As frustrating as Arsenal have been to watch so far this season, due to the lack of men forward and attacking desire, I was somewhat on board with the plan. I kept thinking that, whilst Arteta had chosen a more defensive approach, he was yet to actually get turned over. For how long have we Arsenal fans seen our side be on the losing side of a number of embarrassing score lines and results; both against the top clubs and even some teams lower down the league. Until our match against Aston Villa, we had not really seen that from Arteta. Sure, we had got unlucky at times and dropped points where perhaps we didn’t deserve to, but we had never been turned over by a side we should on paper be beating. And in the interest of grinding out results, I could come to terms with the negative football.
But what this crippling defeat to Aston Villa proves to me, and I hope every Arsenal fan, is that this negative style has to change. Clearly, in the long term it is not Arteta’s desire to play 5 at the back and once he has the players, he will look to move to a more progressive style that he was a part of at Manchester City. This result however also shows that whatever style of football we look to play in the meantime, we will nonetheless have significant bumps in the road. My thinking is that us fans would be far more forgiving of Arsenal when we encounter these bumps in the road if we have really tried to play the kind of football we love to watch and all those players have really gone for the throat in the match. Sure, we will lose games along the way and maybe have our pants pulled down on occasion, but at least we will know that every defeat is a step closer to him perfecting his long-term plan.
We weren’t able as fans to get on board with Wenger in his final few years or even Emery who both wanted to implement a possession based, attacking plan. This is because each week the lineup changed, and especially with Emery, it did not feel like we were heading in any particular direction. I would argue that already under Arteta, whilst it has not been a perfect start, he has shown that he is making some impressive improvements and that he does have a long-term plan. Ultimately, Arsenal fans are no longer under the illusion that Arteta will be a quick fix and bring us back to our best over-night. It will likely take years of progressing and a number of top-quality transfer windows. Therefore, let’s not worry too desperately about the occasional loss, as long as we show progress. Not only will it be better to watch for Arsenal fans, but it will be crucial for Arteta to determine over the course of this season which players can adapt and fit in to his long-term plan. Which defenders are capable of playing out from the back? Which midfielders are capable of joining the high press, whilst having the legs to get behind the ball in transition? The longer Arteta goes without forcing the players to demonstrate these traits, the longer we will have to wait until we have a squad that can adequately implement his plan and challenge for the top titles.
This begs the question, if Arteta should move to a more attacking system, how should he do this? Well, in defence I think we’ve already started to see what his preferred back 4 would be. Tierney and Bellerin would operate as our full-backs beside a centre-back partnership of Gabriel and Rob Holding. Elneny and Partey have begun to show signs that they will be the holding midfield partnership for this season. Both of them are incredibly mobile, comfortable on the ball and excellent at breaking down counter-attacks. The question is who ought to join them as a creative outlet in that midfield. For me, Joe Willock deserves his chance. The confidence and invention he has shown in the Europa League could be exactly what the first-team is missing. Surely, he at least deserves a run of games in the Premier League to prove his worth. The attack is another enigma, but unfortunately, I think it is about time we think of the likes of Lacazette and Willian as squad players. They both work so hard for the team, but the quality from them in the final third is often not good enough. Furthermore, Lacazette playing means we simply will never get the best from Aubameyang; he must play through the centre. I simply cannot understand why we wouldn’t build our team around our best player rather than elbowing him in on the left-hand side. So, who should play either side of them? One of them is obvious; Bukayo Saka’s performances this season have shown he is the best young-talent at the club and one of the best in the league. So, let’s allow him to play his preferred position rather than anchoring him with the role of a wing-back. On the right-hand side, we need Pepe. I understand that he is inconsistent, but in games where we struggle to make something happen, even if Pepe is playing poorly he can produce that one moment of magic to win a game. With regards to his inconsistency, surely the one way to help that is to make him a regular starter. Give him the confidence that can turn him into our talisman with the freedom to create chances and run with the ball. This is the freedom we afforded Alexis Sanchez, and I think Pepe can emulate the Chilean if given more time and opportunity.
Arteta needs to make these changes and do so quickly. Football management is a cut-throat business and already certain fans are turning on him. I personally am certain he is the right man for the job, but I worry other fans won’t see it the same way if this lack of creativity continues. Let us know what you make of Arteta, and what starting 11 would be your go-to!
Photo: Kieran Clarke, Flickr