Later News Aug 10

Arsenal season preview: When you change nothing, nothing changes. So, expect another year of meh


Let me start this season preview with a bold prediction: Mikel Arteta will be sacked as Arsenal manager by the end of the campaign.


Now, to be clear, this is not something that I hope will happen. As an Arsenal fan, I would like nothing more than for Arteta to prove me wrong. Oh, what wouldn’t I give to watch him lead the Gunners to success in a season which will be captured by Amazon’s “All or Nothing” documentary crew?


But I’ve watched the trailer (pre-season). I know the capabilities and limitations of the actors (players). Arteta’s rigid directing style (tactics) is an open secret. All of this is enough for me to know exactly how the Arsenal film will play out, because I’ve seen it before. 


WATCH: Arsenal's best strikes of pre-season 2021/2022


And trust me, as things stand, it’s going to end as badly as every M. Night Shyamalan movie that isn’t named ‘The Sixth Sense’.


The problems

The first thing that pops out as we near the start of the new English Premier League (EPL) season is that we still have a squad more bloated than Willian after a Salt Bae buffet.


Our chief strikers, captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, still struggle to find any sort of connection and rhythm on the pitch despite having played with each other for nearly four years now. 


This issue is compounded by Aubameyang – who reportedly earns up to £350,000 a week after signing a three-year deal with Arsenal last summer – seemingly suffering from amnesia, with the Gabonese quite clearly forgetting where the goal is these days.


We also have problems with creativity in the final third. Whether it be a matter of personnel, or Arteta’s stifling tactical demands, the fact of the matter is that in far too many of our games, we tend to create as many goalscoring chances as there are silverware in Tottenham Hotspur’s trophy cabinet.


In midfield, lynchpin Thomas Partey continues to carry on the proud tradition of noteworthy Arsenal midfielders from years gone by such as Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere, in that he seems to be spending more time in the treatment room than on the pitch. Without Partey, we lack the athleticism, the power and the range needed to go toe-to-toe with the best, or, for that matter, the rest.


What about in defence? At least we signed promising English defender Ben White, right? Well, yes, that is a positive…but even the best defender can turn into a panicky, slobbering mess when he has to play with the lump of averageness that is Pablo Mari (and that’s being kind to him) to his left, and either of the three progressively worse right-backs in Calum Chambers, Hector Bellerin or Cedric ‘Why is he still here?’ Soares to his right. 


WATCH: Ben White's first Arsenal interview


And I can’t even imagine what will happen if goalkeeper Bernd Leno – who is already showing signs of the Almunias – happens to pick up an injury. No, I refuse to go to that dark place.


The bright sparks

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. We can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we are, at least, not Sunderland or Stoke City.


And we do have an exciting core of young talents within the team that look to be the real deal. The likes of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli, and Folarin Balogun are all arguably future superstars in the making, and there is every chance that they could have a breakout season this year.


WATCH: Saka returns to Arsenal training


The likely scenario, however, will be Arteta choosing to put his faith in experience rather than trusting youth, which means a lot more Willian and Lacazette, and a lot less Martinelli and Balogun.


Saka and Smith Rowe have thankfully already established themselves as first-team players who are so important to the team that even Arteta’s notoriously cautious streak can’t touch them.


Based on what we’ve seen of them so far, new signings Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga appear to be astute acquisitions. The latter, in particular, has shown that he is capable of moving the ball into the final third while also providing creativity from the middle of the park.


See that, Mo Elneny? You CAN pass forward.


The likely outcome

When all is said and done, however, the problems that this Arsenal team suffers from at the moment far outweighs the good we have.


I previously put on record my belief that Arteta is not the right manager for Arsenal. From what I’ve seen this transfer window, as well as in our pre-season games, that opinion has not changed one bit.


We had a full summer to rectify the many glaring issues in the squad. Yet, here we are, mere days away from the start of the season, still struggling with the same old, same old.


Arteta continues to frustrate with his inflexibility in attack, choosing instead to insist that his players execute pre-planned patterns that were worked on in training. It’s all very well and good when it comes off, but if the opposition manages to figure that plan out before we hurt them – and with Aubameyang in the kind of form he is in, that is more than likely to happen – then we are left with absolutely nothing in attack but a bunch of players who dare not think outside the box.


WATCH: Arsenal score four past Watford in pre-season


Even then, I cannot help but shake the feeling that we are often left relying on the sporadic brilliance of individuals like Smith Rowe, Nicolas Pepe and Saka, to get us through games, rather than a coherent philosophy that allows the team to flourish.


And while the defence was one of Arsenal’s very few saving graces last season, that the team was unable to keep a clean sheet in any of their pre-season games gives me cause for worry.


But make no mistake, this is not all of Arteta’s doing. Technical Director Edu has blood on his hands as well, although it could easily be mistaken as spillage from one of the many Bloody Marys he’s had while on his nth vacation this summer.


Why wasn’t there more of a concerted effort to sign Emi Buendia from Norwich City? How did Houssem Aouar go from a player the club was willing to spend £50m on a summer ago, to someone they wouldn’t even flutter an eyelid at for a discounted £20m? What does it say about their scouting and player data analysis?


Are we sure we want to put all our eggs in the Martin Odegaard basket? James Maddison for £60m sounds like a pipe dream, and not at all an efficient use of our limited resources at that.


Why are giving a new contract to Granit Xhaka, a player who we were prepared to sell to Roma not two weeks ago? That’s like if you try to dispose of a used baby crib on Carousell, but you don’t get the right offer from an interested buyer, and instead of continuing to try and sell it, or at least leaving it in storage, you make another baby so that the crib won’t go to waste.


WATCH: Xhaka scores in pre-season friendly against Chelsea


Ultimately though, poor as Edu has been at his job, we all know the manager is the first head to roll in times of crisis. The Brazilian will probably continue to keep his cushy job, until such time the Kroenkes deem fit to install yet another unqualified, self-serving figurehead to the role.


So, unless something dramatically changes in the final days of the transfer window, and until Arteta finally unshackles the undoubted attacking potential of this team, then I’m afraid us Arsenal fans are in for yet another season of mediocrity. Or worse.


And that, unfortunately, surely means goodbye to Arteta.




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