It has a been a thoroughly disappointing season so far for the Gunners, but the Europa League still offers the hope of significant silverware, and, perhaps more important, a back door into the Champions League next season. But is their defence up to the job?

Bernd Leno and Shkodran Mustafi of Arsenal celebrate victory during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on February 16, 2020 in London, United Kingdom.
LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 16: Bernd Leno and Shkodran Mustafi of Arsenal celebrate victory during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on February 16, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

It may sound counter-intuitive to focus on the defence, but at this stage of major European competition, when all the games are played over two legs, the ability to keep a clean sheet, particularly away from home, can make all the difference.

Last season’s winners, Chelsea, scored plenty of goals in the knockout stages, but it was their tight defence that ultimately made the difference. They conceded only one goal in their first four games of the knock-out rounds, and then earned a solid 1-0 win in Prague in the first leg of their quarter final, that ultimately proved the difference in that tie. And it was their stout defence that enabled them to edge out Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-final.

So when you’re looking for the best football betting apps to bet on the title chances for the Gunners this year you might want to consider whether Arsenal’s new-found defensive resilience might help them to land the first European trophy in their history – after possibly improving from last year:

It’s fair to say that defence has not been Arsenal’s strong point in recent seasons. An abundance of attacking talent has often been let down by fragility at the back, which can prove extremely costly in European football. But there are signs, as the Gunners prepare for their first leg Round of 32 game against Olympiakos on February 20, that Arsenal are discovering some defensive resilience.

Arsenal's German goalkeeper Bernd Leno gestures during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium in London on February 16, 2020.
Arsenal’s German goalkeeper Bernd Leno gestures during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium in London on February 16, 2020. (Photo by IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Much of the credit for that has to go to Arteta. The former Gunner favourite, who learned his coaching skills as assistant to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, has produced a remarkable improvement in the way that the team defend as a group, and in the attitude and performance levels of key defenders such as Skhrodan Mustafi and David Luiz.

Mustafi’s transformation has been particularly dramatic. Long regarded as one of the weak links in the squad, Mustafi has turned in some fine performances under Arteta, most notably against Burnley, where he led the line with admirable fortitude and got the better of Burnley’s physically strong centre forward Chris Wood. Mustafi won six out of eight headers during the game and was a standout player at a venue where Arsenal have often struggled in the past.

In fact, in ten games under Arteta across all competitions, the Gunners have only conceded eight goals; a rate of 0.8 per game that compares extremely favourably with the 1.5 they were letting in every game under Unai Emery. They haven’t yet clicked into gear at the other end, and in the short term, have been drawing too many games. But Arteta won’t be too concerned about that for now, as long as he continues to see defensive improvement.

And that defensive improvement may have a further boost with the addition of new players. The Gunners made two significant signings during the January transfer window and it is no surprise that Arteta’s first signings have been two defensive players. The two newcomers who can help the rotation were full-back Cedric Soares from Southampton and centre-half Pablo Mari, of Flamengo. Neither player has made an appearance yet, but they are sure to make an impact soon.

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