Debate – Arsenal keep addressing the symptoms but not the real problem

Addressing The Symptoms And Not The Problem. by Nifty

Football is a team sport and not an individual sport, though teams have star players, who often receive praise or criticism depending on the outcome of matches. As good as Messi and Ronaldo are you can’t have eleven of them in one team. Argentina have a galore of attacking talent yet they struggle because they don’t have a balanced team.

It is obvious we were once again let down by our team last season. Our players performances were at times disastrous and their qualities were being questioned. Looking at the bigger picture I have discovered that most of them are good players who have their strengths and weaknesses, in fact they are of top quality. Why then do they under-perform? They have become symptoms of a big problem.

Arsenal have become one of the most poorly run top teams in Europe. Our main problem is not our players performances rather lack of a well-planned functioning system. This has resulted in us assembling an inadequate team with players not meant to play together forced to do so.

Firstly, we have a team without an average winger. A major problem for any coach, midfielder, defender and attacker. The importance of wingers in modern football cannot be overemphasized. They relieve pressure from defenders, give options to midfielders, create spaces for attackers and allow coaches to do some tactical twisting. How we were able to survive last season is beyond my imagination.

Our fullbacks can’t defend while we lack a good game-reading, commanding and composed centre back. Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis are wrestlers while Koscielny has lost pace, a major part of his game. Holding is the only composed CB we have, that’s why he walked into the team easily. Mustafi is not as poor as we think rather it is a case of wrong partnership. He is a wrestler, so he works better with a game reading and composed CB who directs instructions to him. As good as Vermaelen was, it was Koscielny and Mertesacker pairing which worked better. Mertesacker was simply a good game reading CB without pace which Koscielny complemented. So Mertesacker easily directs instructions to Koscielny.

Ramos and Pepe are good defenders but their partnership never impressed me. They conceded so many goals but Madrid always outscored their opponents. They were also card regulars because they resorted to fouls to stop dangerous attacks. Reason, they are both wrestlers of the highest quality.

Sokratis was just a waste of money because for me he is just a more experienced “Mustafi”. We can spend above £100m without building a good defence and we can build a world-class defence for as low as £30m. All it takes is having a good defensive plan and getting the right players and right partnership.

We have one of the worst midfields in the league, not in personnel but as a unit. The main victims are Xhaka and Ozil. There is no reason why those two should play in the same midfield. Xhaka works better with two workaholics who will do more of the marking while he focuses on spreading the ball to wider and attacking areas from deep. Ozil rather works well with a ball retaining DM and a good game controlling, box-to-box CM.

Ozil is, bring the ball to me in attacking areas and I will do the finishing touches. He easily goes missing because he drops deeper than he should. He does not have the energy to take the ball from midfield to attacking positions where he performs his magic, remember he is not getting any younger hence he resorts to the simplest pass.

Has anyone wondered why despite not playing well we were winning matches with Iwobi in the side. It was not because Iwobi is better than any other player. He was only able to offer what was missing in the team, driving the ball from midfield to attacking positions. His end product was frustrating to watch especially considering how often he got himself into those positions, but there was always a possibility of one or two good chances.

Combining with Kolasinac down the left, they were important to our attacks. The problem came when he lost confidence after the mistake against Man City, where everyone turned on him. He started hanging around opponents boxes instead of dropping deep as before to pick up the ball, Emery responded by benching him. Kolasinac’s game also suffered because he was the greatest beneficiary of Iwobi’s dribbles which created spaces for him to operate.

After Kolasinac and Iwobi came Ramsey. Ramsey is a workaholic with great engine, but he lacks vision, an area where Xhaka is strong. He assisted in regaining the ball in midfield which helped Xhaka operate better. His ability to boost forward also supported our attack. The bigger problem came when Ramsey got injured and Ozil was introduced.

Our loses were not because Ozil and Xhaka were bad but because they are not meant to play in the same midfield. Xhaka had to cover more ground while Ozil dropped deeper, which reduced their strengths hence our collapse towards the end of the season. We progressed in the Europa League because Lacazette and Aubameyang had to drop deeper to pick the ball for each other. To fix our midfield we must sacrifice one of Ozil or Xhaka, build our midfield around one, then get good wingers. If they both continue playing together especially without good wingers, we will still struggle.

Spending £58m on Aubameyang still baffles me today. With respect to Aubameyang he is a good striker and he is worth the amount in modern transfer market. However, it makes no sense having two world class strikers that we struggle to fit into the team, especially when we are lacking in other areas. We must sacrifice one of them or build a team which accept two strikers. I will prefer we keep Lacazette because he offers more than goals, he is younger. He can also score both individual and team goals and with the right creativity behind him he will score more. We can then sign a player like Mitrovic as backup in addition to Eddie Nketiah.

