Arsenal: Four reasons why cannon is too heavy for some of Arteta's squad as Slavia Prague looms

Ian Mills analyses why the cannon is too heavy for some ahead of Arsenal's crucial Europa League clash against Slavia Prague

Arsenal: Four reasons why cannon is too heavy for some of Arteta's squad as Slavia Prague looms


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This Arsenal side are hard to like at times let alone love and they have the knack of infuriating far me than invigorating.

For me it feels as if the thought of playing for Arsenal, something both myself and all of you reading this would give our eye teeth for - is a burden for them.

Supporters will accept disappointing results easier if the team have given everything on the pitch yet several performances look full of apathy as if the players seem unmotivated and without a care and that is just unacceptable. 

This season has been a massive disappointment and yet it could get even worse with our Europa League hopes now hanging by a thread and a mid table finish in the Premier League appearing to look ever more likely.

How can this squad of players which appeared so unified during the F A Cup semi-final, final and Community Shield successes have slipped so far?

I believe there are four key areas which highlight that the weight of that magnificent cannon on their shirts may be too heavy for our current group of players and Manager.

1) Firstly let's start at the back

Our defence has been shifted from a back three to a back four and has seen several changes in personnel.

Frankly I am not sure that Arteta knows his preferred line up save for it featuring the excellent Kieran Tierney and the experience of David Luiz.

Bernd Leno has come in for much criticism throughout this campaign and whilst he remains a great shotstopper there are continued question marks over his ability on crosses as well as his distribution.

He is probably going through the worst form of his still relatively short Gunners career and whilst I would stick with him he certainly needs proper competition for his place next season.

For all those bemoaning the sale of Martinez I say this - in 10 years he did not become our number one nor did he attract acceptable offers to generate a sale. He was superb towards the end of last season and has genuine affection for the club however I think the lesser attention on a club like Villa has also helped him albeit he has enjoyed a fine first season for the Villains. 

Tierney is a shoe in for left back (and for me he should be elevated to club captain next season too) however his injury record merits an investment in a back up in his position.

At centre back Gabriel started well yet has struggled recently. I like Mari although he doesn't appear a first choice for Arteta.

As for our two English defenders I actually think Chambers is the better of the two and is also more assured in possession following a season in Fulham's midfield.

Holding still has potential however he is not quite flourished into the player we all thought he might become after that towering display in the 2017 Cup Final.

In an ideal world William Saliba returns next season to boost our options further. Right back is the area of greatest concern.

I have a lot time for Hector Bellerin and he has been through a traumatic time with his acl injury.

Unfortunately this has cost him some pace and without doubt the timing just feels right for a parting of the ways this summer with both sides allegedly open to a move.

If Arteta wants to continue to play out from the back he either has to drill his players sufficiently to ensure they follow his directions to the letter or find better players.

Regarding clean sheets - it may surprise you to learn that we have actually kept eight clean sheets in the League and 13 across all competitions.

However we are now 14 consecutive games without a clean sheet - our worst run since the mid 1980's.

2) Home form

We are far from the only side suffering with no fans in our stadium. However that does not excuse 6 home defeats in the league - the highest since the 92/93 season when we came 10th (however this was over 42 fixtures and we also became the first side to win the F A Cup and League Cup double).

There has also been an Europa League reverse and a Carabao Cup exit. We have failed to score in seven league games at home and eight in all completions overall - what was starting to become something of a fortress for us has developed into a fun palace for visitors.

The fear factor of facing Arsenal away has largely dissipated and we need to arrest this position urgently.

It's one thing losing to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City who are clearly a level or two above us at the present time however there is no excuse for the defeats to Burnley, a struggling Wolves and the thrashing by Villa.

There is a consensus that with fans in the stadium some of these defeats would not have been allowed to happen as firstly there would have been vocal encouragement from the start and secondly derision from the stands would have been cascading towards the pitch after those costly four consecutive home defeats before Christmas demanding a turnaround in form.

Just 12 Premier League wins from 30 games is a shocking statastic. I wrote earlier this season about our poor away form of recent years however our home form could be relied upon - not now. 

3) Consistency

A quick scroll back through our results is a fairly painful experience and highlights just one minor run of good form that started with the surprise Boxing Day win over Chelsea.

