Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Where Do Arsenal Go From Here?

Following last night’s 3-1 triumph over London rivals Chelsea, Arsenal find themselves slumped in 15th position, just 6 points out of the relegation zone. A string of poor results has left fans furious and unsure where to shift the blame; some are mainly targeting Mikel Arteta, some the players and some Edu, whilst a number of fans are viewing it as a collective problem throughout the club. The three points yesterday were absolutely crucial to the Gunners’ immediate future, and it gives them momentum to build from in their winnable upcoming fixtures.

Despite only being in the job for roughly a year, Mikel Arteta had already experienced the dramatic highs and lows of football. Just this summer, fans were ecstatic with the Spaniard as he guided Arsenal to both the FA Cup and the Community Shield, defeating both Chelsea and Liverpool as underdogs. 4 months later, his side have been looking totally deflated in comparison; their attack have lost their firepower, and his much-improved defence have been leaking goals for fun.

He has already demonstrated his qualities as a manager, however these come with evident weaknesses and massive room for improvement. For example, I believe he studies his opponents very thoroughly, which has been shown in Arsenal’s bigger games, where they appear as a more well-structured unit that limit their opponent’s freedom on the ball.

However, with this comes equally prominent weaknesses. There have been some absurd man-marking decisions when defending set-pieces (which we can assume is ordered at training), often seeing our smaller players taking on the role of marking the opposition’s most dangerous targets in the box. Furthermore, Arteta’s man-management has appeared questionable, alongside his in-game decisions. I am a believer that these qualities will develop with time and experience, though it has definitely not helped Arsenal at the start of this campaign.

Mikel Arteta has already won 2 trophies with Arsenal

Arteta has received lots of praise

Opposition managers have been full of adulation for the Arsenal boss ever since his arrival at the club. Here are a handful of quotes from some of the best in the business, who all see the potential he possesses to become one of the world’s leading coaches:

Pep Guardiola (Manchester City): “He’s one of the best managers I’ve ever worked with, of course, and seen directly. I’m pretty sure he will turn over and will do it like everyone expects. But sometimes when a club comes from not a good period, sometimes it needs time.”

Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool): “Mikel Arteta has shown in a short period of time he seems an exceptional football manager. The structure of his team is exceptional, the balance of the team is really good. He has changed the whole mood of the club.”

Brendan Rodgers (Leicester City): “Mikel has done very well, he has gone into a club with huge expectations which he knows. He has gone in on his first job and how he has dealt with it has been outstanding,”

Jose Mourinho (Tottenham Hotspur):“I like him very, very much. I hope everything goes well for him in his career,”

He has clearly earned a formidable reputation throughout his first managerial year, and though the results aren’t falling for Arsenal right now, those within the profession know his ability and believe he has what it takes to take his former club back to the top.

The Gunners’ squad is underperforming

Mikel Arteta’s squad has no doubt let him down this season, especially over the last few weeks, with red being cards being distributed to Nicolas Pepe, Granit Xhaka and Gabriel, all in totally avoidable situations, and at times when his side have been growing into a game and building some momentum. Though the overall team performances have definitely been under-par, individual mistakes have played a very important role at the same time.

His reliance on senior players has been very unpopular. At times, it has seemed as though certain players are undroppable, despite consistently failing to deliver week-in week-out. Summer signing Willian has been nothing short of disappointing, and star strikers Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have amassed a measly 7 goals between them in the league so far this season.

Arsenal’s senior players, like Willian, have disappointed

Of course, these players hold a higher level of authority in the dressing room than the youth talent, so it is understandable for management to want them happy, but there comes a point where it is essential to progress and to have the courage to drop your ‘best’ players when their previous performances suggest they don’t deserve a space in the starting eleven (this didn’t stop them from freezing out Mesut Ozil, but that is a discussion for another day).

Arsenal’s Young Gunners

There is plenty of reason for Arsenal fans to be optimistic, though. They have a plethora of impressive youth talent at their disposal, and last night’s win at the Emirates only solidified that. 3 of Arsenal’s front 4 yesterday were under-21: Emile Smith-Rowe (20), Bukayo Saka (19) and Gabriel Martinelli (19). Not only did they feature, but they were undeniably 3 of the best players on the pitch.

Since the dismissal of Mesut Ozil from Arteta’s plans, his side have been crying out for some creativity through the middle of the pitch. Lacazette has been tried and failed as a number 10, as he doesn’t have an eye for a killer pass, nor can he develop play forwards. He is a decent hold-up player, but having him behind the striker only slows down Arsenal’s attacks.

