It looked like the Premier League title was slipping away from Arsenal this month when they fell into a sticky patch, losing at Everton, drawing at home to Brentford, then beaten against Manchester City. However, that win against Aston Villa took them back to the top of the table, after City dropped points in their last game. But all four of those matches have exposed a number of warning signs for Mikel Arteta and the team.
Lack of rotation and errors creeping in
Having a settled starting XI was a strength of Arsenal’s throughout the first half of the season. But now the fixtures are coming thick and fast, especially after the campaign was interrupted by the World Cup. This has started to have an effect on some of Arsenal’s first team regulars.
Gabriel Martinelli was electric before the New Year, but has looked jaded in recent weeks. Granit Xhaka has been rejuvenated at the club over the past year, but playing every game now seems to be having an effect on him, as his final ball and decision-making has been questionable in recent games. Martin Odegaard has also gone off the boil a little in the last few games. All this has undoubtedly had an impact on the team’s results as it meant Arsenal were not offering as much of a threat in the final third, which was why they struggled to break down Everton and Brentford. Plus, the defence has also been very shaky in the last couple of matches, and there has been too many basic errors which have led to goals, especially in the games against Manchester City and Aston Villa.
Mikel Arteta made it clear that he has total faith in his players. However, his reluctance to give some of them a rest has become a problem at a crucial stage in the season.
Limited bench options
In order to rotate his squad, Mikel Arteta needs to have confidence that the players coming in can match the standards of his regular starting team. When Arsenal are not firing on all fronts and the manager turns to his bench, it has become predictable as to who will enter the play. January signing Leandro Trossard coming on for Gabriel Martinelli has become a standard change, while Fabio Vieira and Takehiro Tomiyasu have also emerged as players that the manager brings on to change the game – and that’s about it. Compare the bench that Arsenal named against Manchester City to the one Pep Guardiola had at his disposal highlighted that the significant gap in squad depth still exists between the two title rivals.
Although Mikel Arteta does not have the largest of squads, he does have players who can come in and potentially make a difference. Going forward he must keep giving them the opportunities they have been awaiting to keep the squad fit and fresh.
Fitness concerns of Thomas Partey
Another concern is the fitness of Thomas Partey, as he has picked up another muscle injury. The player is vital in the middle of the park as he is so crucial to how Arsenal play, both in terms of his ability to protect the defence and progress the ball forward quickly. The team always struggles without him and his injury history has been worrying as he has missed 40 games since his arrival at the club. However, the early signs are that the muscle injury is not too serious and Arsenal will need him back as quickly as possible.
Absence of Gabriel Jesus
Gabriel Jesus has been out since suffering a serious knee injury at the World Cup. While the striker had not been prolific in the first part of the season, he had played a crucial role in the team’s build-up play and looked to be the perfect fit for Mikel Arteta’s system. The club opted to put faith in Eddie Nketiah, and were swiftly rewarded when the striker scored against West Ham and Brighton before bagging a brace in the win over Manchester United. However, the goals have faded since then. Nketiah is not playing poorly, but his finishing has started to let him down and he does not offer as much as Jesus in open play. Jesus has been a big miss in recent weeks and his comeback can’t come soon enough.
Despite Arsenal’s problems as of late, Gabriel Jesus and Emile Smith-Rowe are set to return from their long-term injuries in the coming weeks which will give the team a huge boost in their push for the title.
Win at Aston Villa was a sign of champions?
The Gunners rallied despite going behind twice at Aston Villa to secure a crucial victory to ensure they got their title charge back on track as they struck twice in stoppage time to seal a dramatic 4-2 win. It looked for long periods like Arsenal were going to make it four games without a win in the league and they could have easily crumbled after Aston Villa took the lead twice in the opening 30 minutes. But they showed great character and found a way to win in the most thrilling of circumstances. It was a massive win for Arsenal, who went into the game under real pressure after their 3-1 defeat to Manchester City. That win showed the comeback of champions and that the team are determined to fight till the end.
Oleksandr Zinchenko insists Arsenal can achieve “everything they want” after coming from behind twice to beat Aston Villa and reignite their Premier League title hopes.
Can Arsenal kick on in the title race?
Arsenal next travel away to Leicester, before playing their long-awaited game in hand against Everton. They also face Bournemouth and Crystal Palace at the Emirates in March, with an away trip to Fulham sandwiched in between those two league matches. Plus, the Gunners also pick up their Europa League campaign at the last-16 stage in March as well.
Nobody expected Arsenal to be in this position at this stage of the season, but now that they are in serious title contention, they need to keep winning their matches to stay there and seize this golden opportunity.
Arsenal blew teams away in the early part of the season. Now they must follow on from that victory against Aston Villa and put together another run of consecutive wins to stay ahead of Manchester City.