Some scrutiny for Arteta is required by Gurjit
The first thing I have to say is that I do have faith in Arteta and do hope he can be a success with us, however some pressure and scrutiny may well be what is needed for him to learn and adapt. This isn’t to say that this article is going to be what pushes him to do it, but I would think that the issues I have listed below reflect what is on a lot of fans minds, and will likely be on Mikel’s mind too as things he needs to work on and fix.
Mikel has done some good work with the squad and in particular we have been a much harder team to break down than in the past – there is however a number of questions around his choices and management of the squad – and the result with Aston Villa, albeit a very different Aston Villa to that which we played against under Wenger/Emery, has highlighted how bad some of these problems are (not to say they have not been absent in other games).
Formation – Arteta appears to favour a back 5 (or 3 depending on how you look at it) which appears to be his attempt to nullify the opponents attacking players and you could argue this has (mostly) worked. We do not appear to be easy to break down most of the time, but there are some big drawbacks to his use of the formation, the largest of which being we have very little attacking threat. This is something that could easily be seen in the game against Villa as we were over run in midfield repeatedly (especially after Partey’s departure). I personally have a huge problem with this as it is not our way of doing things – I’m not saying this because of some rigid belief in the attractiveness of football over results, but as someone who has grown up with Arsenal being the side that is going to go out and beat an opponent, not sit there and try nick a win. I would accept the formation in some games, but not as our first choice and not in a way that completely destroys our ability to be able to attack with the ball.
Midfield – let’s put the creativity to one side for now and have a look at how our midfield is meant to be balanced. Playing with a 5 at the back means only 2 midfielders and who is going to be in there – Partey has to be but who goes next to him? Elneny, who I do like, is not progressive enough. Ceballos can have good games but loses the ball a lot and is just not able to do enough in this formation. Realistically that leaves Xhaka, and I’m not sure why he isn’t playing. No he isn’t mobile, No he isn’t the best defensively, No he isn’t the most creative – but what he is, is reasonable mix of attributes that would work well with Partey. He’s a good playmaker and long passer of the ball and is tenacious enough to get stuck into a tackle. We do have options in Willock (good form but doesn’t offer loads) and Maitland-Niles, but I can’t see either of these two with a chances of starting.
Creativity – This is the biggest problem for me, and it is largely down to the formation that we play. Maybe at 27 I’m too young to have seen Arsenal play with anything other than a 3 in midfield, and too old to want this new system that has no dedicated attacking midfielders – but I do not see how we can progress through this season without this issue being solved. There needs to be some creativity from midfield, which is not going to happen with a base of Partey and Elneny, especially with so many of our players being out of form. In our current system the only way I can see us getting goals that are not set pieces is from working the ball in from the flanks – if that’s our only route it’s not going to take a genius to find us out. It’s completely understandable that if you want to play with a back 5 and 2 midfielders that there isn’t room for an attacking midfielder – but why would you want to do that? Is that the reason Ozil has not been included? As I see it, we lack creativity, and I mean to the point where our season is being risked on it, so why is our only option in this position (as Ceballos appears to play better deeper) not even able to compete for the squad? I don’t see how Arteta will be able to fix this in any significant way without a change to a 3 in midfield – this will then beg the question why we didn’t plan to ever play this way with Ozil out and no transfer in.
Front 3 – as much as we have had a problem in the middle of the park the front 3 would realistically stay consistent even if we changed our formation. Perhaps they would be better in that system but that doesn’t get away from what have been some concerning performances from the front. Lacazette can’t score and can’t create at the minute, so what is he still doing in the starting 11? I think he brings a lot to the table and having faith in a player is good, but at this point he should have to prove that he can start and not be guaranteed a spot. The same goes for Willian as he has had more poor games than good – again you could put it down to our formation, but even then, if you are having so many poor games you should not be starting week-in week-out. What front 3 would you play? Fans are calling out for Auba through the middle so why are we not able to try it. I’d go for Saka, Auba, Pepe. Saka had a great season assisting from the wings so maybe the freedom to attack would help him.
Scrutiny is what drives improvement and as much as I do like Arteta if there isn’t improvement in these areas, I’m not sure that my faith in him is well placed. There’s a long way to go and we certainly could improve a lot, but these are the key areas for me that need to be worked on – what are yours?