I do feel for our players and the coach because aside being footballers, they are first of all human beings. They have emotions and their frustration is always obviously seen. The Europa League final was not lost because Chelsea outplayed us but because of how we handled the first goal. The presence of a natural leader would have helped us.

I believe our energy is wrongly channelled at criticizing our players and every decision of the coach. They are only symptoms of a big problem, lack of a well-planned functioning system and bad management. We can sell all our players and recruit new ones, but the problem still lingers. It will even be more disappointing because most of our current players will go on to have good career elsewhere, while the good ones we bought become frustrating to watch. It was just a matter of time before Toreirra ran out of gas because he was overworked in an unbalanced midfield.

It is no longer ambiguous that our club is not managed properly. A situation which started after the break-up of our golden youths of Fabregas, Nasri and Co. Wenger lost focus and he started building patchy teams. A situation which subjected him to enormous pressure he could no longer handle.

We therefore, as fans, should challenge our management to a productive debate, to demand where our club is heading to, else we will keep addressing the symptoms while the problem persists.



  1. I have been waiting for an article to state exactly this. Arsenal have been buying limited and incomplete players for years, its either they can’t run, defend or shoot, there is usually a BUT with our signings. When we do sign class players, we buy in positions that are not the priority e.g buying Ozil after Cazorla the year before, buying Aubameyang after Lacazette the year before when we needed a DM, winger and CB.

    This all comes to one thing; LACK OF VISION. Gazidis and Wenger were devoid of footballing vision, just look at the Kolasinac signing, one of the worst fullbacks i’ve seen at arsenal but he was bought because he was free. The mismanagement of funds on average players, overpaying finished players, losing valuable players for free. It all boils down to the decision makers and when you have an owner like Kroenke, it a lost cause.

    Hopefully, this new regime will gradually correct the imbalance in the squad and start to correct the financial and personnel problems that has been incurred over the years.

    1. ?With limited resources Arsenal need to utilize some of the academy players and those returning from loan. The U23’s and U18’s both won their respective competitions last year and a year older in season 2019/20, both in experience and physically.
      The available transfer budget requires targetting at the greatest needs; quality, but value CB, LB and winger and replacement for Ramsey if funds allow.

      1. Arsenal should not have limited resources!!!

        Why do a club like Arsenal have limited resources when they are cash rich and are one of the most self sustaining clubs around?

        Maybe the whole “self sustaining” thing is more about saving for profit as opposed to “spend to increase revenue”. I just don’t get how a club like Arsenal cannot see the prizes that come with great investment and media exposure?

        As it is, they spend small and attract small. The sights have been set at top 4 and even that is beyond them.

        Lets face it, this team should have been rebuilt 5 years ago but Wenger had trust in his “also-rans”!

        Look where that got us..

      2. We should but are not and Emery is being foolish. Osei-Tutu already has been sent out on loan. Bellerin is going to miss begining of the season. Are we really going to stick with out of position AMN? Give the guy a chance, ridiculous. And we also seem to not be considering Bieliek in a CDM role even though he has been impressive for U21’s and on his loans. Ridiculous from Arsenal.

        1. Spot on RSH, we have great youth prospects but they’re not given a chance. People talk about how some of our youth aren’t ready, how will they be ready when they’re not given a chance? That Ajax team did not get better by always loaning out their youth and never giving them a chance.

          We have serious gems in Nketiah, Saka, Willock and Smith-Rowe but I’m beginning to think Unai isn’t the man for the job. I will give him one last season but I just don’t see it happening. We instead want to waste money on Claude Maurice, Nkunku, Carrasco etc when we have a limited budget.

          I would suggest getting Malcolm on a season-long loan, give our youth a chance (Saka, Nelson, Smith-Rowe) and then use a good portion of our transfer budget on a CB and a DMF.

          The other positions can be catered for if we manage to move any senior players on.

    2. Spot-on, but I would only apply that “lack of vision” to Kroenke, Gazidis and their white-collar minions

      Wenger was revolutionary in his early days at Arsenal, but got too comfortable with his status/ lifestyle/ stability and couldn’t catch up with the changes in EPL. He should have been able to create a better youth development system during his two-decade tenure

      I believe Wenger would win another major trophy if he can learn how the other big club operates. He was stuck at Arsenal and needs to move to another club to learn from other people’s ideas

    3. Exactly,it seems the people who r responsible for recruitment of arsenal players either they r ignorant or don’t understand their job. We’ve been having da same problems yr in yr out. They juz buy players without knowing wot we need, especially Arsene Wenger, whenever he bought player it was a midfielder n yet we had defensive problems

    4. I agree with most part of the article and what you say Lupe. But a few things I disagree on. I don’t think you can blame this on Wenger. I’m still a big fan of Wenger.

