Arsenal rolled out of the Emirates this weekend with a lot more than three points against a tricky Leeds United side. Everyone involved at the club will be hoping the team discovered a host of new options, new tactics, and an air of confidence in their ability to attack teams.
It’s worth remember that Leeds have been a side all year that teams have had success attacking against, but the way in which Arsenal went about it is a credit to Arteta’s tactics, and a potential glimpse into the type of squad that Arteta wants to field.
A heavy emphasis on packing as many creative, ball playing options into as many positions as possible. It might be too far to suggest, but at its roots, it’s a philosophy that people associate with Pep and Wenger, even. Not that there isn’t much more to their tactical nous that separates them from the rest — things that Arsenal fans will be wishing to the stars Arteta has picked up and possesses for himself — but it’s an attacking style of play many Arsenal fans will happily get behind.
Take a look at the side that Arsenal fielded against Leeds and count the players that offer attacking skill. Bellerin and Luiz; Soares at one point was touted by Mikel as the best player Arsenal had in the final third; Ceballos an attack-minded midfielder; Ødegaard; Smith Rowe; Bukayo Saka; and Aubameyang, a prolific goalscorer to lead them all. The two names left off the list — Xhaka and Gabriel — neither of which are the worst options the Gunners have on the ball, especially when Xhaka looks to keep the tempo humming along.
But in order to bring that sort of philosophy to life, Arteta will have to find a way to create a sense of consistency, as well as, build upon this platform within the transfer market.
As Arsenal get ready for Benfica on Thursday, every fan will be well aware of what is on the line in this two-legged knockout affair. Arsenal sit in 10th place, 8 points behind Chelsea in 4th, which makes the gap in points looks achievable. The gap in points, plus the number of teams that lie between them and that final European spot? That makes the odds feel bleak. It brings a feeling of ‘last ditch effort’ to the Europa League. A final lifeline for season salvation.
If Arsenal fail to go on a second straight, late-season run to cup glory, and a few Premier League matches against teams like City, Leicester, or Spurs don’t go their way, there could soon be a sense of formality to the remainder of the year, which will inevitably bring an early shift in attention to the summer transfer window.
In all honesty, there already is a lot of attention on the window. You can’t help but look ahead when the window is another crucial step in Arsenal’s multi-year rebuild. The laundry list of moves that Arsenal have to make this summer is extensive. Not only incomings, an aspect fans will be chomping at the bit to see early and often, the outgoing decisions as well. To make matters more complicated, much like last summer, some of the outgoings may have to be signed, sealed and delivered before any incomings are let through the gates.
Which brings us to a growing worry, one exacerbated by recent David Luiz news. Shortly after the Leeds match, news began to circulate that Arsenal were set to deliver a one-year extension on David Luiz’s contract expiring at the end of the season.
24 hours later, an article from Football London‘s Chris Wheatley, talks about the leadership role that Luiz has taken on with Arsenal’s youth players, but assures that no contract talks have actually begun.
The update will have brought a sigh of relief from quite a few Arsenal fans, myself included, but only momentarily. I couldn’t help but follow up that fear with one of Arsenal attempting to take shortcuts this offseason with a host of uncreative decisions, which is exactly how I view the extension of David Luiz — uncreative.
Arsenal need to find themselves: a backup goalkeeper, a backup left back, at least one more quality central midfielder — preferably an attacking one — probably a long term right back replacement, and a striker, depending on what they do in terms of Lacazette and Nketiah sales. There also has been suggestion that Arsenal are looking for a right-center back option, which feels odd given Holding’s performances, Saliba returning, and even Dinos Mavropanos playing well on loan.
Couple that with the list of sales and outgoings that need to happen and Edu has more than enough work on his plate. What he cannot afford to do is cut corners with a Luiz transfer, a Dani Ceballos permanent deal for the rumored 25 million euro, and a Lacazette extension simply because these players are on hand.
It’s going to take graft, hard work, and scouring the planet Earth to find the right players that fit the age profile and skills sets Arteta needs, but that’s the job. A one-year extension, albeit only one year, is a short term, uncreative solution that presents a probable roadblock for other more important players’ growth and development.
Do it right. Regardless of how this year finishes, Edu and Arsenal need to find a ruthless nature within themselves. If Arsenal do manage to salvage the season to some extent, even a return to next year’s Europa League proper, we can’t see that translate into affection for the players that got us here but aren’t cutting it long term.
Arsenal are a side with far too many weak links among their ranks. Even as temporary solutions and stepping stones to better days, Arsenal must avoid traps like the ones above. Thank Luiz for his time, thank Ceballos for his contributions to the FA Cup run, and find Lacazette another home. I’d like to see Torreira sold, Elneny moved along, Nketiah sold for a decent fee, Maitland-Niles probably exited for a fee worthy of his versatility, and early decisions made around Willock and Reiss Nelson. Sell or loan once more. There is a list of players whose contracts end in 2022. Shit or get off the pot, Arsenal. I would even be strongly considering a sale of Granit Xhaka since he likely still fetches a reasonable fee at this point in his career.
If Arsenal believe Ødegaard is someone that fits the plans and Real Madrid is willing to part ways for a reasonable fee, that could be a nice addition, but I still would like to see Arsenal add another quality midfielder, possibly one that partners Partey in a pivot if Arsenal intend to continue with their 4-2-3-1 formation.
What Arsenal can’t fall into are the traps of players that are readily available but hardly the solution to their needs. Funds will continue to be a worry as revenue streams remain sparse, but with players like Thomas Partey entering the second year of his three year deal, Aubameyang on a ticking clock, and other players aging toward their primes, it’s time to start putting the pieces that will last the next few years together. This summer has to be done right, not easily.