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Down But Not Out | What Mikel Arteta Needs to do to Bring Arsenal’s Season Back on Track

Arsenal pressing problem, Mikel Arteta, transfer

The expectation at the beginning of the 2021/22 season was that Arsenal, under the leadership of Mikel Arteta, would show significant growth from the consecutive eighth-place finishes in the past two seasons. However, he has exceeded expectations with the Gunners fighting for a top-four finish, which was a formality under Arsene Wenger.

Mikel Arteta has brought in some fresh faces in the form of Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Martin Odegaard, Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga to boost the squad. He has found success switching from the 4-3-3 formation to the 4-2-3-1 setup. With a stabilized centre-back pairing of Gabriel and White supported by Tierney and Tomiyasu, the Guuners have managed to keep 12 clean sheets this season (Joint 3rd).

Mikel Arteta, Arsenal
Image source:- Caught Offside

The significant change in midfield was Thomas Partey acting as a sole six and Xhaka operating as a defensive midfielder while Odegaard operates from the central midfield, supported on the wing by Bukayo Saka. Arsenal have been more ruthless on the pitch with more effective pressing and ball recoveries higher up the pitch.

The North London side have scored 20 goals in the 14 Premier League games since January. The team was riding high on the back of 5 consecutive wins in February until mid-March before losing against title challengers Liverpool. Still, the future looked bright with games coming up against Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Brighton, and Southampton with a maximum of 12 points available.

Unfortunately, they only managed a solitary win and had to deal with injuries to Partey, Tierney, and Tomiyasu. This is when Arteta got exposed for not replacing outgoing players in the January transfer window. However, the Gunners made good recovery with wins against Chelsea and Manchester United last week.

Now, with games against West Ham(A), and Spurs(A) coming up in quick succession, the pressure is back on the Gunners. There is still some positivity at Arsenal, given the number of changes Mikel Arteta has made to remain in contention for a top-four finish in the first place. He got rid of under-performing players, lowered the average age of the first-team, and reduced the wage bill by giving opportunities to players from the youth team. The scouting and recruitment network seems to have improved drastically.

Moreover, Tomiyasu is set to be back, which will be a huge boost for the Arsenal defence and Mikel Arteta will have to structure the backline properly to deal with the absence of Tierney, who is very effective across the wings. Significantly, the Spaniard will have to find a solution for the goal-scoring woes upfront.

Eddie Nketiah, Alexandre Lacazette
Image Obtained via Premier League News Now

It is visible that the attack has become slightly static and sluggish. Across this Premier League season, only Brighton (-13.6) are performing below their xG more than Arsenal (-10.2). Lacazette and Nketiah are not providing the required quality as centre-forwards. If Arsenal tend to trail in games, they are most likely to not make a comeback because cutting-edge finishing is not there. They need to find a clutch player who can score them some late winners with proven goal prowess.

Arteta will have to come up with some tactical masterclass to deal with and breakdown low-block teams. Against Southampton, Palace and Brighton, they fell to an early goal, and then the opposition maintained a good defensive shape. None of the top four-sides would be satisfied with Lacazette’s four goals in the Premier League and this problem was self-inflicted by Arteta by not signing a striker in January.

Fortunately, Gabriel Martinelli could be the ideal solution to Arteta’s problems. He has blistering pace and an eye for goal, which is an asset for any team. Under Arteta, he has excelled in the left-winger role, but the team’s attacking problems could signal a need for a position swap. Martinelli’s intelligent movement and clinical finishing might be more effective in the penalty area.

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The Gunners have a host of talents to fill in the left-wing position with the likes of Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, and Nicolas Pepe. The priority is to find a striker that can finish the chances created against Palace and Southampton so that Arsenal can become top-four regulars. Martinelli is the best option for the No.9 position until the summer transfer window opens.

The Spanish manager has one year left in his contract and has had enough time to turn the average team into a quality side. Arteta will have to improve his decision-making in times of crisis and when the pressure is on him to survive in the Premier League in the foreseeable future. Mikel Arteta has stabilized the Arsenal squad this season and has earned the respect of his players, but now is the time to take the huge step towards matching the glory days of Wenger’s Invincibles.

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