Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta admits he’s “really concerned” about his side’s form, having slumped to their worst start to a league season in 39 years. Is this a bump in the road, or a bigger problem?
HOW DO ARSENAL FIND THEMSELVES IN THIS POSITION?
The season started fine. Arsenal began with back-to-back wins over London rivals Fulham and West Ham, new signing Willian appeared to hit the ground running and there was optimism the Gunners could be set for a decent season.
A 3-1 defeat at Liverpool brought supporters back down to earth and despite a rare victory at Manchester United, losses to Manchester City and Leicester dented confidence. But it’s the last three games - the 2-1 loss to Wolves, a goalless draw with Leeds and a shock 3-0 thrashing by Aston Villa - that have really started to get fans worried.
ARTETA’S YEARLY REPORT
Mikel Arteta is approaching the anniversary of his appointment, and there’s no doubt he did a tremendous job to guide his side to Europa League qualification and the FA Cup last season.
There were hopes that an albeit short pre-season could be just what Pep Guardiola’s apprentice needed to turn his team into potential title-challengers, but supporters have complained of a predictable style of play which is slow in its build-up and short of creativity.
The decision to freeze out Mesut Ozil was brave and high profile, and although the grass is always greener, it’s exactly the German’s incisive passing which seems to be missing from the line-up.
For the first time, Arteta is facing questions about his future and following the defeat to Wolves, he claimed he’s not concerned about his job.
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“It’s something that the day I decided to be a coach I know that one day I will be sacked or leave the football club,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s the day after I sign my contact, in a month’s time, a year’s time or six months’ time. I never worry about it.
“My only concern is to get the best out of the players, give the best possible service to the club and become better and better. I know, I repeat, in this profession, one day I will get the sack or leave but I don’t know when that is going to happen.”
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HOW TO GET THE BEST OUT OF AUBAMEYANG
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in action against Wolves
Image credit: Getty Images
Arsenal’s business in the summer concentrated on securing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s future, with the captain in outstanding form following the coronavirus restart.
This season the former Borussia Dortmund striker has managed just three Premier League goals, although in most of those games he started wide on the left, before being brought more central recently.
But there lies the problem - if Arteta sacrifices Aubameyang’s all-round ability by moving him from a supporting role, where will the supply come from? Willian is a hard worker but has not hit the form he displayed at Chelsea, the aforementioned Ozil is nowhere to be seen and one of the players who can beat a man, Nicholas Pepe, finds himself suspended for a headbutt against Leeds.
Perhaps an in-form Pepe is the man to provide ammunition for an out-of-sorts Aubameyang, or it could be that Bukayo Saka will continue his impressive development.
A lack of alternative options means Aubameyang surely has to start up front - Alexandre Lacazette has been out of form for too long, Eddie Nketiah is a talent but undoubtedly raw, but the impending return from injury of the exciting Gabriel Martinelli could take the pressure off his skipper.
WHO ELSE COULD MAKE THE DIFFERENCE?
Is it time to throw in more of the ‘Hale End Boys’? Joe Willock has started recent games and could be the ideal midfield partner for Thomas Partey, who Arsenal are currently missing through injury.
Arsenal's Joe Willock battles Nelson Semedo against Wolves
Image credit: Getty Images
Ainsley Maitland-Niles looked destined for an exit in the summer but a series of exceptional performances kept him in north London - but he’s dropped out of the Premier League side.
Willock, Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Nketiah have all impressed in what’s been a comfortable Europa League campaign so far. Along with Saka, the academy products could be the zest the Gunners have been missing.
And then there’s Ozil - an opportunity to bring him back into the squad will be open in January when the transfer window allows an opportunity to amend the players available for competition. Is it time for one last chance?
Arsenal's Mesut Ozil in training
Image credit: Getty Images
THE NORTH LONDON DERBY
Arsenal’s recent form does not bode well for a visit on Sunday to top-of-the-table north London rivals Tottenham, who will be backed by the albeit small crowd of 2,000 fans following the end of England’s national coronavirus lockdown. Couple that with the fact Jose Mourinho has won his last 10 home games against Arsenal, and it’s an intimidating task.
Finding the right balance over a busy festive programme is going to be crucial for Arteta going forward. There is still plenty of time for things to click as they did at the end of last season, but if they don’t, he can expect more questions about his future in the weeks to come.