The task laid before Arsenal prior to them kicking off against Manchester City was an almighty one. Unprecedented break from football, both sides’ respective league campaigns and form aside, taking on the champions on their own patch is inherently daunting.
So when Mikel Arteta fielded a starting lineup that looks more like one of their 11 v 11 mixed team training sessions, that daunting task became insurmountable.
At least that was the general consensus, which is to be expected when the likes of Matteo Guendouzi, Joe Willock, Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah started ahead of Dani Ceballos, Mesut Ozil, Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette. It’s fair to say, he shocked a fair few with that team.
But this is a manager who isn’t afraid to make big calls. Sure, Unai Emery wasn’t either, but the issue of communication with the former boss meant his decisions often went unexplained and without the plainly yearned for clarity.
Arteta, however, has no such issues with getting his point across. The difference he’s made in his short time at the club is vast, with the performances on the pitch reflecting that new, positive approach.
The Spaniard simply won’t tolerate anything less than his sky-high demands. His team selection proved that.
Fielding such a youthful squad is evidence that he rewards players on their input in training, not on the price tags or wages they come with. And, after 15 or so minutes, it looked OK.
But while this was the platform for youth to shine, it also clearly demonstrated that in order for the seeds of youth to flower, the overgrown weeds must be trimmed first.
They soon tailed off, as the City midfield took hold of proceedings, but there is absolutely nothing Arteta, nor his young stars on the night, can do when players of vast experience put in performances that suggest they’d done nothing but eat chips and make Tik Tok videos all lockdown.
You know who I mean.
There is zero chance of the club progressing, developing and reinstating their place in the Premier League top four, unless maniacal and embarrassing errors aren’t eradicated.
This is not coaching. This is not tactics. This is not formations. It’s individual performances falling horrifically short of the standard expected at Arsenal Football Club.
One positive that Arsenal fans can take from Wednesday night’s soul-crushing 3-0 defeat is that Arteta knows this.
He knows where the issues within the side lie, and he’s setting about to alter them.
That’s why the lineup was what we saw. He put out the 11 most dedicated and committed players he has at his disposal, knew they’d give their all to the cause, fight for the jersey and stick to the plan. But, equally importantly, wouldn’t lose focus at the key moments and fluff up so excruciatingly badly that they’d cost the side dearly.
Hence why David Luiz wasn’t there.
Many will have preferred the Brazilian to start at the Etihad. He’s error-strewn, but has shown minor glimpses of leadership this season and is, well, the best of a bad bunch. Supposedly.
Clearly some things aren’t right behind the scenes. Luiz was dropped, and Ozil not even in the squad.
For all the elements that have gone right since Arteta took charge, being hamstrung by poor individual showings and inexcusable attitudes is keeping the handbrake firmly on.
How much of Arteta’s lineup was down the fitness isn’t known, but those who were the most fit clearly put the extra yards in on the training pitch, and Arteta rewarded that. He sees application and he lauds it. He sees positive change and he encourages it.
But he, as well as the suffering Arsenal fans, will not tolerate constant mistakes and sub-par commitment. Removing that negativity and upping the quality in the squad will require surgery. Arteta’s hands are tied in that respect for obvious reasons, but his side will never flourish and the youth will never be able to fully shine and move the club forward until the club while the old heads continue to cost the club points.
Of course, the 3-0 loss to City can’t be blamed solely on Luiz and some players’ lack of devotion.
City were a cut above Arsenal and the Gunners are a shadow of their former selves. It was rather dominant after the Citizens took ahold of the game. But it’s impossible to overlook the burden(s) weighing heavy on Arteta’s shoulders.
And in order for the club to kick on, those must be lifted.
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