July 31, 2021

Smith on Arsenal: Selection dilemmas for Arteta to solve

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Sky Sports’ Alan Smith gives his verdict on Arsenal ahead of their Premier League clash with Newcastle on Monday Night Football.

It’s been a better few weeks for the Gunners, who are now unbeaten in five matches in all competitions, but they did endure a frustrating night against Crystal Palace last Thursday.

Mikel Arteta’s side were held to a 0-0 draw by Crystal Palace and they have now failed to score in seven league matches this season, as many as in the entirety of last campaign, as focus once again falls on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and the misfiring forward line ahead of their clash with Newcastle, which is live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event from 7pm on Monday (kick-off 8pm).

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Speaking to Sky Sports, former Arsenal striker Smith talks Aubameyang’s struggles, Aubameyang vs Lacazette as a central striker and Gabriel Martinelli’s potential return and the selection headache it could leave Arteta.

Arsenal’s January transfer window plans, Kieran Tierney’s captaincy credentials and Granit Xhaka’s form are other topics covered as Smith analyses the current situation at the Emirates Stadium…

Auba’s struggles continue

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Image: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang failed to score vs Crystal Palace last Thursday

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang still seems a little below par.

He had one or two moments against Crystal Palace, one when he cut in off the left flank before getting a strong shot away. That was a bit more like it, but, in fairness, he was part of a team that was stuttering and couldn’t really get going.

That didn’t help him. Chances were not being created, and you can’t underestimate what a big miss Kieran Tierney was. His runs on the outside allow Aubameyang to drift in and get closer to goal.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 1:04
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang admits his recent performances have not been the best, but is confident he can recapture his best form.

That didn’t happen enough against Palace.

Having got a goal against Newcastle in the FA Cup, you are hoping now he can get one or two more and go on a run.

He doesn’t now want to go on a run of three or four games without a goal because anyone’s confidence would be affected under those circumstances.

Alex Scott on Arsenal’s performance vs Crystal Palace…

“I can sit here and be totally frustrated with the performance, but I think it’s a reality check of where this Arsenal team are. The fact we’re talking about relying on the youngster, so how critical can I be when that’s what Arsenal are dependant on at the moment?

“Even though you’re having to change those youngsters, like Bukayo Saka from his position that he’s been playing well, you’re bringing on experienced players who aren’t giving you anything. I think it’s where we need to remind ourselves that this season, it’s about Arsenal trying to climb the table and still rebuild.

“Without Kieran Tierney, we can see what he brings to this team, his runs going forward, his confidence when he’s on the ball and make others play around him, making opportunities for others and that was totally missed.”

Selection problems for Arteta

Alexandre Lacazette
Image: Alexandre Lacazette has been in good goal scoring form in recent weeks

Alexandre Lacazette has been scoring goals. It’s difficult for Mikel Arteta to leave him out, as things stand.

In terms of link play, that’s Lacazette’s game more. We saw that with the part he played in some of the goals at West Brom and also to a certain extent against Newcastle in the FA Cup.

Aubameyang is a goal scorer. He can produce something out of nothing, and we’ve seen that so often in the past, and you’ve got to believe that will come back again.

But if Gabriel Martinelli comes into the equation for the game against Newcastle then things are different. If fit, you really want to see him in the team because of the way he performed before sustaining that ankle injury in the warm-up ahead of the cup tie with Newcastle.

ARSENAL 0-0 CRYSTAL PALACE 2:27
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s draw with Crystal Palace in the Premier League.

He brings an awful lot to this Arsenal side, and if he does play on the left then it does give them more options.

It provides an opportunity to bring Aubameyang into the middle. Do you then keep Emile Smith Rowe in the side? For me, Lacazette is not a number 10.

They experimented with that a couple of times earlier in the season, but I don’t think you’d want to play him in that withdrawn role again. Smith Rowe is much more suited to it.

It will be interesting to see which way Arteta would go when everyone is available.

Arsenal will need patience vs Newcastle

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Image: Aubameyang battles for the ball against Palace

No striker will want to sit out, that’s for sure.

