Whilst there is no escaping the stark fact that Arsenal were very poor and outplayed by an organised and well-drilled Palace side, we equally cannot ignore that prior to Monday, Arteta’s team had successfully engineered 5 successive away wins in the Premier League. In isolation, it is therefore logical to view the 3-nil defeat as a blip, but what will be more concerning to management and fans is the injuries to key players.
Nuno Tavares looked a shadow of the player that raised hope and expectation earlier in the campaign, so the loss of such an important player as Kieran Tierney for the remainder of the season will be damaging. In addition, it looks as if Arteta may be without the influential and usually calming presence of Thomas Partey, at least for the visit of Brighton this weekend. We also do not know why Tomiyasu, who we have all seen in training pictures, is not yet deemed ready for selection.
All of the above – along with the sheer lack of goal threat with Lacazette ploughing a lone furrow – must be giving our young Spanish Manager of the Month something of a headache. Allowing so many players to be sold or loaned in January, without replacing them has put Arsenal in a fabulous position for the summer, with a drastically reduced wage bill, but it was always a gamble. To tempt the star striker, Arteta will want Champions League to offer but to attain top 4 with such a thin squad was a big ask.
Looking at his options ahead of the visit of a Brighton side in poor form, the Arsenal manager somehow needs to lift his troops and come up with a plan to swiftly return to winning ways, get back into 4th and apply pressure back on our North London neighbours, who face a tricky visit to Villa Park on Sunday. Considering the injuries, the shattered confidence of Tavares and the fact that his captain is running on empty and offers minimal goal threat, Mikel surely must be considering a new approach.
Arteta has enjoyed success with three centre backs in the past, winning the FA Cup in 2020 with a 3421 formation and I wonder is he might be tempted to consider a variation of that. Arsenal have seldom played with 2 strikers in recent seasons, but from my perspective, when so weakened in the full-back areas a 352 set up looks appealing.
The system is solid against the strong teams we still have to face but also fluid and allows all of our best attacking talent on the pitch simultaneously. It is in essence a 352 that swiftly becomes a 3232 in attacking transition. This allows Holding to come in at the back in between White and Gabriel. He is an old head, and I would see him replacing Lacazette as skipper on Saturday. He only needs to defend, which we all know he does well, and we still have 2 ball playing centre backs, so we will not need Holding to pass long or carry the ball, which are his weaknesses.
Sambi Lokonga, who looked lively and not as rusty as I expected at Selhurst Park, would play to the right of Xhaka, with Odegaard, just ahead, completing the central midfield three. This allows Saka and Smith Rowe to occupy the left and right box-to-box wide midfield roles. If Arteta wants to restore Nuno Tavares’ confidence, then he too can be considered for a wide role, with less defensive responsibility. The young Portuguese is undoubtedly more of a wingback than a full-back anyway.
This brings us to the big call, and the reason for this set up – It allows Arsenal to be solid at the back but potentially doubles our threat in the opposition penalty box, with strike partners. Martinelli reportedly does not see himself as a centre forward, but perhaps that view has been based on the single striker set up and the onus it puts on hold-up and link play. Given a free role to play off and around a partner who would stay central might suit the Brazilian and his high energy press would be even stronger and last longer if he did not have to track back on the left. The really big call though is who should partner Martinelli and based on the energy Nketiah showed when coming on and Lacazette’s tired efforts, I would like to see Eddie play with a partner. The young Englishman has always looked like an 18-yard box predator who needed a partner to flourish and less of a player on his own.
I recognise that many will feel this harsh on our current skipper, who has run himself ragged for the team in the past 3 months. However, that is the problem, the French veteran has not just run ragged, but I fear he has run himself in to the ground. The international break has not looked to revive him, and many have already been calling for Martinelli through the middle before the defeat on Monday. This 352 in defence, morphing to a 3232 in attack might just offer more potency, negate the loss of our strongest full backs, whilst keeping our most creative players all in the starting 11.
Whether this is a formation for the long-term, I am not sure, although I know many Saliba supporters will favour it, but without Partey, Tierney, Tomiyasu and with Lacazette’s lack of goals I think it is a system that could surprise a few.
This is the full unedited version of yesterday’s Sun Football 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.