Expectations Dimmed As Magnitude Of Task Ahead Is Clear

Preview of this evening’s match v Man Utd

Expectations Dimmed As Magnitude Of Task Ahead Is Clear

Dani Ceballos – Surprise return?

The usual five talking points ahead of today’s Premier League game at home to Manchester United.

Reality Check
The match at home to Chelsea provided a clear indication of how far Arsenal, as a football team, have been allowed to fall. Let’s be clear – Unai Emery inherited a mess. It wasn’t him that signed Mustafi, Xhaka, gave Mesut Ozil a bumper three and a half year contract, or failed to sign the players that would prevent opposition goals flooding in. It wasn’t him that created the culture of complacency that was rife at the club. However, what he failed to do was turn it around. It became worse, and the Chelsea match demonstrated that the players are not capable of the controlled high intensity football that is required to challenge for honours. That is a fitness issue for starters, before we even think about mentality, and that is the mess that Mikel Arteta has to work with. Mid-season, it is difficult to improve fitness levels. So no-one is taking anything for granted ahead of today’s game.

Growing Pains
In a sense, the type of football Arteta is asking his teams to play is probably not that dissimilar to what Emery was asking. My guess is that it is a little less ponderous, that players are under orders to move the ball upfield at more pace, although we can’t know if Emery actually demanded this of his men and that they simply became cautious. One thing that is certainly the same is the playing out from the back, and when the team was sat deep with exhaustion in the second half against Chelsea, things looked a lot like it was still Unai on the bench. Playing out from the back is fine if 1) there is space to do it, and the high press is not too constrictive or 2) it is done quickly and accurately, before the opposition have time to cover all of their men. At some point in either scenario, runs off the ball have to be made to be in space to receive a pass and give the man on the ball an option. To actually perfect this approach (and God knows, Arsenal have tried for half of last season and most of this so far), they need greater tempo, greater technical quality and greater vision. That reminds me, isn’t the January transfer window open now?

The Granit Thing
Granit Xhaka started against Bournemouth in Arteta’s first match in charge. And in fairness, played generally ok, although he did give the ball away a bit casually in his own half once, which looked a bit familiar. No matter, you thought he’d retain his place for the Chelsea game. Arteta has stated he was taken ill for two days, and could not play. With United coming up only three days after the defeat in that match, if he was genuinely ill, then it would be touch and go whether he would play today, although of course, the illness could be a smokescreen. The player wants to move to Hertha Berlin. Will Arteta stand in his way? The reports state that it is the head coach’s decision. In the unlikely event that Xhaka starts today, it would indicate Arteta wants him to remain. It’s an interesting dilemma because the squad are light in this area, and if a reported loan agreement with an option to buy is what’s on the table, that would not provide funds to purchase a replacement.

Don’t forget Dani Ceballos
The Spaniard is available for selection, and recalling how Xhaka was used in the first half at Bournemouth, could certainly fill the role, and would suit the football Arteta wants his team to play. The advantage of using Ceballos and letting Xhaka go on a loan deal, is that Ceballos is on a loan deal himself. Come the end of the season, three options – 1) agree a deal for Ceballos, using the funds if Hertha do buy Xhaka, 2) get Xhaka back as Ceballos departs or 3) Real Madrid reclaim Ceballos, Hertha buy Xhaka and Arsenal use the Xhaka money to buy someone else. Arteta will want to look at Ceballos sooner or later, and match fitness is what will count against him today, but he might just get selected ahead of Guendouzi.