Aubameyang is the best striker Arsenal have got. He’s the captain of the side and Arteta will always be loath to leave him out, even though Lacazette has been scoring more goals.

That’s a problem for the manager and probably one he hoped he wouldn’t have after the game against Palace. He’d have hoped for a good win and that the team almost picks itself again for the Newcastle game, but we’ll have to see.

There’s a bit of thinking to be done by Arteta before Monday’s game as to which way he’s going to go about it because Newcastle will come and they won’t be a pushover in the way they have been at times in the last month.

Like Palace, they will be determined to stay in the game, keep that clean sheet as long as possible and frustrate the Gunners. It could be another night that calls for patience from Arsenal.

Analysis: Jury’s still out on Arteta’s Arsenal revolution

Sky Sports’ Richard Morgan:

“Arsenal headed into Thursday evening’s London derby with Crystal Palace on the back of an impressive recent run of three successive Premier League wins. They had come at exactly the right time for under-pressure boss Mikel Arteta, with questions beginning to be asked about the Spaniard’s tenure at the Emirates.

In fact, the home team were looking to make it four league wins in a row for the first time since October 2018 and help reaffirm belief in their manager and his rebuilding job in the capital, while victory would have also kept their slim top-four hopes alive.

However, on a frustrating night in north London, the hosts turned in a flat, lacklustre display to remind their supporters and the general public just what a big rebuilding job Arteta has on his hands.

“And another blank up front means Arsenal have now failed to score in seven league matches this season, as many as in the entirety of last campaign. They last failed to register in more games in a season in 2015/16 as focus falls on their misfiring forward line.”

Strengthen in January?

Emiliano Buendia
Image: Emiliano Buendia has been linked with a move to Arsenal in January

It’s always the right thing to bring in new players but only if you can get the right players. Somebody who is going to suit what you are looking for, and importantly, who is good enough and who is the right character as well. Sometimes that is the hard part in judging whether they are right for the club.

Can they handle a step up? For example, somebody like Emi Buendia at Norwich or Yves Bissouma at Brighton, can they handle the step up in expectation at a bigger club? Some people can, some can’t, but you can never be certain until a player arrives.

We know Arsenal haven’t got much money, so they are going to have to be creative. They’d love to get three or four out of the club.

Yves Bissouma
Image: Yves Bissouma is another name linked with the Gunners

Arteta is still moulding a squad in his image. He inherited these players and he’s trying to get in the players he wants, but he’s got one arm tied around his back with the lack of funds.

All managers want two or three transfer windows at least with a bit more money to spend than he’s had. It’s certainly a longer-term project but, as we know in football, nobody gets time if the results aren’t there. So, he’s got to try and buy time with enough wins to get to the point where he wants to be.

It’s a long haul at Arsenal but I think they’ve got the right man in charge. He seems an excellent coach and hopefully he can improve the players he’s already got there. That’s what all good coaches do and hopefully he can also bring some more talent into the squad.

Tierney absence a problem; Saka an option?

Saka and Tierney
Image: Kieran Tierney missed Arsenal’s game against Palace; could Bukayo Saka replace him at left-back if he misses the game against Newcastle?

Tierney was a big miss for Arsenal.

I said in commentary there are not many matches I’ve seen where a team misses a left-back so much. You could say Andy Robertson at Liverpool. When he’s not playing you could argue Liverpool are not the same team, but it’s an unusual position for a team to be in.

It was stark how much they did miss him and those runs down the outside. More than that, his delivery into the box which has caused teams so many problems in recent weeks.

You really don’t want to be in a position where you are missing your left-back to that extent. That’ll be a real concern for Arteta, but hopefully it’s not too bad an injury.

preview image 2:12
Mikel Arteta felt his side just didn’t have the quality in the final third to find a way to beat Crystal Palace and says they must be better going forward after their 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace in the Premier League.

He’s not a player who will want to miss games if he can help it. He’s a no-nonsense type of character so hopefully for Arsenal’s sake he returns quickly.