We went seven league games unbeaten, winning five. Our actual unbeaten sequence was only six games in all completions as we limply bowed out of the F A Cup at Southampton.

That unbeaten league run was ended by an unlucky defeat at Wolves yet it was immediately followed by a dreadfully inept display at Villa.

We have scored only 40 goals in the league whilst conceding 35. Burnley away was a good recent example of starting well, suffering a (self inflicted) setback and never recovering. Yes we were denied a stonewall penalty however we should have had enough to beat the Clarets without that. It appears that this team does not possess either the resilience or character to win on too many occasions.

We are 9th for a reason and 12 league defeats is an appalling return at this stage. Teams appear to be queueing up to do the double over us waiting to join Wolves, Villa, Manchester City and Liverpool. Frankly you just cannot predict which Arsenal will turn up and even more frustratingly when we start games slowly we tend to stay that way.

In attack we simply have not had a stand out player all season. Aubameyang looks a shadow of the player he was whilst Lacazette has outscored his close pal in the league despite playing poorly for large parts of the season. 

I am amongst a growing voice calling for Martinelli to start yet he is continuing to get limited game time. Nketiah has been all but abandoned yet there is some hope with the news that Folarin Balogun is finally set to sign a new contract.

Big decisions are needed over our attack this summer. It seems inevitable that Lacazette and Nketiah will be sold and I would not rule out the departure of our current skipper either even more so in light of his absence at Sheffield United due to 'flu', it appears there is a bigger story there than we are being told.

Although if all three leave there will be the need to sign a big name replacement. 

As for the supporting cast, Pepe has improved yet remains inconsistent, Smith Rowe and Saka have excelled. Willian has been an unmitigated disaster and needs to be moved on in the summer. As for central midfield there are next to no goals. 

4) Manager

The final area is our Manager and his in game management. I want to begin by saying that I have no doubt that Mikel Arteta loves and cares passionately about Arsenal Football Club.

I liked him as a player and he arrived in December 2019 with a growing reputation as a coach having worked alongside Pep Guardiola.

We knew the club were taking a chance when they appointed him and he is clearly learning on the job game by game and that's a risk when you are in transition at such a big club. 

Last season the unexpected FA Cup success masked a huge underperformance in the League as we limped into 8th place. This season, while accepting it is his first full one at the helm looks set to be worse.

It is going to take some finish to the season to even reach 8th whilst the entire campaign now hangs on a crucial second leg in Prague later tonight.

The biggest issues for me are team selection and substitutions. I think Mari should be in the back four yet constantly gets overlooked. Dani Ceballos has largely flattered to deceive and it has taken some time to finally see him eased out of the first eleven.

Tierney's continued injury problems are of course a worry and we have to seriously consider playing Saka there for the rest of the season.

However in attack is where Arteta seems to have a blind spot. For the Leeds game he decided to supplement Aubameyang in attack with lots of creativity behind him and it worked as our Gabonese bagged a hat trick.

Yet we have not stuck with that formation as he has largely been shunted to the left wing. Lacazette is in as bad a form as Aubameyang yet Arteta has picked him in the centre forward role more often without any tangible results.

Martinelli continues to be left out of the side with no explanation whilst Willian keeps getting game time which is both undeserved and ineffective.

While I have my doubts over Auba's form I would bring him into the centre forward position, move Saka to left back and support Auba with Smith-Rowe, Martinelii and Pepe. Arteta use of substitutes remains questionable.

Quite often our performances are boring and appear lacklustre and that is on the manager.

If it's not working after 45 minutes there is absolutely no point in waiting another 32 minutes of the second half to make changes (as he did against Slavia Prague in the first leg).

He has to act sooner. For all of Unai Emery's faults he was not slow in making subs when required. 

Arteta continues to tell us all to 'trust in the process' yet patience is wearing thin amongst the supporters and his Premier League record - 21 wins, 12 draws and 17 losses - also points to this process not moving forward quickly or indeed at all.

As for the players, I hope there has been some sufficient level of navel gazing since last Thursday night.

I don't want to see any more joking about in training pictures or videos nor talk of what we need to do on the pitch.

Actions speak louder than words, our remaining games will not just define this season they will define the players and manager's futures at the club.

 


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