A defender, my kingdom for a defender
So let’s take a look at Arsenal’s injury list for some New Year cheer, eh? Definitely out – Chambers (knee), Kolasinac (ankle), Sokratis (head injury), Tierney (shoulder). Doubtful – Bellerin (muscle injury), Holding (knee). It sure is slim pickings for the manager today. The two full backs did as well as could be expected on Sunday, and frankly the dearth of options means that it’s difficult to see beyond them starting again today, although Saka could probably use a break. In the centre, pretty much all Arteta can do is replace Mustafi with Mavropanos, to partner David Luiz. Let’s be clear here. There were a few culprits for Chelsea’s winner, but the principal errors were made by Mustafi in not going to Tammy Abraham and fouling him on the halfway line, followed by not getting tight to him when we received the ball in the area to score. Everyone knows Arsenal paid £35 million for a pup in 2016, and here we are three and a half seasons on and he’s still getting in the first team. If you want a symbol of how much the eye has been taken off the ball in recent years, Shkodran is it. If some fool is daft enough to buy him, it will be a happy day. I reckon he’ll start this evening I am afraid.

If Arsenal are to have any hope of taking anything from this game, they need to establish a two goal lead by the hour mark. After that, it’s quite evident that physically they can be picked off. This happened with Liverpool in the early phase of Jurgen Klopp’s transformation of the club, as he asked them to play with greater intensity. Let’s face it, as well as the players taking a different approach to matches, there will need to be a turnaround in personnel. It will take four transfer windows to do get anywhere near a squad that Arteta is happy with, but he has two years on his contract after that. In the meantime, we look for progress. We have seen this so far, but obviously one point from two matches does not look great. But the season’s a write off, aside from the two cups the club are still competing in. And I am certain Arteta will use the FA Cup to assess younger options, which could save him spending so much in the transfer market. I don’t wish to predict an away win tonight, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if there was one.


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  1. John F

    Jan 1, 2020, 22:49 #116017

    The madness of this season's league is if we had beaten Chelsea we would only be 3pts behind them in 4th now.

  2. Pauljames

    Jan 1, 2020, 22:32 #116016

    A victory of huge importance, another defeat tonight and the table would have looked horrific given other results today. Main difference to Sunday was the second goal and we didn’t make any basic errors at the back once we sat on our lead. Lets hope we are through the worse of this nightmare now.Happy new year everyone!

  3. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Jan 1, 2020, 22:25 #116015

    Great shout Kev - about a 2 - 0 lead being required.

  4. markymark

    Jan 1, 2020, 22:23 #116014

    Luiz has apparently said the players were unfit and unhappy under Emery. Sounds like something was going badly off kilter with Emery but then it appears to have done so at PSG as well. When the fitness builds up we should hopefully see more of these shut outs. It does appear very important though for Arsenal to add a second within the roughly 30minute pressing spell. If we’d managed that against Chelsea I think it would have ended in a similar fashion to tonight

  5. John F

    Jan 1, 2020, 22:20 #116013

    I thought Lacazette and Torriera worked really hard,Ozil played well and I really liked the last 5 minutes when they took the sting out the game instead of charging forward.Ole game plan that he bragged about last season of breaking through our midfield quickly was countered by an Arsenal managers tactics .It's a long time since thats happened.Must win game considering the results today and eased my fears of a relegation battle.

  6. markymark

    Jan 1, 2020, 22:09 #116012

    Had a bit of a grotty 2019 so thank you lads for kicking off 2020 in such an excellent way! Cmon Arsenal!

  7. Paulo75

    Jan 1, 2020, 22:08 #116011

    Excellent performance and welcome result despite how poor United were. Some big performances from players who have taken a lot of criticism (albeit deservedly). Never thought I’d say Luiz and Sokratis looked solid at the back.

  8. Pauljames

    Jan 1, 2020, 18:54 #116010

    West Ham and Norwich winning too, we look like the only team in the bottom half not likely to win a game at the moment. Could be in the drop zone as early as Jan 18th unless we can halt this slide tonight or v Palace on Saturday week.

  9. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Jan 1, 2020, 18:36 #116009

    Good point Kev about establishing a 2 goal lead sometime in the second half however that only gets us a point because we are shipping a couple a goals a game these days. The results this afternoon have pushed us nearer the bottom three, Watford and Villa winning puts more pressure on us and we are now below Southampton so get ready fellow Gooners for a bumpy road ahead. Dead right Ron about Aba he is RVP MK2.

