Anyone can lose 3-0 to Manchester City at the Etihad. The home side were very impressive, and Kevin de Bruyne in that sort of form is hard to stop. But Arsenal were as poor as City were great, and they weren’t helped out by their manager, who made some strange decisions. Here are five questions Mikel Arteta needs to answer. and there’s only one way to start…
David Luiz? Why?
We picked out David Luiz as one of the players facing a 40-day audition for his future. Turns out his audition was akin to getting on stage, singing the first line of ‘Memory’ in the wrong key and being thanked for his time.
I wrote earlier that these players were facing a 40-day audition for their future.
Turns out David Luiz’s lasted 25 minutes.https://t.co/i6r2fIMpXD
— Will Ford (@willfordy25) June 17, 2020
Luiz accepted full responsibility for the defeat in a rambling post-match interview, and was backed by Mikel Arteta who praised his “honesty” and “straightforwardness”. Yes, but what about his defending, Mikel?
Jamie Carragher suggests there is a difference of opinion between the board – who are “right” in not wanting to pay Luiz £200,000 a week to make mistake after mistake for another season – and Arteta, who thinks he can “get another year out of Luiz”.
As Carragher points out, experience is one of the most “over-rated qualities”. And particularly in Luiz’s case, who unlike your typical elder statesman, becomes less level-headed with every passing knee waft towards a ball.
Does he really think he can force Ozil out?
From one contract disaster to the next. Rather than claiming Mesut Ozil was injured, Arteta admitted he was left out of Arsenal’s squad for “tactical reasons” – which is quite a statement.
He thought there were 20 better players equipped to play against Manchester City. He’s absolutely right, of course. Pep Guardiola and his players would have been rubbing their hands with glee if they saw the German playmaker in the starting XI.
If Arteta had any real hope of getting a tune out of Ozil against teams when he will have time and space on the ball, he would surely at least have put him on the bench – simply to keep him happy, or at least slightly less miserable. The fact that he didn’t, goes to show that Arteta – like Ozil – has given up.
But Ozil still has a year to run on his £350,000-a-week contract, and he’s already said he’s not going anywhere. Sure, most footballers insist they are desperate to be playing and making the most of their short careers, but some – like Ozil – are a little less dedicated. And good luck to him, Arsenal were daft enough to offer him the contract, so why shouldn’t he get paid for their stupidity? He could possibly go to China and get close to those numbers, but why not chill out in London on £18million a year instead?
Why not play Aubameyang up front?
From the next contract disaster, to the one after that…
Arteta should be doing everything to keep Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang happy. The striker has claimed the club “hold the key” to the much-talked-about contract negotiations, but Arteta appears rightly sceptical as to whether Aubameyang really wants to be there – the last thing he wants is another Ozil contract nightmare.
This, of course, could have been sorted last season, when he had two years left to run on his contract. But that would be smart business, and this is Arsenal. Who are they going to buy to replace his goals? Do they have a spare £100million lying around? Absolute madness.
And he certainly won’t have come any closer to signing a new deal after that Man City drubbing. Why was he stuck out on the left wing? Play your best player in his best position, where he has the best chance to add to his frankly ridiculous goalscoring record. To score 61 goals in 97 games in that team is remarkable. The inclusion of Eddie Nketiah as the lone striker over Alexandre Lacazette makes it somehow even more bizarre. This was Manchester City.
Standing on the wing watching players of your standard pass the ball around your inferior teammates for all but the first 20 minutes must have been painful, and who could blame him for leaving now?
Is that really their best midfield?
Seb Stafford-Bloor was questioning the ability of Matteo Guendouzi in his 16 Conclusions, and he has a point. Which should be very concerning, considering the Frenchman was probably Arsenal’s best midfielder at the Etihad.
While all his gesticulating and shouting seems histrionic at times, the 21-year-old at least attempts an intricate pass into midfield and noticeably tries to push his team forward. It took Joe Willock’s substitution in the second half for me to realise he had been on the pitch for the first 67 minutes. And Dani Ceballos, given his form before the break, would have been starting the game were he not about to return to Real Madrid.
Not that Arteta has any options to change it now. Granit Xhaka looks as though he will be out for a couple of games after being stretchered off early on, while Lucas Torreira is still recovering from an ankle fracture. Maybe David Luiz could play CDM?
Why not Nicolas Pepe?
The £72million club record signing hasn’t had the best debut season, but it’s been far from a disaster. And before the pandemic hit, the winger was starting to illustrate why Arsenal paid all that money, with three assists and a goal in the last three games.
The need for caution against Man City at the Etihad is understandable, and Pepe isn’t renowned for the defensive hard yards, but neither is Aubameyang. Why not play Aubameyang up top and Pepe on the right wing? He could then have played Bukayo-of-all-trades Saka on the left in front of Kieran Tierney to deal with Kyle Walker, Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez – the more dangerous side of City’s attack.
What’s left of the season is essentially a free hit for Arteta. They’re not going to get in the Champions League, and probably won’t care if they do or don’t make it into the Europa League. He’s got to try and get his best players playing. If the likes of Pepe can finish this season on a high, there might be more hope for next, or at least less than the predicted dread floating around Arsenal fans’ living rooms right now.