Gunner Thoughts

It’s Time for Arteta to Manufacture a Response Through a Changed Selection

In search of “a response” Arsenal have slid to a four game streak without a win. A response hasn’t come naturally and it’s time for Arteta to manufacture a response by changing his selection.

Unsurprisingly, in the cold light of the day, the emotions surrounding Arsenal’s result against Manchester City didn’t feel much improved. On the contrary, entering circles of online, fan discourse felt like entering some digital war scene after the defenses have been bombed and lines broken.

As I scrolled down the timeline I had this feeling as though I were standing dazed, surrounded by people coping with the moment and reacting in entirely crazed, incongruent ways, trying to rally those around them to their thinking.

There were the people attempting to calm the storm and assure people of silver linings and positives. There were the people shell-shocked and resigned to the fact that this loss meant season-ending death. There were the mutineers out for witch hunting, looking to lay blame at the feet of individuals. There were people looking to run and stating their belief it was best everyone just take a day off and regroup.

Was the fault in the attack, the defense, the mistakes, the tactics, with Eddie, with the selection, with Jesus and Partey… was there no problem at all, just a match against a very good team that Arsenal fell short in?

Many have their own opinions, although I’m inclined to believe and tell you it’s a mixture of it all, as it often is when a loss is the culmination of a team effort failing to put away crucial moments and losing within tight margins. But, hey, react as you will.

Before the match, I wrote that about this title-challenging season being an odyssey with this match coming at a moment in which Arsenal’s sails had gone limp for the first extended time. Conveniently, or inconveniently, this match offered the Gunners an opportunity to land a result that didn’t just reignite the movement, but propel them a long ways toward their goals. It also presented a trap that could hurtle the side a long ways off course.

Arsenal are on a four game slide, albeit 1 draw and 1 cup match, but after each one you’ve probably heard the phrase, “it’s all about the response” or “this damage will be mitigated if the team respond”. It’s not that this statement is wrong, I myself said these very words in a blog following the loss to Everton, but that response hasn’t come.

In that same blog, I centered my statement around the belief that Arsenal were in need of a response, not an overreaction; that this team could rally itself from the depths reset its course. They have improved in marginal ways, but failed to truly “respond” as they drew to Brentford and lost to City. Now, the need for getting a result against Aston Villa is nearing desperation levels.

In the face of not getting a natural response, it’s time for Arteta to strongly consider how he manufactures a response through a change in his selection.

The principles of this team has guided them this far, but in recent matches there are plenty of reasons to believe aspects of Arsenal’s play have become predictable. In part, this is due to missing two key figures — Jesus and Partey — but the zip in the movement has gone, the versatility and variety in attacking angles seems uncreative, and teams are all too prepared to clog the middle and be diligently ready to double team in the wings. It’s stumped Arsenal lately and a Plan B must be found, by hook or by crook. Although… less crook, more new profiles for opposition to contend with.

When Manchester City failed to get a result earlier this month against Tottenham, they deployed one of their most attacking lineups of the season against Aston Villa.

Not all too different from the lineup used versus Arsenal in the first half, one that Arsenal actually took advantage of and looked like the more dangerous team, but it was a side that scored three goals in the first half versus Unai Emery’s Villa side and took no prisoners.

As Arsenal struggle to finding attacking results — 2 goals in their last 4 matches — is this a recipe that paves the way for a bold Arteta selection?

Two years ago, out of desperation, Arteta deployed a very changed side against Chelsea on Boxing Day and it became a sliding door moment for the side. It’s probable that this current team won’t stumble upon a lineup that alters selections for the remainder of the season, but they are in need of something to shock this heart back to life and keep it ticking until Jesus returns to lead the line with his versatile, all-action play.

The changes at Mikel’s disposal aren’t endless, but there’s a recipe for changing things up that Arteta has to find. Many are looking to names like Trossard, Vieira, maybe Smith Rowe soon, a change of Martinelli positioning, Kieran Tierney, and a reintroduction of Ben White.

I don’t believe it’s in Arteta’s interest to overreact and throw the kitchen sink at this with all of them, but how he rotates for fresh legs for this third game in a single week could achieve a change of pace, a bit of rest, and a manufactured response from players seeking more minutes.

I would be intrigued to see Arteta go for a very attacking, bold lineup.

Potential Arsenal Lineup Change

Now seems like the time for Trossard to start after Martinelli has struggled to find a rhythm with Nketiah and this “new” left-half side. Short of Mikel spending significant time in training trying Trossard centrally, I wouldn’t expect to see him slot in centrally, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t something there late in games. Trossard has been a breath of fresh air with his play and more than earned the opportunity.

Ben White will, and probably should, regain his spot at right back. Sorry Tomiyasu.

There has to be a moment we see Kiwior introduced to at least test the waters of what he can offer this side. I don’t believe it will be against Aston Villa in a starting role, but could see it coming soon as a sub.

When it comes to left back, my selection is based almost entirely on who else in the lineup is selected in front of them. There is a lot of Tierney can offer in the attacking third when it comes to overlapping Martinelli, something we haven’t seen from Zinchenko, but Zinchenko is still the player that offers us the most in build up phases and probably the most potential to supply a variety of attacking angles. When things go right and Arsenal look their best, it’s Zinchenko’s marshaling of the team and ability to keep us ticking that shone brightly. If Trossard is selected, I probably stick with Zinchenko, unless it’s a part of normal rest and rotation. To add to that argument, Arsenal have had a lot of success in away matches when they can dominate possession, something Zinchenko offers the team.

The boldest move I’m considering is the extra usage of Vieira. There’s lots of reasons to have doubts about this, and Vieira is probably leading the way for “most underwhelming” player of the year, but when given starts in central areas he has the ability to offer some attacking punch in a fashion that Xhaka has not lately.

Is this susceptible Villa side the moment we see an Ødegaard-Vieira pairing?

It’s a move that sounds glamorous, and one I want to believe could had a spark and punch to this side, but to even consider removing Xhaka from the team, Arsenal would need to see Partey fit and starting.

There have been a few calls for Zinchenko to play that role, and it’s not out of the question given the slightly deeper role Xhaka has played. Perhaps the machine that is Xhaka is in need of a tune up.

At the very least, if this is a time for bold moves and bold statements to entice a reaction, and jumpstart the team to get back on track, I would be very intrigued to see an attacking setup that changes the look and feel of this Arsenal team. Add that element of unpredictability, even within the same principles and see if you can shock this team back to life.

Arsenal aren’t out of the race but it’s hard to believe ‘a response’ is just around the corner if left to their own devices. Arteta has the ability to elicit something great from this team and this is the perfect opportunity for him to do it.

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