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The wheels have come off at Arsenal: but who’s to blame?

By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)

It’s been a sorry set of weeks for Arsenal Football Club. After entering the international break in a promising position, an unforeseen capitulation has occurred. 3 gut-wrenching losses on the bounce.

There are four areas of which blame has been directed towards. Firstly, the manager. Mikel Arteta has lost just two players from his recent preferred XI in Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey, and it wouldn’t be harsh to say his footballing system has collapsed. Secondly, the manager and the technical team behind him, who some believe are receiving their fair dues after a poor January transfer window. Others are blaming the club’s senior players, while some are attributing the culpability primarily to Arsenal’s attackers.

Ultimately, the responsibility lies throughout the club, as these ideas would suggest, but who deserves the most stick for Arsenal’s disappointing recent form?

The manager hasn’t hidden from the fact he is at least partially responsible for the mess his team currently finds itself in. When his team lose, Arteta doesn’t hide. Some argue he’s just protecting his young set of players, but there is a legitimacy to his claims. He hasn’t been able to turn the tide when things have gone against him lately.

Recently, the deficiencies of what was a fluid, easy on the eye footballing system have been exposed. The main issue? Perfectionism. It has been evidenced that if 2-3 slices of Mikel Arteta’s 11-piece cake are missing, it doesn’t taste anywhere near as nice. His system requires truly excellent footballers, so when the standard drops just a little, for example Nuno Tavares coming in at left-back for Kieran Tierney, the level of the system as a whole drops. The Spaniard hasn’t been able to work around this, and this is his fault.

Where he goes from here isn’t obvious. The idea of reintroducing the 4-2-3-1 deployed at the season’s beginning has been discussed by Arsenal fans, but that system was far from perfect. Some fans have even encouraged the idea of deploying a more conservative 3-4-3 to ground out results, but I sense Arteta is generally the type of figure who’d be too stubborn to revert to that style of football. Regardless, Arteta needs to work out how he’s going to get Arsenal winning football matches again. Pronto.

Then, there’s the manager and his technical team. Correctly so, they have been lamented. During the January transfer window, they were confronted with an opportunity to strengthen Arteta’s squad, specifically in adding depth in weak areas. They failed to do so. Amid, the injuries of Takehiro Tomiyasu, Kieran Tierney, and Thomas Partey, this now appears rather naïve. As will be addressed later, failing to find competition for Alex Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah also looks to have hurt Arsenal.

Enough said on that – Mikel Arteta and Edu failed miserably in January to enhance the club’s opportunity of finishing in the top four.

Next, the players. This is a difficult one. Most direct their angst towards the ‘senior players.’ But who constitutes a senior player? The obvious individuals are Alex Lacazette, Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, Kieran Tierney, and perhaps Martin Ødegaard. Yes, Tierney and Partey’s fragility concerning injuries has been a hammer blow for Arsenal, but it’d be harsh to blame them for sustaining such blows. If anything, that’s on the club again. Regarding Xhaka and Ødegaard, whilst they should have offered more in recent weeks, without Thomas Partey behind them, the midfield 3 has been less functional.

As for Lacazette, while his poor finishing has caused the utmost frustration, the assertion almost universally among Arsenal fans that his performance in front of goal has caused us to be where we are seems harsh. Of course, Mikel Arteta needs more from his no. 9 if Arsenal are to reach the Top 4, he hasn’t been good enough. But he is quite obviously also the elected scapegoat right now. That said, his interview with Canal Plus earlier this week was far from helpful.

Finally, the goalscorers. Or perhaps better put, the guys who are supposed to score goals at Arsenal. Frankly, they haven’t scored the goals they’re supposed to have. This isn’t just fan frustration, this is fact. From the 20.97 expected goals of Arsenal’s main forwards this season: Alex Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nketiah, and Gabriel Martinelli; only 13 actual goals have ensued. Arsenal’s conversion rate in front of goal hasn’t been good enough, and that is on the players.

This is where the blame somewhat eludes Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard coaches a very good system when all guns are blazing, and poor finishing has absolutely nothing to do with him. Again, one might argue he should’ve recognised this in January and demanded more firepower up top, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to suggest his front men might’ve added a bit more to the goal scoring party this season.

Yet, I still feel the manager and his technical team deserve the most blame for what has happened over the last 3 weeks. The manager himself has failed to adapt to the circumstances in front of him. The technical team failed to provide the manager with better tools to adjust in this scenario. A set of circumstances which weren’t inconceivable. The players are far from immune from culpability, specifically the attackers, but the senior officials at Arsenal should take the brunt of the blame if the club miss out on a Champions League spot come the end of the season.

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