In hindsight perhaps yesterday was not the best day to opt for my first away trip of this season. However, I was looking forward to Arsenal and Arteta building on the magnificent team performance against City and starting another glorious run in the competition we have won in 4 of the last 8 seasons.
Obviously. I knew the team would be different, with players departing for AFCON, and the opportunity would be taken rotate, but I was not prepared for the news that Smith Rowe and Tomiyasu were unavailable through minor injury and Xhaka through COVID. I have absolutely no doubted that Smith Rowe and Xhaka would have started and maybe the Japanese international might have.
Of course, the unavailability of Xhaka and Smith Rowe, leaving Arteta made the decision to allow Maitland- Niles to go before the weekend, even stranger. It is not as if the player being cup-tied impacted Roma after all. It does not even require hindsight to know that losing Partey and Elneny would leave us light, but the absence of Xkaka as well makes the Maitland- Niles decision virtually negligent.
Most of us wanted Charlie Patino to gain more playing time but envisaged this being in a similar fashion to his debut against Sunderland. Allowing the talented youngster to enter the fray at the City Ground with the game won and the pressure lessened. As it was Arteta left himself being forced to rely on Patino as a starter against a form Championship team and it backfired horribly.
However, unlike some, I find the young player almost entirely blameless. Yes, he did not shine but for me, this was down to the manager’s decision to change the team set up from the recently highly successful 4231, to a 4141 deploy Patino and Odegaard as dual ‘8’s and leaving Sambi Lokonga isolated. This isolation was telling in defence but more so as the distances between him and Patino and Odegaard left Arsenal without the strong platform our usual double pivot (both strong passers) provides.
Many seem to be observing that Patino partnered Lokonga and under-performed but for me it appeared he followed his manager’s instruction on position and as a result, whilst he was neat and tidy when he did receive the ball, seldom received it. Watching Arsenal of late has been all about building from the back, with Ramsdale of the centre backs feeding Partey or Xhaka. Yesterday I can only recall Sambi receiving the ball in this fashion on a few occasions. The single CM did not work really early in the season, when we scraped wins over Burnley and Norwich, as I recall, and it was obviously not working yesterday.
Surprising then (understatement) that our manager, so swift to drag off and underperforming Tavares, could not see that the single pivot was hindering the team defensively and hugely impacting the fluidity of our build up in attack. The efficient early service to Saka and Martinelli was no existent and Odegaard and Patino could not exert any influence. I was stunned that after half time that Arteta has not either moved Patino to play with Lokonga in a 4231 or taken the youngster off and put Chambers on as a defensive partner for the Belgian or in defence to allow Ben White to fulfil that function.
It was this decision to persevere with the 4141, as much as the decision to stick with Nketiah, who was playing as if his mind was elsewhere, that cost Arsenal their place in this year’s FA Cup. I am a believer in what Arteta is endeavouring to do at my club but yesterday I feel his decision to allow Maitland-Niles to leave early and change the system the structure that has given his team such confidence, not only cost us dearly but could have hindered Patino’s confidence and development.
Fans and media alike are speculating that this is the Spaniard’s way of sending a clear message to the board to invest in January. I sincerely hope this is not the case as I would think less of Arteta because Arsenal are out of a competition that we fans adore for no reason at all that I can see. He and his coaching staff has much to dwell on before 2 matches in 4 days that can define Arsenal’s season and no new signings can alter that!
This is the full, unedited version of yesterday’s Sun Arsenal Fan’s View Column.
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.