Arsenal: 5 things that are currently going wrong for Mikel Arteta

Mikel Arteta Arsenal

Last weekend, Arsenal slipped to their fourth consecutive home Premier League defeat, this time at the hands of Burnley.

A goalless draw at Leeds and a loss in the North London Derby came between those matches, and with things slowly reaching crisis point at the Emirates Stadium, fans are starting to point the finger at everyone from the players to the manager to the boardroom.

Despite some positive results in the Europa League, a lot seems to be going wrong for Mikel Arteta’s side at the moment. So, let’s take a look at five of the main reasons why they find themselves in trouble.

1) Not enough investment in key areas

Willian Arsenal

Contrary to popular belief, Arsenal have spent a fair bit of money in the last few years. Since 2016-17, they’ve paid out at least £70m in transfer fees every season, investing an average of £106.6m per campaign.

The issue is they’ve failed to address key problem areas. Even before this season began, you could see Arsenal were struggling creatively compared to other top teams. Every other big six side outscored them in 2019-20, yet they didn’t make any signings to directly address this.

Willian joined from Chelsea, off the back of a pretty good season creatively, but he replaced Nicolas Pépé in the starting lineup. With Mesut Özil also dropping out of contention, that meant Willian had to fill the gap left by Arsenal’s top-two creators over the last 12 months — in a side already finding chances hard to come by.

Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhaes look like excellent signings, but they’re not the answer to Arsenal’s creative problems. The one area the club really needed summer additions in was largely ignored.

2) Injuries and suspensions

Gabriel Martinelli Arsenal

Despite some questionable summer decision-making, Arteta’s side have also been a bit unlucky on the injury front.

Gabriel Martinelli was one of the emerging stars of last season, but he’s yet to play a game in this one. Pablo Marí was set for a return in early October before setbacks ruled him out until December. Partey looked so impressive against Manchester United last month, before starting just one of the next six games.

One of the internal answers to Arsenal’s creative concerns in midfield was Emile Smith Rowe. Arteta seems very fond of the 20-year-old, who has a goal and an assist in two cameo substitute appearances in Europe. Yet the academy graduate hasn’t even made an appearance in the Premier League this season yet amid his own injury struggles.

Those are just a few examples from a growing list. There was Pépé and Xhaka's red cards, David Luiz’s head injury, and a couple of recent coronavirus cases to boot. It’s all compounding the current problems facing Arsenal.

3) Confidence issues

Jamie Vardy goal vs Arsenal

More than most clubs, this current squad of Arsenal players seem to suffer from wild variations in form. It hardly seems plausible that the side losing matches to Villa, Leicester and Wolves in such dispiriting fashion were the same team who beat Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool at Wembley just a few months ago.

It feels like the players are overly reliant on confidence. If they’re on a run of good results, they fight hard for every ball, they stick to the system, and they can score some lovely team goals. But one or two slip-ups and suddenly they can’t string two passes together.

It’s more than just playing badly, half the team seem to give up every time anything goes against them. They don’t appear to believe in their own game plan like they did in July and August.

Perhaps the fans can help with this, as they have in the Europa League. The team seemed to get a lift from having 2,000 supporters back in the stadium against Rapid Vienna, dominating the fixture. Still, they all need to believe in themselves a bit more when things aren’t going their way.

4) Forwards on a goal drought

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal

As mentioned, Arsenal are struggling to create chances at the moment, but that doesn’t completely explain why Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are scoring so few.

For the most part, the starting lineup is pretty similar to last season, when Aubameyang scored 16 and assisted two in 22 appearances under Arteta. Yet he’s scoring less than one goal every three appearances in 2020-21.

Similarly, Lacazette opened this season up with three goals in three games, then scored zero in his next eight. Both players went off the boil at once, which is a major problem. Arteta will hope Lacazette’s goal against Rapid Vienna is the start of him turning the corner.

Arsenal are so reliant on their strikers, with very few goals coming from defence and midfield. Any variation in form subsequently severely impacts the success of the team, which is what we’re seeing currently.

5) Arteta hasn’t found his best system

Mikel Arteta Arsenal team talk

After almost a full year of management, Arteta still hasn’t settled on a formation. He often used a 4-2-3-1 before lockdown, with Özil playing in the number 10 role. Then he switched to a 3-4-3/4-3-3 hybrid system in the latter stages of last season, relying on Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka to play one role in possession and another out of it.

Since then, he’s tried a more traditional 4-3-3, and even attempted returning to 4-2-3-1 with Lacazette behind the striker against Molde and Rapid Vienna.

This chopping and changing is largely because the Arsenal manager doesn’t have the personnel for the system he really wants to play. He has to adapt his tactics to what is available, but he should still be doing better with his current options.

Arsenal fans will hope he figures it out quickly. They can’t afford to wait until Arteta has the players he wants to start getting results. The team need points on the board now, or they’ll struggle to attract those new signings when the transfer window rolls back around.

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