      For me, the main reason everything went downhill was when we brought in Xhaka. This was the moment we started to lose more games, lose CL spots etc. Not because he is so bad, but because he totally doesn’t fit our philosophy. At first, the biggest mistake Wenger made was playing him as a defensive mid. When we had Coquelin als a defensive mid, with Santi as a linking player we used to dominate most teams, played beautiful, attacking football with short passes. When we lost Santi to injury, we played Xhaka as a defensive mid and played Coq in a more offensive role, sort of a box-to-box role. We then made the mistake of letting our only real defensive mid leave. Now with Torreira, we finally have a defensive mid back.

      All we have to do now is to replace Xhaka. IMO the linking player is the most important position in a dominating, attacking playstyle. The problem with Xhaka is, he isn’t suited to a short passing style. He is too slow and his strength is to play longer passes, not short passes. That’s why I think we really should do everything we can do sell Xhaka and get Ceballos or Tielemans in midfield. That would also bring out the best in Ozil.

      Also we need a winger, because lacking someone who can dribble past defenders makes you very predictable. But as we’ll be getting Nelson back it isn’t really a priority anymore.

      1. @MrLucky
        I think Wenger has to take part of the blame with Gazidis because unlike Emery who is just the head coach, he had a lot of power and he was responsible for the technical(football) direction of the club because he was the only real football man at the club, Gazidis knows almost nothing about football and what vision we need to progress. I’m not blaming Wenger alone but i’m saying he deserves as much blame as Gazidis.

        I do agree that Xhaka has brought a major imbalance to our midfield. What you said about Wenger pushing Coquelin forward to accommodate Xhaka is true but have you noticed it’s happening again with Torreira? Emery towards the end of the season started pushing Torreira forwards as the supporting midfielder from deep to accommodate Xhaka due to his inability to play as a box to box player because of his immobility, lack of agility and pace.

      2. This is so, so wrong. We were going way downhill before Xhaka came. Wenger created COMPLACENCY. This was our main issue. It was only a matter of time before we dropped out of UCL spots. Wenger was not good enough to get us past R16 and kept making bad purchases all over the pitch. Why you are acting like we were super successful before Xhaka came is ridiculous. We were going nowhere fast long before that. Not to mention Xhaka is not even close to the worst player at the club.

        1. Yes I agree it started a bit before, and no I am not saying we were succesful before. But we had a vision of buying young, unknown players and turn them into stars. But the players were suited to the playing style.

          The reason it started to go downhil before was because the nobody’s who turned stars turned their backs on Wenger. People like Adebayor, Nasri, Clichy, RvP and even Cesc, Hleb, etc. So we had to start over. But then we started buying the wrong people IMO. And Xhaka and Cech both weren’t suited to our short playing style. That’s what I mean with it started to go wrong with buying Xhaka.

          1. Also I never said Xhaka is the worst. I never said he is bad either. Just doesn’t fit a short passing style

    5. Agree, we always buy class players when they are available not what we really need. Ozil, Sanchez, and Cech arguably were bought because they lost their spot in their respective teams. But I have to disagree on Kolasinac, yes he was awful defensively and positionally but he was great going forward, Arsenal ranks second in the total assists by fullbacks.

    6. Been saying the same thing for years, the previous regime put together a team that had no chance of being compatible. We have players who prefer to play in direct football, players who prefer passing football, players who play better in 3 man defense or 4 man defense. Players who play better with more freedom vs players who need to instructed to do specific tasks.

      No manager is going to fix that mess quickly without significant backup or luck. The last good TEAM we had was fabregas, nasri, rvp years because they all had the similar football philosophy.