Emile Smith-Rowe has deserved a chance in the team for a while now, having performed very well on loan at Huddersfield Town last season. His creativity is something that is much needed, and he is also very positive and keen on the ball; he is not afraid to directly take players on and draw fouls.

One thing that really stood out to Arsenal fans last night, though, was simply the missed presence of a real number 10. Smith-Rowe has exceptional movement and work-ethic off the ball, and he knows how to use the space around him and make himself available in the pocket between midfield and defence. This is a difficult skill to be taught, so it is very helpful having a player to which it comes naturally.

Saka, Martinelli and Smith-Rowe were outstanding for Arsenal against Chelsea

Gabriel Martinelli’s energy and tenacity improves Arsenal as a team. At such a tender age, his mentality is admirable; he chases down every single loose ball, determined to make a difference to the game at every given moment. This quality comes alongside good technical ability and incredible movement in and around the box. Even though he didn’t score last night, Martinelli certainly made his presence felt, and him and Tierney gave Reece James a very difficult time.

Finishing his evening off with a delightful goal, Bukayo Saka had another phenomenal game. He plays with such a high level of maturity, knowing which decision to make and how to execute it. His desire won Arsenal the free-kick that Xhaka scored from, and he further cemented his spot as a certified regular starter for Arteta.

I cannot remember the last time I felt this positive coming away from an Arsenal game, not just due to the result, but the incredible performances, both individually and as a team. The most notable difference between the two teams was energy, and Arteta’s youth talents have it in abundance.

Arsenal’s future

So, where do Arsenal go from here? I believe that recruitment is vital for their future, as their current squad consists of a number of players that I don’t believe are good enough. Of these, Arsenal could receive some decent money for Alexandre Lacazette, Hector Bellerin, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, and Sead Kolasinac to name a few. All of these names have generated interest from other clubs recently, and investing would certainly be a wise decision in my opinion.

There are a number of other players who I don’t see staying regardless, including Sokratis and Ozil, who have both been completely left out of Arteta’s competitive squads this campaign. At the same time, there are a number of those who I think should leave but won’t, for example, Willian, who only just joined, but has massively under-performed whilst eating up fairly big wages.

Arsenal’s transfer window is important both ways though, not only with departures but also new arrivals. They have just recently missed out on one of their targets, Dominik Szoboszlai, who would have given them both creativity and goals from either the midfield or the left flank. Another name that has been floating around is Houssem Aouar, though David Ornstein understands that this interest has begun to fizzle out.

Who else is available for Arsenal in this creative position? Previously mentioned Emile Smith-Rowe is no doubt talented, but they cannot begin to rely solely on these players, both for their development and the club’s. Norwich’s Emi Buendia has been highlighted following an impressive start to their Championship campaign, and would cost the Gunners around £25 million.

Julian Brandt is an option for Arsenal

A new reported option for them is Julian Brandt. He has stood out thus far in an under-performing Borussia Dortmund side. Despite what seem to be underwhelming statistics, with just 1 assist to his name in 13 matches so far, it is important to highlight that he has averaged just 45 minutes per game, and has only started 6 of these 13.

This position isn’t the only place the Gunners need to target, however. The deadline-day signing of Thomas Partey was absolutely huge, and he has looked very impressive every time he has played. Unluckily for Arsenal, despite him having a very favourable career history when it comes to injuries, he has spent most of this season sidelined for that very reason.

A brilliant player, Partey needs adequate company. Elneny partnered him well when they won 1-0 at Old Trafford, but he is certainly not the answer going forward. Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos don’t seem fit to start either, with both putting in poor performances as of late. That leaves Joe Willock who, although talented, doesn’t yet have what it takes to regularly start at such a demanding level.

The best option for me, is that of Yves Bissouma. The Brighton man has been exceptional this season, catching the eyes of many fans and critics alike for his ability to break-up the play and sure-up his side defensively when they need it the most. Having him alongside Partey would allow the Ghanaian to be deployed as more of a box-to-box midfielder, a role which suits him very well.

If recruitments like these are made, then I see a very bright future for Arsenal, though it may take a while for all of the puzzle pieces to come together. The best way for them going forward, in my opinion, is to back the man in charge. Arteta appears well-liked by the players and the backroom staff, and we know that he certainly has the ability. He is learning every day, like the rest of the team, and has already demonstrated what he can do with the little experience he has.

Though things seem bleak in North London, if their cards are played right, the future is bright.

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