The dreadful performance by Arsenal and shock defeat in the 3rd round of the FA Cup against Nottingham Forest was met with anger on social media with many wanting Mikel Arteta sacked but hold on. The week before, fans were congratulating that same manager for a stellar performance against Guardiola’s City and there was an air of increased optimism for the future.
It was easy to predict the reaction of some within the fanbase after Nottingham Forest swept past Arsenal because the club’s support tends to fluctuate between positive and negative depending on the results, but the reasons for the loss are more complex than just a lack of intensity.
Here we look at a few reasons why the performance in the FA Cup was so contrasting to the loss against City and what Mikel Arteta needs to do in the immediate future.
I. Sambi Lokonga hasn’t had much game time before AFCON and it showed. Training will never prepare any footballer for the intensity of a 3rd round FA Cup away game and alongside another young player, the midfield pivot looked extremely vulnerable.
II. Cedric Soares is no replacement for Tomiyasu and he got continuously caught short as Forest attacked, Arsenal might have been better off flipping Tavares to the right and bringing on Tierney on the left. From my point of view, Cedric needs to be moved onwith, perhaps, Ben White as the natural replacement in an emergency, with William Saliba dropping in as a CD. That’s if he doesn’t leave in the summer.
III. Eddie Nketiah came up short after being given a huge opportunity to shine. One couldn’t even say his running off the ball or hold up play was great. He was distinctly average against a Championship club and would have struggled to make their starting line-up.
IV. Rob Holding is a decent man and a willing professional, but he can not head a ball and lacks strength and positional awareness. Yet again, his feet were slow to move as the signals from his brain somehow went missing on the way to the lower extremities.
V. I’m not a Xhaka fan, but his presence was missed here. His aggressive gun-ho attitude and ‘foot in mentality’ may have been enough to interrupt the Forest flow because Arsenal were far too soft in the middle.
VI. There were three main issues for Arsenal in this game due to the enforced changes.They were light in the defensive cover which eventually cost them, there wasn’t enough creative support in midfield and attack and they were disjointed with the main striker (Nketiah), a peripheral figure seemingly on cruise control.
VII. Tomiyasu and Gabriel were sorely missed and the absence of their combined strength and balance made Arteta’s task much harder. It’s abundantly clear that Arsenal lack the depth of squad normally associated with any competitive football team and when your team is missing a player like Mohamed Elneny, then you realise just how bare their bones are. No disrespect, but Elneny is a jobbing professional, someone who is a solid and committed professional, but some of the replacements aren’t ready to take their place in the spotlight.
VIII. Arsenal had 9 players missing from their ranks due to injury, Covid or AFCON, which limited Arteta’s options. They have been exposed and need flesh on their bones.
IX. Arteta’s rebuild isn’t complete in any shape or form and he needs to bring in more versatile players in this transfer window and the summer. If you were under the illusion that the Spaniard was close to completing his transformation, then you are gravely mistaken.
X. Years of poor recruitment have left Arsenal with a string of substandard players that are not fit for purpose and that they will struggle to move on. With the global pandemic, the North London club may have to lower the price of players if they want to clear the books of fringe players and deadwood.
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A better quality bench may have helped against Nottingham Forest and let’s remember how young the majority of the new and emerging Arsenal stars are. They need time and experience together to get through these tough away battles. The average age of the Gunners’ team this season has been 24.
On reflection, it’s not all doom and gloom but it’s safe to say that although Arsenal had made progress in many areas this season, they have more to do on many levels.
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