Ok, a week ago we beat Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time since 2006 and that victory, in particular, should be enjoyed by Arteta and the Arsenal fans. Arsenal then managed to turn the tables on Molde in the Europa League on Thursday night after falling a goal behind to secure a reasonably comfortable 4-1 win.
The first half was shockingly average and disjointed, which indicates that either God is an Arsenal fan or that Molde are the Norwegian equivalent of Manchester United. Two decent victories under the belt should be good for the squad’s confidence, but there’s a real danger of getting carried away, with many fans predicting that a substantial corner has been turned. It certainly hasn’t!
It’s important to remember that this current United side is the worst in living memory and Molde are a notch above a decent pub side. I take nothing away from Arsenal, they were professional and worked incredibly hard to get the wins, but there’s a long way to go before they look like the real deal in the Premier League and these victories slightly skew the job at hand for Arteta.
Big improvements need to be made, with the Gunners in desperate need of a consistent run of form and that includes winning against the top six sides in the Premier League and also the strugglers and battlers of the division, I think these types of celebratory statements are slightly premature.
I’m not being a killjoy but there are still some issues that Mikel Arteta has to resolve to achieve the success that he and the Arsenal supporters crave. Let’s have a look at some of those areas where Arsenal have to do better.
A. Goals From Open Play:
The United game was won by a penalty, but Arsenal cannot win a game from chances that are worrying. In the top flight, especially in the Champions League, a team may get just two chances. At present, Arsenal need seven or eight, with Lacazette guilty of squandering the most chances, especially against Liverpool with two identical moves, both thwarted by the keeper. Arsenal need to become ruthless in front of goal and had they been so, the deadbeats they’ve suffered this season could have easily been draws or wins.
B. Poor Service:
Aubameyang has experienced a recent five-match drought but instead of blaming his wide position, let’s talk about the lack of service. The general play has been a bit too rigid to facilitate the Gabon striker’s qualities. The ball is irritatingly played out from the back, down the flank, back to midfield, and back down the flank.
Apart from David Luiz, who can ask questions with his ability to make a long-distance pass, Arsenal tend to play from back to front. I’m not suggesting that they play the direct route all the time but, they should mix it up more by being less predictable.
On paper, there is an undeniable threat from so many Arsenal players going forward but sadly, that isn’t equating to goals and the emphasis appears to be on its main strikers, which many will say is justified. However, goals have to come from all over the pitch and in the golden days of Arsenal, that responsibility was shared by the likes of Ray Parlour, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Freddie Ljungberg, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, and even Sol Campbell, or Tony Adams.
With Arsenal unable to surge fluently forward at this stage in the transformation, it’s easy to blame Aubameyang’s role out wide but Arteta quite rightly informed the media that his top striker had scored plenty from the same wide position.
He failed to point out that a good many of those strikes were self-made or opportunist efforts from a natural predator but week in week out, it’s obvious from an armchair. Arsenal have two top quality strikers and at least, one should be approaching double figures but the fact that they aren’t, tells you all you need to know.
C. Rotation Policy:
I’m going to sound like a fossil here but I think, apart from injuries or suspensions, a team should be comprised of the manager’s best and most consistent performers. One problem is that Arteta hasn’t had all his players available at the same time. Therefore, he is still assessing match to match what his best side is in the knowledge that more additions are required.
In the middle, Arsenal need a competitive, aggressive, and creative core but currently, it’s difficult to see the best option to play alongside Thomas Partey. I’m not even sure that the Ghanaian will eventually line up with either Ceballos, Xhaka, or Elneny because although the trio have various aspects of what’s required, none are at the same level as Partey.
The performance at Old Trafford was a great opportunity to re-evaluate the position of Mohamed Elneny who had his best outing in an Arsenal shirt but would this pairing dominate against Liverpool or Manchester City?
D. Defensive Cohesion:
Gabriel was outstanding in the United vs Arsenal game, as was Holding, but Arteta will eventually have to replace David Luiz with either Mari or Saliba. Injuries have had an impact on the available choices but the backline needs to be fairly static in my opinion, even if there are tweaks in other departments.
George Graham’s defence was rarely changed and contained the same five faces that we associate with probably the best defence in this country had ever seen (Adams, Bould, Keown, Winterburn, and Dixon). The signs are that Gabriel will be a major influence in the coming seasons with his desire, authority, and physical strength, but he will need support from someone with the same qualities.
Then there’s the question of flat back four or a back three. A back three allows the Gunners to press further up the pitch quickly, but it’s also set to allow players to drop back into a back five.
Alternatively, the right combination of defenders in a back four would still give attacking options as well as presenting a formidable wall to their opponents. I’m looking forward to finding out which system Arteta finally chooses. I’m a big fan of the central defensive partnership remaining consistent to create a great understanding. This is essential to the side’s success in the future.
E. Too Many Players The Same:
I’m starting to think that Arteta has a massive job on his hands trimming the fat of the inflated Arsenal squad. Yes, Arsenal have too many defenders and that will likely change in the summer, but he has an abundance of players that can play out on the flank that is much of a muchness.
Nelson, Willian, Pepe, and Maitland-Niles give the Gunners width by sprinting forward, but they offer the same in many ways. Based on performance, seized opportunities, and overall potential, I’d have to lean in favour of retaining AMD and Nelson.
Willian hasn’t made the grade so far for me, one first-class performance and a few steady showings, but nothing to guarantee a regular starting slot. Pepe, Arsenal’s new whipping boy, and most frustrating signing, continues to burn in a long fuse but there is evidence of a player in there, even if it’s predominantly a one-footed player.
F. Out From The Back:
The insistence of playing out from the back has the potential to damage any top-four aspirations for Arsenal that Mikel Arteta might have. Sometimes, the side seem comfortable, on other occasions, it is a cringeworthy and nervous affair that has fans hiding behind their outstretched fingers as the danger of a short ball threatens to yield a goal.
Also, Leno isn’t completely comfortable with the ball at his feet and I’d be advising him to offload it to a defender quickly. I’d also be advising the defenders to avoid passing it back to Leno to avoid any dramas. Whilst on the subject, I’d be encouraging Leno to punt the ball out when in doubt.
There’s nothing wrong with thumping the ball forward and giving chase, especially with Aubameyang and Lacazette giving chase. I noticed that Leno did just that on occasions against United and it seemed a good option if only to add another dimension in attack whilst keeping the opposition from pushing forward. The spirit shown in these two games was commendable as it was undeniable, but there are still ways to improve.
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