Arsenal are a mediocre team, at best. Today’s 0-0 draw against Leeds United, the team that had surrendered the joint-most goals coming into the weekend, is more evidence of that inescapable fact. We should not let Nicolas Pépé’s utterly inexcusable, absolutely braindead headbutt that earned him a straight red distract from that. The Gunners, right now, are a lower mid-table team.
Arsenal started the match well enough. The attack looked energized and like it might create something for the opening 10-15 minutes. Then Leeds figured things out, made some adjustments, and the Gunners went back to their usual, uninspiring selves.
Mikel Arteta made a positive substitution at halftime — Reiss Nelson came on for the ineffective Willian. But Nelson didn’t even get a chance to settle into the match before Nicolas Pépé’s completely moronic, always a red card headbutt put Arsenal down to 10.
The Gunners looked better going forward after they went down a man, but you can chalk that up to Leeds throwing more numbers forward and the individual brilliance of Bukayo Saka. The young winger came on a few minutes after the sending off and was by far the best player on the pitch for Arsenal. Unfortunately, he hobbled off the pitch after getting smashed into by Pablo Hernandez. Hopefully his injury isn’t severe. Arsenal absolutely cannot afford to lose him for any period of time.
On Nicolas Pépé: he shouldn’t see the pitch until at least 2021. His headbutt was selfish, unprofessional, and inexcusable. Mikel Arteta did not pull any punches in his postgame press conference, making it clear that his behavior was unacceptable.
Pépé is the worst signing in club history. And I’m starting to wonder where he ranks on the all-time list of bad signings. On a production for cost basis, he’s been an absolute nightmare. The outrageous price paid has set Arsenal back by at least two seasons.
I’m pleased that Mikel Arteta started Joe Willock, shook up the formation, and gave Willian the hook at halftime. I’d called for him to make some changes to try to get something going, but he still has not found the right combination to spark the offense. Arsenal haven’t scored from open play in the Premier League since October 4th, against last place Sheffield United.
The best attacking option seems to be “let Bukayo Saka cook” which is not sustainable, and Saka may miss time with the injury he picked up today. Arteta needs to get Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring again. Well, really he needs to get anybody scoring again. I don’t care if it’s Rob Holding, Granit Xhaka, whoever.
Arteta should keep experimenting with the lineup, the formation, and the tactics. Right now, there isn’t any cohesion, and Arsenal lack a clear attacking plan beyond “hope somebody beats their man and go from there.” Players don’t really move off the ball. There’s not set “we give it to this guy who can pass to him or him and so on” move that consistently generates anything. I don’t see any reason why Willian should be playing over Reiss Nelson. Joe Willock should get more of a shot, too.
There’s really not much to be optimistic with this Arsenal squad right now. They are playing poorly and the results match. Each performance brings me closer to the conclusion that there isn’t really an answer / solution at the club right now. I think the hope is that Arteta can manufacture some results and continue to overhaul the roster in the next few transfer windows.