Unpacking The Mess At Arsenal And What Comes Next Under Mikel Arteta

After letting Manchester City come to the Emirates on Sunday and comfortably walk away with the three points, Arsenal have dropped down to 10th place in the Premier League. Of course, losing to Man City in itself is not so bad, but to put up such a weak performance will be the real disappointment for Arsenal fans.

It only took two minutes for De Bruyne to give City the lead, and the game was wrapped up when that lead reached 3–0 before half time. The reality is that this was just another in a long line of poor showings from Arsenal, which has actually saw them fall to a negative 3 goal difference in the league.

For further evidence of the dreadful season Arsenal are having, you only need to look at their recent form. They have managed just one win from their last twelve games in all competitions. That’s one win since the 24th October. A run of results that embarrassing seems almost impossible for a club of Arsenal’s size and for a squad that expensive.

To make matters worse this form spans across two different coaches. Yes, the situation at Arsenal is such a mess that they couldn’t even get a new manager bounce when Freddie Ljunberg was installed as interim head coach replacing Unai Emery. Failing to see an upward trend in results or even performances makes it clearer, to any degree that it wasn’t already, that there are major flaws within the squad as well as with the managers.

So what are the deficiencies in the playing staff assembled by Arsenal? We might as well start with the most blatant area of weakness and that is in the heart of their defence. Time and time again they are punished for their lack of quality at the centre back position, something made all the more ridiculous by the fact that they knew that was the case coming into the season but failed to rectify it in the transfer market.

Truthfully, Arsenal’s decisions in the summer window were confusing at the time, but after seeing how the first few months of the season have played out, they now seem closer to thoughtless. Despite already being a top heavy team, they opted to spend big on a winger in Nicolas Pepe and go budget at centre back with David Luiz.

Now this isn’t a criticism of Pepe because in the end I think he will go on to be an excellent player for Arsenal. Where the problem does lie however, is they ended up in a situation where Pepe couldn’t even get into the starting eleven while David Luiz has been a regular in their backline alongside Sokratis, who combine to form one of the most error prone centre back combos in the Premier League.

Of course they also bought William Saliba, who has remained on loan at Saint-Ettiene for the 2019/20 season, but that doesn’t make matters any better. It’s likely that Saliba will be a big addition for their defence in the long run but it doesn’t change the fact that coming into this season they knew centre back was perhaps their biggest weakness and their plan to fix it short term was to buy David Luiz.

Another problem that Arsenal have to contend with is the fact that while their best player is operating at his peak, they are in the early stages of rebuilding their team. By the time the 2020/21 season starts Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be 31, which means ideally Arsenal would already have a quality team built around him to compete in the top competitions.

Instead, you’re looking at a situation where the biggest strength of this Arsenal squad is maybe the amount of young talent they have at their disposal. By the time they have found their way out the current mess and developed this crop of players coming through, Aubameyang’s prime Arsenal years may have been wasted. Still looking at their striker situation, to have both Aubameyang and Lacazette on the books, while seriously lacking in quality both in defence and central midfield is simply poor squad planning.

In order to get them both into the starting lineup a two striker formation is required, at least that is if you’re going to get the best out of them. Already that is limiting whoever the manager is quite significantly. More importantly, to have two of your best players in the same position, who were both bought for large transfer fees within six months, should be an indicator there are problems with the transfer decisions at Arsenal.

Then there’s also Mesut Ozil to consider. He’s on a massive deal that doesn’t run out until 2021, but right now his performances are from justification for the amount he’s earning. Under Emery Arsenal actually found themselves in a position where their highest earner was being left out of the match day squad regularly.

With the benefit of hindsight I think many fans would accept that letting Ozil leave, as they did with Sanchez, would have been the better option instead of breaking their wage structure to keep him at the club. Maybe going forward Ozil rediscovers some of his best form, but in the more likely scenario that he doesn’t, it won’t exactly be easy to move him on either.

What’s next for Arsenal then? It appears Mikel Arteta is the chosen one to be their next permanent manager, and honestly I quite like that choice. Before going any further, it is worth saying that as Arteta has no previous experience as a manager that it is hard to properly judge this appointment. What I will say though, is that a lot of the talk of this being too risky an option is overplayed.

What coach out there, that Arsenal could realistically attract, wouldn’t be a gamble? Who out there would have come in and been a nailed on success? There are none. When they appointed Emery they went for experience and a trophy record but look where that got them. This time maybe a different route is best.

Moreover, as mentioned previously, there is a lot of quality young talent on that Arsenal roster so opting for a younger coach who can oversee a longer term project is ideal. The circumstances he is arriving into might help him as well. After what we have seen from Arsenal so far this season, the expectations for this squad are almost nonexistent and the current campaign is bordering on a write-off.

Such a low bar for the remainder of 2019/20 would allow Arteta to find his feet and assess his squad properly. That’s not to mention that with his arrival, you would expect, would come the style of football that Arsenal fans want to see back at the Emirates. A more attacking brand of football would be a change from the more pragmatic approach of Unai Emery that in the end was near lifeless.

As for the players, one idea that has been circulating on social media is the sale of Lacazette to free up more funds that can be redistributed to other positions more in need of reinforcements. For me it is a far from ideal scenario, but Arsenal cannot afford to enter another season without seriously addressing the centre back and central midfield positions.

If we were to be looking for the positives that Arsenal can build upon, then obviously there are the two mentioned already in Aubameyang and the promising group of youngsters. Aside from that they look to have a quality fullback pairing in Tierney and Bellerin, once they can get them both fit of course. Finally there is Bernd Leno who is quietly going under the radar as one of the best keepers in the league.

So, there is plenty for Arteta to work with when he returns to Arsenal as head coach and should Arsenal implement a better strategy in the transfer market, then I think their fans have plenty to be optimistic about. At the time of his departure it was said you don’t want to be the man who replaces Wenger, the expectations would be too high. Now however, Arteta can give Arsenal a fresh start and watching to see if he can succeed will be one the Premier League’s most interesting plots going forward.

Originally published at http://jackmccutcheon.com on December 18, 2019.

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