Returning players can spark Arsenal turnaround even before new signings

Written by Edward Pitt

December 8, 2020

In more positive news this week, Arsenal’s injury list is getting shorter every day. We will soon be close to having our full squad available for selection again which could be crucial for Mikel Arteta. I think it is clear for most fans now that we are going nowhere without some heavy investment, from owners who rumour has it back Arteta 100% (we will see in January). To me, that means that Arsenal should give everything in the cup competitions, especially in the Europa League so we can end another poor season on a positive note. But, perhaps more importantly, Arsenal should use this season to identify which players can play for Arteta and which can’t. I see so many similarities between Arteta and Pep, naturally, and this was the exact plan that Pep executed in his first season at City. After his disappointing first season, he knew exactly which players wanted to play for him, could play for him and therefore which players needed moving on and replacing. Arteta can only effectively do this if he has every player available. In certain cases, he is being forced to play certain players and is therefore not learning much about our squad. For example, we are forced to use Xhaka in place of Partey, and depending on Partey’s injury this could be for a short while. I know for a fact that Xhaka’s style of play will never change, and as a footballer he is miles away from Thomas Partey. Yet, Arteta will be forced to play him. Arsenal’s long-term injuries have already diminished. The likes of Mustafi, Mari and Chambers have all returned to first-team training, and have all featured in recent weeks for the first-team. As they build up fitness, Arteta will look this see which of them can be the ideal partner for Gabriel, or is Holding the best we have right now. Whilst I do think Arsenal may need to go to the market for another fantastic young defender, like we found in Gabriel, in the short-term our finances are likely to be spent in more pressing areas such as midfield. Therefore, Arteta will need an internal solution. Holding has played well, however we have really been forced to play him next to Gabriel. It will be interesting to see what Chambers and Mari can do, who were both enjoying some great form until their injuries.

With all that being said, the Arsenal injury list is quite a short one now. The club have confirmed on their site that David Luiz will not be available at this point in time as they continue to monitor his situation after his clash of heads. Luiz showed no signs of concussion during the match but was eventually brought off due to discomfort from the injury. I think rightly so, Arsenal are taking it slowly with Luiz; when it comes to a head injury, things must be done properly. The latest on the injury list is Thomas Partey, who limped off during Spurs’ second goal at the weekend. It appears to be a recurrence of the thigh strain that he suffered against Aston Villa. As such, the good news is that it isn’t likely to be too catastrophic, however it might be best for him to receive proper rehabilitation before we rush him back. I’m sure Arteta will have half an eye on the Carabao Cup fixture against Manchester City; a week in which we also face Everton and Chelsea in the league. Of course, more details will I’m sure be provided in Arteta’s upcoming press conferences ahead of our final Europa League group stage match against Dundalk. 

The only other name on the injury list is the guy who nobody can wait to see back in an Arsenal shirt; Gabriel Martinelli. The youngster hasn’t featured since a Cup game against Portsmouth in March, and boy have we missed him. I think that everybody would describe our current squad as looking flat and lethargic. Nobody is showing the flair or desire to take a game by the scruff of the neck. Now I know that at his age, Martinelli on his own will not transform our season, but he might just bring an infectious energy and hunger back to the team. He might also work wonders for Aubameyang’s season. The two always connect really well when on the same field. Plus it would give Arteta a chance to rest Aubameyang; lord knows he deserves it. He also helps Arteta play a different way. If you look at what Pep’s City can do it is really fantastic. They can build from the back quickly and have the ability to win the ball back all over the pitch. So far, I think Arsenal are definitely improving at playing out from the back, especially when Partey is playing. We are also really improving defensively, and have been able to win the ball back either in our third, or in the midfield battles which Partey has so far dominated (even against Spurs until his injury he got the better out of Hoijberg a number of times). But right now, our opponents are playing through our press far too easily. I think that every attacker in the squad right now is really lacking confidence, and you can see that in the way they press. They chase down defenders like they know they aren’t going to get the ball. For Liverpool and Manchester City, defending starts from the front and they do it brilliantly. With Martinelli helping force errors or lazy passes from defenders, which Partey can clean up in the midfield, we will create so many opportunities. 

This is something which I have been striving to tell Arsenal fans. Creativity doesn’t just mean a magic man in the middle to pull strings. Every team needs that, and Arsenal will need to get one in January for sure. But these days, so many chances come from the opponent’s making a mistake. Gone are the days of launching the ball forward. I think of the game against Aston Villa; we had more possession and Villa were fine with that, because they were striving off of winning the ball off us in dangerous areas of the pitch. Look at Chelsea, until Ziyech came in they didn’t have any midfielder with a magic wand. Most of their chances came from an excellent high press executed by the likes of Werner, Abraham and Kante. 

I’m thinking of an attack with Aubameyang, Martinelli and Pepe with Lacazette in the number 10 role and Partey and Elneny behind them. That is a team that nobody will want to play through, as long as Arteta gets them well drilled. 

I’ll end this by pleading that you stay positive Arsenal fans. There’s no questioning that to get back to the very top, Arsenal need to invest hundreds of millions. However, in the meantime, our current form may just be helped out by some internal solutions; the lack of creativity is a complex issue. Signings will help, but implementing the right system with the right players is also imperative. 

Photo: Steffen Prößdorf



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