It’s been a relatively quiet week from an Arsenal perspective during this North London Derby fallout. Aside from the news that Szoboszlai’s move t0 RB Leipzig is all but completed meaning Arsenal will have to find other targets in January, and Thursday’s Europa League win against Dundalk to complete the team’s group stage, there hasn’t been as much buzz in the Arsenal sound waves.
It’s understandable. Everyone is at a tipping point with Arsenal and the task at hand is completely dependent on getting results. There’s not much to say. Win this weekend and Arsenal buy themselves a bit more time, lose and the questions many have begun to ask about Arteta’s managerial chops will gain another major point to add to their argument. There are aspects that many fans will want to see, but getting a result first and foremost supersedes all else.
In recent weeks, Arteta’s faith in veteran players has justifiably been called into question. It’s been clear from the beginning of the season that Mikel’s preference has been to rely heavily on “Premier League proven”, veteran players and has packed his side with experienced, but aging players.
Be it David Luiz, Granit Xhaka, Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang; Arsenal often has it’s fair share of players well into, or past, their prime. The faith that Arteta has placed into each and every one of them has yet to be repaid. As Arsenal slide further and further down the table, settling into 15th place, the performances of late have been nothing short of horrendous. The correct results have almost always followed.
Yet fans cling to just a little bit of hope, reinvigorated during Arsenal’s midweek Europa League matches over the last month, when Arsenal’s youth players show the life fans are looking for from the club’s veterans. Rampant pressing, good attacking movements, goals, assists, a variety in their patterns of play, and of course results. However, it goes without saying that these results are coming against competition that probably doesn’t quite stack up to what Arsenal face domestically.
With veterans failing in the league and youth players struggling make the leap to the next level, Arteta needs to find a way to balance the youth and veterans. It’s likely unfair to put the burden of saving Arsenal’s season on the shoulders of Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, and Emile Smith Rowe, but just because they can’t save the season single handedly, doesn’t mean they aren’t a part of the internal solution.
With Thomas Partey out for the foreseeable future, the solution to Arenal’s struggles gets that much more complicated, but Arteta cannot continue to make the same mistake over and over and over again, in the hopes that Willian actually turns up for a match. Players like Reiss Nelson, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock (at times), and Emile Smith Rowe have shown glimpses of skillsets that few to no other player offer. Nelson has good technical skill and a direct bit to his game on the wings. Maitland-Niles offering legs in the midfield. ESR creating value in the dangerous spaces between the lines, and Joe Willock has the potential to be a true box-to-box threat.
Conversely, veterans like Willian, Ceballos, and Xhaka have struggled to rise to the occasion and overcome the challenges, yet they continue to be given the opportunities week in and week out. The side doesn’t have to be filled with 10 youth players. It doesnt need an average age of 21. But Mikel has to show movement in the right direction.
Bring in Reiss Nelson in place of Willian. Play one of ESR or Willock in the midfield. Partner someone like Elneny with Maitland-Niles, and BY GOD, put Folarin Balogun on your bench. Not ready to start him yet? I get it. He has played late in the game for two ‘throwaway’ matches in the Europa League, but what he did with is time was incredibly impressive. Much like Martinelli and Saka last year, Balogun must be given a real opportunity to shine. With a goal involvement every 20 minutes so far, he is showing that he can make things happen with very few touches, and THAT is a hard skill to find at any level.
Mix in the hard working young with the talented aging. Bring in the fight of players trying to make the next leap in their career. It’s a harder decision than we as fans likely make it out to be, considering our livlihoods and future careers don’t depend on the results, yet that dependency on things turning around may be the reason Arteta needs to try something different on Sunday. Burnley will likely look to be physical and attempt to impose themselves — especially on free kicks. Put out a lineup with a lovely blend of talents you can have out on the pitch to guide and lead, and youth you can count on to work, drive, and trying something new for you.
The results has to be a win and 3 points. At this point, the performance is an added bonus. But putting out the same 11 time and time again, expecting it to go different? … Well that is just madness, Mikel.