Three things Mikel Arteta must accomplish for Arsenal in January
The task awaiting Mikel Arteta at Arsenal is no less gargantuan, with the Gunners having won just once in their last 14 matches in all competitions.
When the Spaniard joined Arsenal from Everton in 2011, his new team were still reeling from a recent 8-2 demolition by Manchester United. Slowly but surely, the cerebral midfielder established himself as an integral part of Wenger’s team. He left five years later as a fan favourite and Arsenal’s most popular captain since Patrick Vieira.
Arteta is now back at the Emirates Stadium as the manager. Once again, he finds the club in a difficult position and it will be interesting to see if he can work wonders with a club in free-fall.
Here are three things he must do to instigate an improvement.
Tightening up the defence
The ease with which Manchester City cut through Arsenal’s defence recently was worrying. The Gunners have conceded 27 goals in 18 games this season, which is more than Bournemouth, Brighton and Newcastle. No club in the Premier League has kept fewer clean sheets.
For a team that has ambitions of playing and even winning the Champions League, Arsenal are a surprisingly inept side when it comes to defending. Irrespective of who they bring in, the defender more or less starts making horrendous mistakes or is negligent while defending.
For Arteta, it is imperative that he gets somebody who can defend. It will be difficult for him to improve the individual quality of the defenders at his disposal but plenty can be done to solidify the team’s structure. Arsenal need to become difficult to play against again.
Finding a formula to harden Arsenal’s notoriously leaky backline is something that neither Emery nor Wenger could figure out.
The biggest problem that Arteta will face is a lack of qualified personnel in the centre of the defence. Sokratis and David Luiz were both stop-gap signings, Rob Holding isn’t fully fit, Calum Chambers doesn’t know his best position and Shkodran Mustafi is calamitous more often than effective.
Mould Arsenal into a 4-3-3 shape
Part of Unai Emery’s problem at Arsenal was that he never found a shape or system to harness the talent he had in his squad. Many assumed with the addition of Nicolas Pepe over the summer that he would shift to a 4-3-3 but that never happened. Instead, he stuck with a 4-2-3-1 which failed to get the best out of a number of players.
It’s true that Arteta might lack the midfielders to control a game in a 4-3-3 shape but that must be his medium to long-term aim. The centre of the pitch should be shored up with the likes of Mateo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira in the short term with Dani Ceballos being the link between the midfield and the attack. That has to be the way forward for now.
As a pupil of Guardiola, there will undoubtedly be similarities in the style of play with an emphasis on possession football and a high press without the ball.
Throughout his managerial career, Guardiola has favoured a 4-3-3 formation and it has proven effective at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City. Arsenal have a fast and exciting front three of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli. Martinelli has been favoured over Alexandre Lacazette in recent games because of his form.
Keep faith in the young guns
One of Emery’s great failures as Arsenal coach was to visibly improve the senior members of the squad, as Jurgen Klopp has done at Liverpool and Pep Guardiola has done at City.
One bright spark, however, was the emergence of some hugely exciting young talent, such as Matteo Guendouzi, Gabriel Martinelli and Joe Willock.
Arteta doesn’t need a totally youth-centric approach to the Arsenal job, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard have taken at United and Chelsea but the likes of Guendouzi and Martinelli should keep the places they have earned on merit.
The Gunners also have several exciting youngsters in Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe.
Guendouzi’s tireless work off the ball has made him a favourite with the fans. Tierney and Bellerin would make good attacking full-backs, who can push forward and play high up the pitch. Someone like Rob Holding could then be paired with Luiz, playing the more traditional role in marking the lone forward.
Arsenal need the Spaniard to implement some of Guardiola’s winning ways at the Emirates and turn the sinking ship around in north London.