals per match). Smith Rowe, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Bukayo Saka all benefited going forward from the formation change.

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Arsenal, however, weren’t just scoring more goals following the big Boxing Day victory, The team’s defense also got better. In fact, they managed to allow just 0.88 goals per match in their final 24 league matches of the season. The 21 goals allowed since Boxing Day is only one goal shy of champions Manchester City during this timeframe. It’s been some time since Arsenal were considered to be a good defensive team.

As a young, relatively inexperienced manager, Arteta was bound to go through tough times with Arsenal. Going forward, the Spaniard now knows how to handle certain situations and realizes the best formations for his team. The Gunners most likely won’t be many pundits picks for the top four next season, but there certainly should be some optimism going forward for the fans. With a productive summer transfer window and a continuation of form from the last 24 Premier League matches, Arsenal supporters should be excited for the 2021/22 season.