Every Arsenal fan is looking towards the summer wondering how their team will emerge and who will represent their interests next season but in the meantime, the post-mortem continues on a season so poor that many now see Arsenal as a spent force or mid-table side.
You can cite Covid-19, the lack of fans, financial problems, and adjustments in personnel if that makes you feel better, but Arsenal are an epically average side at present. The squad contains some diamonds which will certainly help Arsenal to emerge from this shambolic Premier League season with a degree of hope, but a great many players need to move on.
As we reflect on the season, we look back at some things that are abundantly clear for every seasoned ticket holder as well as the average football fan. Here, we look at the top five errors of Arsenal’s chaotic campaign in our opinion:
1. STILL BRITTLE AT THE BACK
Despite claims that Mikel Arteta had worked miracles with his defence, it’s become clear that it hasn’t improved that drastically or to the point where the Gunners can be considered challengers for any top trophies. Arteta’s decision to loan out William Saliba and allow Konstantinos Mavropanos to continue his football education elsewhere were at best naive.
It’s hard to be rational about that error when the formation of defence has been so unstable and with several players that aren’t at the required standard. Chambers and Holding have been treading water for years and lack quality to improve the Arsenal cause.
David Luiz is coming to the end of his time at Arsenal and although he is more than capable of slapstick defending, he has experience at the highest level and is a player others look to for guidance. He has to hand over to someone younger either next season or the season after and having one or both of the loanees back at Arsenal could have been hugely beneficial.
Let’s cut to the chase now and be honest, Arsenal should rid themselves of Bellerin, Cedric, Holding, Chambers, and Mari and implement a solid back four for the next decade which includes both Tierney and Gabriel.
2. POOR CHOICES
Team selection has been poor on occasion and has cost valuable points with a series of disjointed and spiritless performances. One reason is that Arteta hasn’t really got a first choice eleven, but even when the favoured few have been available, he has sometimes decided not to employ them or play them out of position.
Perhaps, the strangest choice was to play Xhaka at LB when Cedric and Saka were both fit and the continuous exclusion of Martinelli in favour of Willian, Pepe, or Aubameyang. Out of that trio, at least Pepe has made notable progress in his claim for a regular starting position.
At the heart of Arteta’s problem is a lack of cohesion in all three departments with each misfiring at crucial times. Individual errors at the back including Leno’s gaffs, an inability to exert control in the midfield or create openings, and finally, a lack of penetration from the strikers who have missed more goals than they’ve scored.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the club’s captain and talisman, has been the major reason for Arteta’s problems this term and had he delivered to the same standard as last season, then Arsenal were certainly looking at a top-six finish minimum.
Yet, Arteta has made massive decisions that just don’t sit right, the biggest being in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final where he played without a recognised striker. Had it worked, he would have been hailed a genius but it didn’t, the only one who thought it might was Mikel Arteta.
The Spaniard isn’t getting his message across to his team in a tactical sense with his admission that the side failed to follow his direction, something that Alexandre Lacazette also claimed, so why is that?
It’s not as if Arteta is inarticulate, far from it, so is he trying to employ tactics that are beyond his personnel, or are his instructions being ignored on purpose because the players don’t believe in them. We are just three into our chosen five and already you can see that Arsenal were going to fail early in the early stages of the proceedings due to key and fundamental errors.
In a recent blog, I said that Arteta perhaps needed to adjust his tactics because he wasn’t working with the quality of players that were at his disposal at City and that it wasn’t a case of one size fits all tactically. I suggested that a new strategy might need to be employed to get the best out of what he has.
4. THE MIDFIELD VOID
So Ozil went on his way in the most toxic divorce in football history but having ensured that the German playmaker was moved on whilst Arsenal continued to pay for the majority of his wages, they failed to replace his skills adequately.
— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) April 26, 2021
Yes, Ozil didn’t exactly deliver his talent regularly, but Ceballos was never a suitable replacement in any sense and the late inclusion of Smith Rowe and Odegaard meant that the void had already impacted on a side that for periods couldn’t find the net. Last season, it was evident that Arsenal weren’t providing the service for its celebrated strike duo but Arsenal blatantly ignored the fact in the summer and only reacted in January with the loan of Martin Odegaard.
Arsenal are guilty of shortsightedness and that includes Kroenke, Edu, and Arteta. Arteta has a certain degree of latitude in this area because he hadn’t assembled the bulk of this squad and therefore achieved miracles with Arsenal in his first season including the FA Cup win against Chelsea but the fact is that side overachieved and weren’t capable of kicking on.
That leads us on to the continuous mismanagement of the club at the highest level with poor recruitment a key factor in Arsenal’s fall from grace. There appears to have been a lack of leadership both on and off the field and it’s clear that there has been a lack of a strategy by a host of disingenuous, non-football folk or those that were only out to serve their own best interests.
This was never more evident than with Kroenke as the hands-off landlord, Gazidis as the obsessive self-publicist, Sanllehi who employed smoke and mirrors to achieve his private ends, and Sven Mislintat who tended to put his reputation before that of the club.
This circle of ineptitude was always going to drag the club down to where it currently sits. Fans are having to realise that they aren’t the force they once were and it’s unlikely they will be unless the club finds its heart behind the scenes to mirror it on the pitch.
History isn’t relevant to the here and now and it certainly doesn’t guarantee trophies, you have to earn those, and Kroenke’s commercial decision to join the ESL has ostracised him further from the fan base if that were possible. A club needs to be solid from top to bottom to ensure success and if any of the elements aren’t solid, it will eventually show. I’m not sure Arsenal have realised why they are in their current position, they need to learn from their errors this season but it’s doubtful they will.