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Heavy Arsenal problems facing Mikel Arteta now

Arsenal problem facing Arteta

Why were Arsenal so terrible against Crystal Palace? There were, sadly, too many reasons to list. What there is, however, is a painstakingly obvious one that has come to light in the previous two meetings.

Trying to decipher what has changed these games for Mikel Arteta’s side leads us to one factor. One person, sorry: Alexandre Lacazette.

The Frenchman has not suddenly made Arsenal unstoppable. He isn’t the solution to what is currently an ever-growing concern. There is no avoiding how much more connected the team looks when he’s on the pitch, though.

Away at Brighton Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a stinker. Every pass into him ballooned back to whence it came, and it resulted in any aspirations of pressure being lifted having the reverse effect. He was an out-ball and then immediately after a return ball.

The heavy Arsenal problems facing Arteta isn’t whether to play Lacazette or Aubameyang – it’s to not play Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe together

Lacazette came on and attacks had a focal point; a centralised option that brought others into play. Suddenly Arsenal had a means with which to relieve pressure, and runners beyond, such as Emile Smith Rowe, had ground they could charge into with purpose.

Against  Crystal Palace the Frenchman was on the pitch for less than half an hour and could arguably have scooped the team’s man of the match. Arsenal needed a way of disrupting Palace’s backline and it took the presence of someone like Lacazette in their half to do so. That cameo saw him have seven touches in the opposition box. Aubameyang had two all game.

But one of those was a goal. And among everything else, his work rate off the ball was exceptional and a key component of the fluid opening Arteta’s side had. The captain set the tone and his tracking run and tackle shortly after the goal was Arsenal at their highest ebb.

Without delving deep, the solution would surely be to field both: Lacazette through the middle and Aubameyang out wide. Or, in some variation of a two-man strike force where the former can sit off the centre-backs to create a link.

How often has that worked? ‘Aubazette’ as a partnership has only worked in patches, none of which have properly arrived under Arteta’s tenure. Thus the already known conundrum arises once more in that Arsenal need their ideal ‘Aubazette’; dashes of the pair moulded into one. They don’t have that.

Fielding both also sees one of Emile Smith Rowe or Martin Odegaard miss out which, based on the previous two outings, would see the Norwegian comfortably benched. Yet Aubameyang out on the left in a neutral game state is a waste of his finer talents and an additional creative body.

What is the solution, then?

Don’t Play Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe

The answer to whether it should be Aubameyang, Lacazette or both in the team to face Aston Villa is the former. Both can’t play but you don’t take out a goalscorer from the team who had put in one of the better shifts on the night. It’s a huge conundrum facing Arteta but one that has a solution elsewhere.

Trawling for reasons as to why the drop off occurred roughly 20 minutes in against Palace seems to stem from the way Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe combined. The Ivorian would come deep and act almost as a right wing-back, which resulted in Smith Rowe being advanced, but crucially, out on the right.

Martin Odegaard never ventured too far forward from Thomas Partey and the result was a chasm in the No. 10 slot: no centralised passing option in that zone to both bring the wide players closer to goal or for Aubameyang to play off. Lacazette came on and found those spaces, as well as making additional runs into the box.

 

Smith Rowe is wasted out in the right pocket where he played on Monday and the role of Pepe beside him meant too often he was found wandering into areas of minimal threat. Without an overlapping option Pepe was too far from goal in the first half and when the personnel changed after the break he was too far from a teammate, let alone the goal.

After the break with Albert Sambi Lokonga’s introduction there was an effort to change this with Smith Rowe moving to the left, but by this point the momentum had firmly swung the Eagles’ way and belief was sapped along with composure in possession.

orward movement was sluggish and always out wide, a systematic issue brought upon by the 4-3-3 shape. While Odegaard effectively played as a central midfielder for large spells, the role of Smith Rowe was not as a No. 10 and instead of a right-sided forward. The connective tissue binding all those elements together was lost. It meant nothing stuck and Palace could watch on at what unfolded in first gear.

There will be games where Lacazette should start. But what he brought to the team can arrive in other formats, such as keeping one of Odegaard or Smith Rowe high and within reach of the other forwards.

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