  10. itsRonagain2

    Jan 1, 2020, 15:56 #116008

    That’s about the size of it Paul. I d think that by now the Club will have already told him to give it his best shot until May and then he can go as their not going to raise much from any of the other dross at the club. Auba knows it. He’s done well for Arsenal and deserves better for his last year or so at the very top, same as RVP did

  11. Pauljames

    Jan 1, 2020, 14:56 #116007

    I’d be cashing in on Auba for sure if we had another ten points on the board, but it would be madness in our current position. We played better v Chelsea but ultimately lost at home to a team which has failed to beat both Brighton and Southampton in the last 7 days. Aubas goals may just keep us up and he can get a big move in the summer.

  12. ArsenalMagna

    Jan 1, 2020, 11:44 #116006

    The Xhaka issue is absurd if reports are true. Loaning him out with an option to buy would mean he could get a horror injury in Germany and then he loses his resale value. He did play well vs Bournemouth but they were a weak team and he was able to sit deep with players around him. He did some great passing but he's a very one dimensional player. As for tonight, my prediction is that we'll again press United hard for the first 30 mins and try to grab an early goal. They'll let us chase the win as they know the crowd will get annoyed at our players if we don't attack, and they'll play a 4-3-3 with Pogba lying deep and hitting long balls on to Rashford, Martial and James to run on to during transitions. Expect Mustafi to be targeted. I'm going for 3-1 United sadly. Fitness will be an issue across our team, not just due to inexperience with the current system, but also players' ages, match fitness and injury records. You'd be surprised if Bellerin, Ceballos and Ozil are able to complete 90 mins. Saka as you said Kevin probably needs a rest.

  13. John F

    Jan 1, 2020, 11:43 #116005

    Happy New Year.A lot of rumours going around about Aubameyang ,my question is would you sell him for a big fee?.It might seem crazy to sell the top scorer in the middle of a relegation battle but we could have an Ozil situation if he is offered a bumper contract at the age of 30 . He may be good for another year but afterwards strikers normally start to lose speed once they hit 30.His assets are his reading of the game and making space to be in the right place in the right time but he is no Henry in his ability to take players on and losing his speed would severely hamper his game.Sell him for a huge fee and use the money to strengthen in much needed areas or keep him as his goals will be vital in the upcoming battles.Tough decision but I would sell him like Liverpool did with Coutinho and strengthen the back line.But I am aware that this decision could easily back fire.

  14. andy1886

    Jan 1, 2020, 10:38 #116004

    Hit a few nails on heads there Kevin, at least regards some of the key issues. It's been obvious that we've been off the pace for months, either due to poor conditioning or poor attitude. Evidence so far suggests that it's a bit of both. Which leads us on to; Granit Xhaka. Combine a very poor attitude with a lack of pace and general unsuitability to the PL and he's a player we need to get out of the club asap. If Arteta genuinely wants to keep him I'd be worried about his judgement already. Xhaka will not be missed. There were some good signs in Arteta's first couple of games, mostly in increased effort and commitment although Lacazette seems uninspired. There were some tactical tweaks but here's my concern about Arteta as things stand. First impressions are that he's a Pep clone, or at least highly influenced by him. Now Pep is a great manager with great players and a huge budget, but could he do it at a club like Arsenal? I don't think so. And if Arteta thinks we can be City-lite (following in the steps of Wenger's Barca-lite project during the Cesc years) then that could be a big problem. We're more suited to a George Graham who made average players better than a Pep with an unlimited budget for superstars. Give it another two or three months and if Arteta still has us playing out from the back with players not suited to it and playing a game based on possession without penetration then he's not the man for this job. Hopefully he can adapt and show that he has his own ideas, we shall see.