Arsenal’s poor performance at Villarreal last Thursday was the look that fans have become accustomed to this season.
Mikel Arteta’s team posed a very small goal threat – largely due to the fact that the boss chose to play without a recognized striker – and in defense … well, the less is said about it, the better.
Facing your former manager is never easy, especially when he understands many of the strengths and weaknesses of the current group. What made La Ceramica’s defeat last week incredibly disappointing from Arsenal’s point of view was that it wasn’t a Unai Emery master class – it was actually far from it.
His decision to replace Paco Alcácer and replace him with Francis Cockwell at half-time was typical of Emery. As a result of the change, the hosts sank deep, became extremely passive and handed over control of possession to a very bad side of Arsenal.
When Arsenal’s goal came home approximately 15 minutes later, even the most ardent fans would admit that they are extremely happy. Bukayo Saka made a contact between himself and the manu Trigueros and the referee bought it, pointing it out immediately. Nicolas Pepe converted coolly and after only two attempts to aim all night, the gunners returned to the draw.
The club’s loyalists will hope that Arteta has learned something or two after the first match and after Pierre-Emerick Abumeyang returns to the starting lineup over the weekend, he will almost certainly start with a striker this time. The captain was on the bench last week, but he was clearly not able to start enough. The boss’s lack of faith in Eddie Nketia or Gabriel Martinelli leading the line saw him try something completely different by placing Emil Smith Rowe as a fake nine.
The experiment failed terribly.
But at Aubameyang Arsenal there will be a focal point in attack and a powerful goal threat. Last week’s decision not only significantly weakened the Gunners in the final third, but also led to Raul Albiol and Pau Torres, who played too comfortably from behind.
Elsewhere, the removal of Danny Chebalos after his red card in the first game should be the impetus that Arteta must restore Granit Jaka in the midfield. Together with Parthey, the Swiss midfielder is half of the strongest pairings of the team’s midfield and continuing to play him at left back, even in the absence of Chebalos, did not make much sense.
Samuel Chuquuese proved at various times in the first match that he beat Xhaka, if only because he is significantly faster. The winger plays on the right, but he has a left foot and tends to cut from the inside, possibly playing in the hands of the right foot of the left back – it sounds confusing, but in theory it makes sense. Throw in Cedric Soares!
The decision to break the midfield to plug the left back hole led to the Gunners being ineffective in many positions, a call that drew strong criticism from Arteta.
So Aubameyang will more than likely start as a center-forward, but who will play on both sides?
The enthusiastic Martinelli gave another good story about himself over the weekend and brings energy to the front line like no other available to Arteta. If the Brazilian had to be ignored again, he would be disappointed and begin to doubt what he had to do to win a run in the team.
Pepe has also been impressive lately and both players deserve to start at the Emirates. That would mean dropping Saka, but in addition to winning the penalty last week, he was disappointing in the final third at the end. Maybe he’s a little burned out.
Whether Arteta will be brave enough to choose those in shape over players he always trusts remains to be seen. Arsenal’s future may be dictated by what is happening in north London this Thursday, because he feels that the goodwill he won by directing the club to the glory of the FA Cup last season may have evaporated.
This time he has to do it right when he faces his predecessor – this is a defining device for the gunners of the season.