Why the upcoming international break is make or break for Arsenal and Arteta this season
By Allan Riley
There's a lot that isn’t right within the Arsenal team right now. We now head into the international break on the back of a humiliating 3-0 loss to Aston Villa, with no fixture to quickly follow it up and put things right. For Arsenal fans, the two-week interval has come at the wrong time. However, for the coaching staff, it could be a good time to reassess and evaluate what is going wrong. What can they change and how can they change it?
Although the result against Villa demonstrated a side that fell apart after conceding one goal, capitulating when things aren't going right- very reminiscent of the latter stages of the Wneger era- this is far from the recurring theme under Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard has implemented a rigid structure which has bolstered our previously feeble defence, but has come at the expense of our attacking abilities.
Thankfully, the break gives manager Mikel Arteta time to re-evaluate and figure out what went wrong against the Villians. To Arsenal supporters, the problems are blatantly evident. To the coaching staff, less so. But what exactly needs to change in order for the Gunners to progress up the table?
There is very little creativity in this Arsenal team. Joe Willock is the only midfielder Arsenal possess who can cause operate in between the lines and cause havoc in the opposition third. While this is a severe problem, it’s one that can’t really be addressed until January, when Arsenal are allowed to sign players. However, this can be fixed in the short term. Willock should be allowed to see what he can do. The Hale End graduate has excelled in the Europa League this campaign, and mirrors several of Aaron Ramsey’s traits as a player, with his ability to time his runs into the box unmatched in our currently lacklusture squad. While the experiment may not work, you can’t say that Willock doesn’t deserve an opportunity, or wouldn't at least provide something different to what is currently being provided.
Then we move onto team selection and formation. Right now, the majority of Arteta’s team seems to be settled. However, four spots could be up for grabs. While Gabriel has been one of, if not Arsenal’s best player so far, his centre-back partner isn’t settled. Right now, the spot seems to flip flop between Rob Holding to David Luiz. There is one name Arsenal fans have been crying out to see, however; William Saliba. The Frenchman is yet to play a competitive match for the club, and the erratic form of Holding and Luiz has led fans to believe Saliba can’t be much worse. His on the ball abilities could provide an alternative form of creation through expansive passes from deep areas.
The other issues are in the construction of Arsenal’s front three. The current frontline of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Willian simply isn’t working and doesn't look balanced. As a team that struggles to create chances, Arsenal need to make the most of the opportunities they do produce. However, Lacazette simply doesn’t. The French striker has spurned multiple guilt-edge chances in big moments this season.
As for Willian, the Brazillian simply hasn’t lived up to the hype after his solid debut against Fulham. He’s looked toothless and ineffective since then and has struggled to put his stamp on games he plays in. Because of this, supporters are screaming out for a forward line reshuffle. The biggest plea has undoubtedly been for Aubameyang to play centrally. Teams have now figured out how to nullify the Gabonese international’s threat by pressing him out towards the left touchline, instead of in his traditional inside forward position, which means he's struggling to find himself in goal scoring positions in a regular position (reflected in his ever declining xG).
Arsenal’s attack is one dimensional. Swinging crosses in for a 5’9’’ striker who isn’t clinical doesn’t work. The team needs energy, flair and technical quality up front, which is what Nicolas Pepe and Reiss Nelson could offer. Nelson, in particular, has received little game time this season, much to the behest of fans. As for Pepe, he isn’t an impact sub. He shouldn’t be, one league start this season isn’t right. A front three of either Saka or Nelson on the left, Pepe on the right and Aubameyang down the middle is a genuine threat and could cause problems for most Premier League defences. Whilst Pepe may be erratic, lose possession too frequently and not perform with the consistency we'd expect from a £72 million player, he can produce moments of magic in games which can make the marginal difference that we so often appear to be looking for in Arteta's rigid system. Give him a chance.
The upcoming international break is one of significance for Arsenal and Arteta. The Spaniard and his coaching team need to make changes. If that means hitting the reset button and changing the team’s tactics, personnel and system, then so be it. It has to be done. Arsenal’s season is at a crossroads right now, and how the Gunners come back from the international break could very well have severe ramifications on the rest of our campaign.