  2. Good write-up, but the other top teams have replaced the no 10 position with other positions, such as a winger or a half-winger. Even Leicester City that were famous with their 4-4-1-1 have switched to 4-3-3 and have released their hardworking no 10, Okazaki

    Ozil sucks in 3-4-2-1 formation because he is not a winger and also sucks in 4-2-3-1/ 3-4-1-2 formations because he is not supported by technically gifted players like Cazorla/ Sanchez anymore. Therefore it’s better to try him out as a mezzala or a half-winger in a 4-3-3 formation:

    Bellerin . Mustafi . Sokratis . Kolasinac
    …….Niles ……….. Ozil
    ..Aubameyang …………. Iwobi

  3. A month before the start of another campaign Afc hasn’t signed a single iPlayer that says a lot and besides why don’t we adapt the players we have to play to their natural strengths instead of trying to emulate the famous invinsibles signs players that are not as gifted , I’m not being funny Rafael Benitez is better at this than any manager out their so let’s do that and that stops arsenal getting a lot of silly drubbings which tends to sap the players confidence and driving fans into utter despair

    1. Yes, the Invicibles were successful with 4-2-3-1, partially because they had Bergkamp that was visionary, skillful and possessed good physical attributes in the no 10 position

      However, EPL has changed and we didn’t have that player type anymore. Even Leicester City do not use 4-2-3-1/ 4-4-1-1 anymore and have released their hardworking Japanese no 10

      Arsenal have to adapt and Emery is a good first step towards the adaptation

  4. Great article and kudos to the writer because he gives much thought regarding Arsenal current problem. I agree with the article above and I think the problem stems from Wenger’s legacy, where the team was heavily set up to maximize possession and we are struggling as the modern game becomes more and more direct (epitomized by ManC and Liverpool). Wenger favourite formation was 4-2-3-1 and it makes sense to field Xhaka to distribute balls from deep, Ramsey to help both attack and defence, Ozil Miki and JW as the 3 attacking midfielders, and Giroud as the post player. Fullbacks were instructed to hug the touch lines. It was great against lesser oppositions but nightmare against direct teams such as Chelsea, etc. It appears that the legacy still continues because the likes of Xhaka, Ozil, and Miki clearly lacks speed.

    Regarding defense, I think it can’t be easily solved by simply kicking Mustafi out of the team (remember Mustafi didn’t play when we are thrashed by Chelsea in EL final). I agree with the writer that our current defenders are way too similar, they loves to charge the opponents and it often result in they being in no mans land.

    Finally the strikers, both are great but I also agree that they create imbalance to the team because we also field number 10 with close to zero contribution toward defence. I think maybe (I said maybe because I am also what you said an armchair manager) we can use the old school 4-4-2 fomation (2 strikers – Auba positioned deeper and use Laca as a pivot, 2 wingers, and 2 holding midfielders, no number 10 because ours are currently not good). We will be more solid as both flanks are more covered and more direct as we bypass the number 10.

  5. We basically don’t have a strong midfield
    We just have Torreira
    We need two new CM and wingers

    Our defence sucks

    We need at least one Quality CB and backup RB

    And one or two quality central midfielders

  6. We need! we need! we need!…..ok I can add on that we need to get rid of kroenke for arsenal to go back to where we belong.The top

  7. Soo the problem then starts from the top top ownership we realized that long ago all we have to do now is act

  8. Stopped reading when o got to the xhaka has vision statement …then again so do madmen and saints so I guess he’s in good company … If we don’t sell this guy we will be in trouble all season as elneny who definitely does lack a vision will keep playing him

  9. A thought provoking and well argued article. I differ with much of it though but applaud your attention to detail as you see it. I see both Ozil and Xhaka as players we badly need to leave. Ozil is mentally fragile, physiclly fragile, way past his best and bone idle into the bargain. Xhaka is cumbersome, immobile, one paced hot headed and just wrong for any top Prem team. Neither are right for us, either on their own or together. 9I believe we have NO outfield defenders of proven quality at all. NOT EVEN ONE. Kos WAS once good, occasionally very good but never great but those days are gone. I never thought Merts anywhere near good enough , despite his good positional sense. He was far too slow, freakishly so and that was always a huge handicap and unsettled the defence.

    I much agree with the former atrocious team planning but the two responsible, Wenger AND Gazidis are, mercifully gone, though their damage lives on sadly. I much rate Emery BUT recognise that he is hugely hampered by the existing damage done before he came AND the fact of KROENKES uninterest and harmful ownership. I THINK IT WILL TAKE MUCH TIME (BEFORE THINGS VASTLY CHANGE FOR THE BETTER), A DEAL OF PATIENCE AND MUCH FAN REALISM AS TO WHERE WE CURRENTLY ARE AND WHO CAUSED OUR PLIGHT. We are competing with the ongoing Kroenke handicap preventing an even playing field with our rivals and as a realist I acknowledge that as a fact, rather than as an opinion.

  10. @ Nifty this is 2/2. Nicely written .
    Arsenal is failing as a business and as a club .
    We spend stupidly and we make poor footballing decisions .
    Sadly i doubt we are changing for the better.

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