Tierney’s absence wasn’t helped by the fact Ainsley Maitland-Niles endured a bit of a stinker against Crystal Palace. He made a sloppy start, misplacing one or two passes early on and he couldn’t pick it up from there.

The team lost its threat on that side.

Bukayo Saka eventually went over there and because he’s left-footed he gave the team more balance. If Tierney is unavailable on Monday, then I’d be inclined to guess that is where Saka will start against Newcastle.

‘He’s a future Gunners captain’

Kieran Tierney
Image: Tierney is a future Arsenal captain, according to Alan Smith

Tierney is definitely a future captain at Arsenal.

He’s 23 but in terms of experience and what he’s achieved at Celtic and the titles he’s won, he’s not a youngster. He’s seen quite a lot.

He wouldn’t be all that far away from being in contention for the armband now. He’s an automatic choice and he leads by example. I don’t know what he’s like in the dressing room and whether he’s a big talker, but he’s a good character and I think he’s certainly in contention for the armband in the years ahead.

He’s been a great signing. You don’t get many like that, who can come into a club and hit the ground running like he’s done. Yes, he had a few injury problems, but he’s settled quickly and he’s producing so consistently now.

‘Xhaka looks a different player’

Arsenal...s Granit Xhaka during the English Premier League soccer match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at the Hawthorns stadium in West Bromwich, England, Saturday Jan 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)..
Image: Granit Xhaka splits opinion amongst Arsenal fans

Against Palace, it wasn’t a perfect performance from Granit Xhaka, but he was switched on and engaged right through the match. He came to his defence’s rescue on a number of occasions during the match, never giving up on a situation and getting himself back where he was needed to save the day.

For me, he does look a different player at the moment.

I know a lot of Arsenal fans can’t understand why Arteta sticks with him after some of the things he’s done, but behind the scenes he’s a very good presence in the dressing room.

Granit Xhaka
Image: Xhaka made a number excellent tackles against Palace

He demands high standards and he’s got those leadership qualities. That kind of character is what managers want, someone who pushes their fellow players all the time.

But then, when he does something stupid, gets himself sent off, commits a silly foul on the edge of the box, you are thinking, wow, what is he thinking?

Hopefully he can iron those things out, but at his age and his experience, you think he’s not going to change now. But definitely, he’s having a better time of things at the moment. He’s played his part in Arsenal’s mini revival.

Jamie Redknapp on Arsenal’s performance vs Crystal Palace…

Jamie Redknapp: “It was really flat from Arsenal. You can talk tactically, but you need more from your big players. You need Aubameyang to get on the ball more and make something happen, Lacazette wasn’t as sharp as he has been in recent weeks and the spark just wasn’t there.

“I don’t like to make excuses for players because they’re in a very privileged position to be playing football, but that’s the kind of game when you need the crowd. With a lot of games going on for these players, but without the crowd, it’s almost monotonous. It feels like a training game every time and this was one of those games that was desperate for a crowd to be there.

“The positive was Thomas Partey coming back, I think he’s going to be a real asset to the team if they can keep him fit. But it’s one of those days where you say ‘we weren’t at our best, take a point’ and certainly Crystal Palace had the best chances to win the game.”

‘Xhaka, Partey can complement each other’

preview image 2:12
Mikel Arteta felt his side just didn’t have the quality in the final third to find a way to beat Crystal Palace and says they must be better going forward after their 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace in the Premier League.

We don’t really know what Arteta’s number one midfield partnership would be, but you’d have to say Xhaka and Thomas Partey would be close to it.

Their respective games should complement each other well. Partey is someone who can drive forward with the ball, he can pick out a clever pass and Xhaka can hold a little more and he’s got a decent passing range.

It would be good to see them play together in the coming weeks and build up some sort of partnership.

There’s no doubt Partey can add to the side and make it a better team with what he’s got at his disposal, and a better understanding with Xhaka would help that.

Watch Arsenal vs Newcastle on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 7pm on Monday Night Football; kick-off 8pm