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Why Mikel Arteta must institute changes to build Arsenal’s platform to recovery

The Gunners’ 3-1 defeat against Manchester City was a tough pill to swallow, but with Arsenal still level on points with Pep Guardiola’s men while boasting a match in hand over the champions, Mikel Arteta must consider changes to kick-start the Premier League recovery process

It has been quite some time since Arsenal found itself in the throngs of a hotly-contested Premier League title race. Many in the global fanbase still view the 2015-16 campaign as a missed opportunity as Leicester City counter-attacked their way to one of the most memorable moments in English football in a generation.

And there is no disrespect intended regarding the Foxes’ success. To win the Premier League, while tactically going against the grain deserves every ounce of praise it continues to receive But from the perspective of a club of the size and stature of Arsenal, to be unable to capitalize on a campaign where every single direct rival finished below us in the table and still come up empty-handed, was certainly a hard pill to swallow.

That feeling of missing the boat was exacerbated tenfold on the back of an even harsher reality; one that reminds us of the last time we celebrated with an open-top boss was nineteen seasons ago from where we currently sit today. That knowledge alone has driven such an emotional attachment – and subsequent greater emotional responses on either side of the spectrum – to what has transpired on the pitch during the current 2022-23 Premier League landscape.

After blitzing the league for the vast majority of the league season to date, which included an undefeated run that spanned thirteen matches between 18 September and 22 January where Arsenal dropped points in just two fixtures, Mikel Arteta’s young guns have hit their first considerable obstacle in the wake of Wednesday’s 3-1 loss against Manchester City at the Emirates.

In isolation, the result against the current league holders is contextually not the cataclysmic event that many have tried to claim on social media. On a night where we were our own worst enemy on the back of three costly errors that City capitalized on, Arsenal was not incredibly poor on the night and the scoreline certainly flattered to deceive.

But, in truth, the reaction in the aftermath of the result is more of a reaction to the reality that we are now behind City after setting the pace in the table for so long, and, more frustratingly, the defeat was on the back of a very disappointing loss against Everton at Goodison Park and a hard-earned points against a very capable side in Thomas Frank’s Brentford.

Villa has looked like a new beast under Emery in the wake of his arrival after the club parted ways with Steven Gerrard, but a quick look at their run of results still shows a side that is – much like we remember during his time at the Emirates – a very Jekyll & Hyde outfit. On their day, the Villains are capable at both ends of the pitch and can source goals from a number of contributors in the final third but are still very much there to be picked apart at the back.

This has been readily apparent in their last two results; a 4-2 loss at home against Leicester City, and a 3-1 loss away against the current champions. But how can Arteta extract the required response away from home when our own issues in the attack have bubbled to the surface at the last three times of asking?

For starters, it may be time to once again revisit what Eddie Nketiah brings to the table. A capable finisher, the Hale End product has done a serviceable job standing in place of Gabriel Jesus since the resumption of the season after the 2022 World Cup, and in some instances, put in fantastic shifts leading the line. But already, his influence has drastically diminished, and the reality that he is incapable of offering the full breadth of what Jesus brings to this team and in this system is beyond his effective range as a front-line striker.

January signing Leandro Trossard offers a profile far closer to Jesus in terms of attacking output, tactical flexibility, and technical craft. What’s more, the 28-year-old Belgian international has credible history in the 9 role during his time at Brighton. With his understanding of space and combination play, his inclusion would hopefully go a long way to unlocking increased contributions from Gabriel Martinelli who so often has been on an island while Nketiah has led the line.

Interchange of play further forward would also allow for the reintroduction of both Granit Xhaka and Oleksandr Zinchenko to enjoy greater contributions both during the build-up and attacking phases of play, much in the same way they performed when Jesus was in the team pre-Qatar. This is not to throw Nketiah under the bus; anything but. His goals were vital when we needed them after the restart and on quite a handful of occasions he was one of the best performers on the night, but his shelf life to lead the line during a title challenge seems to have now ended.

Other changes to possibly consider come in the vein of re-installing Ben White at right-back, shifting White into center-back to give one of Gabriel Magalhães or William Saliba a much-needed reset (both have been below the standard during the current poor run of form), or possibly giving Kieran Tierney a run out at left-back to either shift Zinchenko into midfield or give the Ukrainian international an outright reset of his own.

What Arteta also must avoid, however, is an uncharacteristic overreaction and turn to chopping and changing the bulk of the preferred XI simply because Arsenal has hit what is hopefully nothing more than a temporary blip on the radar screen.

Regardless of what changes, if any, the Spanish tactician may turn to tomorrow at lunchtime, refreshing the matchday team is a necessary component of a successful push for major honors. In that vein, if Arsenal is to get back on track and try to be the first across the finish line come May, we must act the part if we are to once again become what we all so desperately crave.

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Andrew Thompson

US-based Football writer. German football guru with a wealth of experience in youth development and analysis. Data aficionado. Happily championing the notion that Americans have a knowledgeable voice in the beautiful game.

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