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Mentality a bigger worry for Arsenal than tactics

Brighton & Hove Albion v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Brighton & Hove Albion v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Modified 25 Jun 2020, 02:54 IST
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A nightmarish past week has brought the optimism at Arsenal back to earth. Back-to-back losses to Manchester City and Brighton, coupled with serious injuries and suspensions, have piled the pressure on Mikel Arteta. While it is abundantly clear that there is a lack of quality in the squad itself, a bigger worry for Arteta could be the mentality and commitment of this Arsenal side.

Arsenal's lack of spine and leadership has become a pretty cliched expression in recent times. The departures of the likes of Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Gilberto Silva have been frequently attributed to the Gunners' capitulation under pressure. While this is true to an extent, the situation has exacerbated exponentially since long-time Arsene Wenger's departure. This current squad is one that is completely bereft of any leaders with the exception of one or two players.

Arsenal is all talent, no commitment

Arsenal FC v Newcastle United - Premier League
Arsenal FC v Newcastle United - Premier League

Arsenal do have talented players in the squad, without a doubt. The question to be asked is: how many of these players justify the hype and expectation around them on the football pitch?

Mesut Ozil is unfairly scapegoated at times but the German's performances in the last two years have to be called out. Ozil rarely travels to away games, let alone makes the starting eleven, all while earning upwards of £300,000 a week. This is extremely damaging for the morale of the other Arsenal players but more importantly, creates the impression that poor performances are excused as long as players are on lucrative contracts.

It's no secret that Arsenal have a massive wage bill. The unfortunate reality is that very few in this current crop of players justify being paid so much. So far, reports indicate that Arteta has been extremely strict in his assessment of the players, and his team selection has shown the same. Big names are no longer assured starters with Arteta willing to risk playing the inexperienced youngsters who show more commitment in training. This is a welcome move, but there's a long way to go to develop a winning-mentality in his Arsenal squad.

Players shirking responsibility

Manchester City v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Manchester City v Arsenal FC - Premier League

A serious problem in the Arsenal side is the number of players who refuse to take responsibilities for their actions, especially in the big games.

Arsenal haven't won away from home against a top-six club since 2015. While the club's managers do bear a lot of responsibility, so do the players. The more damning indicator is that three different Arsenal coaches have not been able to coax consistent performances out of this group.

Tactically speaking, Arsenal have improved defensively under Arteta. They have a better defensive shape, and the back-line is more cohesive. However, the Spaniard cannot account for the numerous individual errors that the players make. David Luiz's debacle at Manchester City is one such example.

Whenever Arsenal concede, there's always the pointing of fingers rather than owning up to mistakes. This reflects poorly on the players and not the coach. The only players in this squad with leadership qualities are Granit Xhaka and perhaps Sokratis Papasthatopoulos and Matteo Guendouzi. Unfortunately, the latter two do not perform consistently.

The Arsenal midfield is a cause for concern because it is directly affecting both the attack and defence. Looking back on the games against Manchester City and Brighton, the contests were lost because of the lack of discipline and steel among the Arsenal midfielders.

With Xhaka out injured, Arsenal were overrun with ease by their opponents. Dani Ceballos and Matteo Guendouzi completely ignored their defensive duties while Joe Willock was anonymous. Yes, these players are young and inexperienced, but for the same reason, they should also be raring to perform and cement their places in the side.

Lack of team spirit

Brighton & Hove Albion v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Brighton & Hove Albion v Arsenal FC - Premier League

A telling sign of Arsenal's current predicament is Bernd Leno's injury against Brighton. After being taken out by a malicious challenge from Neil Maupay that required the Arsenal custodian to be stretchered off, not a single Arsenal player went over to console their teammate.

Captain Pierre Emerick Aubameyang barely moved, while many of the players simply took a water-break rather than comfort a distraught Leno. The story may have been different had Sokratis and Xhaka been on the pitch.

Guendouzi was the only Arsenal player to confront Maupay, and even that happened only after the match. Arteta criticised this in his press conference, saying his side should show more intensity during the game rather than reacting afterwards. While Arsenal are frequently at the end of questionable refereeing decisions, perhaps these would be less frequent if they stood up for themselves and their teammates.

Published 25 Jun 2020, 02:53 IST
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