Despite Arteta’s upbeat press conference and the improved second half display the Arsenal Manager must inwardly know his team are seriously underperforming. There is an adage in sport and in this case, it is highly appropriate, the table does not lie! The last time The Gunners stared a season this badly, I am told, was 1974/75, and that season Arsenal finished 16th, only sure of avoiding relegation in the final month.
Another old cliché that comes to mind, is that Arsenal are lucky there are three teams worse than them, but that is hardly the mindset we wish to be adopting. After all, this squad finished 2019/20 well and won the FA Cup, beating top opposition in the process. Arteta needs to have a serious think about his existing strategies and consider what is not working and what needs to change, and he needs to do this well before Sunday’s visit of Burnley. Whilst Dundalk may not be the sternest opposition this week, perhaps he might use the trip to look at a few potential changes and ideas.
- The most fundamental alteration needs to be in the ethos. Arteta seems far to cautious in his approach and this is adversely affecting the moral and performance of his players. So, change number one, is simply to allow his talented players to express themselves, take risks and play with more freedom. In essence, if they understand what to do when they lose the ball, then encourage adventure in the opposition third. Endeavour take ons and ambitious creative passing. Ball retention with sideways passing sadly has become less about ball retention of the football and more about passing the buck and responsibility.
- Now is the time to be brave with selection decisions and pick players on merit and attributes and not past service, loyalty, or reputation. We all know Willian is a superb footballer at his best, but he is either past that peak or short on confidence. Playing the Brazilian continuously, in the hope that he finds his form, is a luxury Arteta no longer has and it will be having an adverse effect on Reiss Nelson and Pepe. The same applies to the midfield partnership of Xhaka and Ceballos. It worked on the run-in last season, but it is patently obviously not working now.
- With Partey potentially side-lined, the player, closest in attributes might be Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The young man must be desperate to play in his preferred central role and his MOTM display, admittedly against a weak Vienna side, suggests he can add much need athleticism and alternative dimension to Arsenal’s play. The young England International will make runs with the ball, attempt give and goes and crucially get into the opposition penalty area. However, unlike Xhaka and Ceballos he has the pace and energy to get back in the breakdown.
- Whilst applauding the return to 4231, that on its own is not enough without resolving the central attacking midfield role, which I am loath to call the ‘10’ role. I don’t want an Ozil style 10 and we obviously, for whatever reason, won’t have that, but to play this formation the team needs a link player, comfortable between the lines, who can beat a man and has an eye for a pass. Playing Aubameyang centrally without the link player is pointless. Arteta has tried both Willock and Lacazette in the hole and it suits neither. The standout candidate is Emile Smith Rowe, and I would love Arteta to use him there on Thursday, build his confidence and if it works, take him off after 60 and start him at home to Burnley.
- The final crucial change to implement surrounds the use of the fullbacks. Both Tierney and Bellerin like to attack and should be encouraged to do so. However, I would like to see two caveats introduced. Firstly, what I call the marionette principle, if one fullback is in the attack on one flank, the opposite fullback should stay, leaving three at the back always, protecting us from the counter. Secondly whilst Arteta applauded the number of crosses his team tossed into the box against Spurs, the majority were lofted or overhit, Our crosses from overlapping fullbacks need to be either cut backs or low and hard across the six yard box. It is this style of supply that will cause maximin discomfort for our opposition and the likes of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Nketiah and Smith-Rowe will convert. We do not have Giroud in the squad anymore so why provide a supply of wasted crosses for an imaginary centre forward.
One way of another Arteta needs to energise and changes to fortunes of this Arsenal team, and fast, or January will be about attracting players for a relegation fight and not ones to push for silverware.
An edited version of this article was posted on Sun Digital yesterday here.
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.