Arsenal must rebuild extensively if they are to maximise Arteta’s potential
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
After another desperately disappointing result at the Amex on Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere around Arsenal Football Club continues to deflate towards a deep depression. Fans are growing increasingly frustrated with the players underwhelming performances, and more so, the lack of direction and poor decision making from those higher up within the organisation.
Whilst the sickening nature of this particular defeat certainly heightens this animosity, the season as a whole has represented a sharp reflection of where we actually are as a club. It has served as a stark realisation of the extent to which we have fallen from grace since 2015, when we were competing to win the Premier League title, to 2020, where we’re competing with the likes of Crystal Palace and Burnley for a place in the top ten.
One shining positive in this bleak period is the head coach we have at the helm. Mikel Arteta seemingly has all the attributes to be a world class football manager. The tactical nous to innovate the modern game and be part of the next wave of generational coaches who did so, following the era of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, into the future wave with the likes of Julian Naglesmann and Marco Rose. The transparency in his communication that endears himself to the media, fans but most importantly his players, who understand the direction he wants to take his team in. The personality of a top coach- someone who has a clear objective and will only allow those who share that vision to join him on that path.
How highly spoken of he is amongst all that know him and everyone within the club demonstrates just how impressive a figure he is and indicate the certain aura and magnetism he possesses. Everything points to Mikel Arteta being the right man take us forward, and someone whose potential as a head coach goes through the roof. He’s far from fulfilling that potential, and understandably so, given how early on it is in his managerial journey. His in game management, use of substitutions and ultimately the ability to produce results are far from an elite level, but the raw potential is there for all to see.
However, the circumstances he finds himself in currently are all mitigating factors in him showcasing his coaching talents. He has inherited a fundamentally flawed squad that has been poorly constructed and is in dire need of rebuilding. Since 2018, Arsenal have appeared to adopt a short-term solution or stop gap approach to recruitment, signing more experienced players who were in their prime or just coming out of it, in order to, theoretically, reintegrate ourselves back into the Champions League.
The idea was that these players would indeed be good enough to get us back into Europe’s elite competition, and we’d then be able to rebuild and push onto greater things. The signings of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Sokratis, David Luiz, Stephan Lichtsteiner, the new contracts for Mesut Ozil and Nacho Monreal and the insistence on keeping Laurent Koscielny all support this. The plan was that the promising crop of young players would then be further developed, and all we’d need to do was to add bits of quality to accompany them, which would be a lot easier with our more significant, European qualification funded budget.
It’s safe to say this hasn’t worked. In fact, it’s failed dearly.
Lichtsteiner and Mkhitaryan were poor signings who have now (all but) left the club, with little to no transfer recuperation and substantial funds spent on their wages down the drain. Monreal left for just £5 million, Koscielny forced his way out of the club, whilst Ozil is stuck with us and is burning through our finances at an alarming rate whilst hardly contributing on the pitch in the process. Aubameyang and Lacazette have one year left on their deals and neither are likely to sign new ones, which puts us at risk of losing them for very minimal fees or nothing at all. Sokratis and Luiz have been poor signings, and are another two we are unlikely to regain any capital on, despite splashing out large sums on their wages. The Arsenal hierarchy could justify this chaotic situation with our senior players had they got us into the Champions League. But they haven’t.
In fact, they could possibly justify it if we had a strong collective, established and reliable group of players in the middle stages of their career. But we don’t. Shkodran Mustafi has one year left, Sead Kolasinac continues to earn ludicrous amounts of money for being a back-up full-back, question marks remain over Granit Xhaka and his long-term suitability to Arteta’s system, Nicolas Pepe hasn’t yet adapted in the way you’d hope a £72 million player would and Bernd Leno is now likely out for a very long time.
The reliance we have on our young players becoming world beaters is very, very concerning. With an extremely unsettled and turbulent group of players above that 23/24 year-old line, we’re relying on far too many of our young players to fulfil and possibly exceed their potential. Whilst focusing your squad building and recruitment strategy around youth development can certainly be a sustainable and exciting model, you have to have at least a certain number of more established and reliable players to call upon. And we don’t have that.
Arteta looks promising, but he can’t work miracles. Of the 16 players above the age of 24 in our squad, nine are out of contract in the next 12 months, and none of them look likely to renew. Two of the others are goal-keepers, whilst Kolasinac could well be moved on to free up our wage bill. Potentially just four outfield players above the age of 24 at our club in a year’s time.
This turbulence cannot be ideal for Arteta when he’s trying to build a long-term identity. Who can he trust? Who should he invest time in to try and implement his system? How is he supposed to launch and build his project when he has absolutely no idea who he’ll be working with in 12 months’ time?
In a way, this gives the Arsenal footballing panel a chance to redeem themselves. The previous short-term project hasn’t worked, so they have the opportunity to rip everything up and start again. Reset the squad. Bring in players who fit Arteta’s desired system and will sing from the same hymsheet in terms of values, work ethic and mentality. Rebuild and rebrand the ethos and mentality around the club. It hasn’t been what it needs to be for so long now, so it’s a chance to completely reset the recruitment policy and start again.
Yes, it’ll be difficult to find the requisite quality necessary given our impending financial difficulties as a result of not qualifying for Europe and the pandemic, but it has to be done. Smart deals using our extensive scouting network and data analytics will come in handy. Reckless deals using a purely contact led approach must be avoided.
This current squad has gone as far as it possibly can. It has failed in our immediate goal of getting back amongst Europe’s big time. It’s time to rebuild. Keep the young core, get rid of those senior players not committed and who’ve let us down, and enhance the rest of the squad with efficient acquisitions.