Just hours after the Premier League had reopened its doors on June 17 following the coronavirus hiatus, Arsenal fans were quickly praying to see the back of football once more.
The Premier League’s return was met with plenty of buzz and anticipation but as Arsenal travelled up North to face Manchester City, things quickly unravelled for Mikel Arteta’s side.
And there was only one man to blame – David Luiz.
David Luiz endured a horror show on his last outing at Manchester City last season
The Arsenal centre back was at fault for Man City’s opener and then was shown a straight red
The Brazilian had endured one of the worst cameo appearances ever seen in football after coming on as a substitute in the first half for the injured new boy Pablo Mari.
On the brink of half-time at the Etihad, Luiz – whose future was still up in the air having not yet signed a new contract – was at fault for City’s opener after mis-controlling the ball into the path of Raheem Sterling, who emphatically punished the Brazilian.
And things soon turned from bad to horrific in the second half as he was shown a straight red card for fouling Riyad Mahrez in the penalty area. City would end up winning comfortably 3-0 and the result frankly summed up Arsenal’s season to date.
Following the final whistle, Luiz fronted his mistakes head on in front of Sky Sports’ cameras, who had torn into him for his nightmare 25-minute cameo.
‘It was not the team’s fault, it was my fault,’ Luiz admitted straight after the defeat as the rain poured down on him.
His Arsenal career appeared to be coming to a quick end just as the Premier League restarted but fast forward exactly four months as he gears up for his return to the scene of the crime, and things couldn’t be any different for Luiz.
However, Mikel Arteta has continued to put his faith in Luiz and it’s paying off at the Emirates
The former Chelsea defender has hardly put a foot wrong in the heart of defence for the Gunners and his turnaround in fortunes shouldn’t go unnoticed.
He has become a leader for Arteta- a man more than happy to axe his players, including Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi – who is looking to usher in a new era at the Emirates after years of mediocrity under his predecessors.
When fit, Luiz has been an ever-present in Arteta’s backline and the manager clearly has full faith in the 33-year-old.
In fact, Luiz’s comments following his shocker in Manchester go a long way in explaining exactly why Arteta holds him in such regard in north London.
The Brazilian is never one to shy away from his costly mistakes and he will always own up to his dire performances. He knows when he isn’t up to standard and since that fateful day, he realised he had to wise up quickly.
The Gunners have become far more compact since Arteta took over from the sacked Unai Emery, and Luiz has enjoyed some stand-out performances.
Most notably against Saturday’s opponents City in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley as Arsenal upset the odds by winning 2-0 before going on to beat Chelsea in the showpiece final.
Luiz celebrates after Arsenal lifted last season’s FA Cup following their victory over Chelsea
While Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was Arsenal’s hero, Luiz was a stalwart in the heart of defence that day, shutting out Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Mahrez and Co in emphatic fashion. On days like that, he justifies exactly why he has had the career he has.
It was a far-cry from his display at the Etihad just a month before and Arteta was in no doubt that he would be able to rely on his man.
‘I didn’t have any doubts about his reaction’, Arteta said following the Wembley victory. ‘He put his hand up after that game, he didn’t have to do that because we all make mistakes.
‘But the way he’s been performing has been phenomenal. He deserves the praise he gets. I am delighted people see this side of him.’
No one knows him better than Arteta currently, and if he continues to put 100 per cent trust in him, than maybe Luiz’s doubters should listen to the manager.
While his performances on the pitch have impressed in recent times, he is becoming even more influential on another front.
The one-time Premier League and Champions League winner is a figurehead in the Arsenal changing room and his vast experience shouldn’t be underestimated.
Luiz was a stalwart in defence as Arsenal beat City at Wembley to reach the FA Cup final
Luiz is hugely admired by all within London Colney, his positive outlook on life (viewed as a prankster in the changing room), while remaining grounded despite his past achievements has won the hearts of many at Arsenal.
Joe Willock, a youngster still hoping to establish himself as a regular in the Arsenal first-team, can’t speak any fonder of Luiz. He is just one of many who has spoken in glowing terms about the defender.
‘The player I look up to most at Arsenal has to be David Luiz,’ Willock admitted back in May. ‘Not only is he an amazing player, he’s an amazing person as well. He’s like a mentor and a big brother to me.’
Calum Chambers’ assessment of Luiz is also commonly shared by his team-mates: ‘David has been brilliant, he has come in and no-one in the club has a bad word to say about him.
‘He is one of the nicest guys I have met, he talks to you, gives you advice and makes everyone feel like he is giving you his undivided attention.’
But perhaps most significantly going forward as Arteta goes in the hunt of bringing back the glory days at Arsenal, the impact Luiz can have on Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba could be extremely important.
Luiz’s influence on Gabriel Magalhaes could be vitally important going forward at the Emirates
Arteta clearly wants to keep Luiz at the Emirates so he can share his wealth of knowledge and experience with the club’s younger players.
With Brazilian compatriot Gabriel still settling into life at Arsenal, Luiz has welcomed him with open arms and will play an integral role in aiding his development during his early career at the club. And the same can be said for Saliba.
The duo are viewed as the centre back pairing for the future under Arteta, and it’s necessary they receive the right mentorship as they continue to adapt to their new surroundings.
But before all that, Luiz still has a job to do on the pitch and will need to continue his fine form if Arsenal want to reclaim their place in the Champions League.
It’s a very tall order but if Luiz is at his best, while those up front and new boy Thomas Partey can work their magic, then Arsenal might just have a chance in what is set to be a massively unpredictable season.
And Luiz will be desperate to right a wrong when he returns to the Etihad on Saturday evening…
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