Arsenal need to start winning football matches. In a bad way. The Gunners are basically a quarter of the way through the Premier League campaign and in danger of having another “lost season” where the club is only peripherally relevant.
Today, Mikel Arteta’s charges take on a visiting Aston Villa club that has been somewhat of a recent bugaboo for the Gunners. Villa have won their previous 3 league matches against Arsenal, which is as many wins as they’d managed in the 36 matches before that.
I’m not sure how much insight those results provide, however. Arsenal will have four or five (or more) significant changes from those starting lineups that have dropped the last three against Villa. Aston Villa, of course, will be without Jack Grealish, who was sold to Manchester City in the summer. They’ve added Danny Ings, Emi Buendia, and Leon Bailey with the money from the sale, but my feeling is that they aren’t quite as good this season as they were last. They’re still figuring out their best lineup, and the attackers are still learning each other. I’m also generally of the belief that it’s difficult, near impossible, to replace the contributions of an elite-level player like Grealish, regardless of how much improvement you make elsewhere in the lineup.
But it may not matter that Villa’s form has dipped from last season because Arsenal are struggling. Yes, the club is getting results (which is infinitely better than not picking up points), but the performances on the pitch have been lacking. The side looks disorganized going forward and cannot generate chances from open play. On top of that, key, backbone players like Thomas Partey, Martin Ødegaard, Kieran Tierney, and Bukayo Saka are not playing up to the levels we think they are capable of.
It’s a bit of a “chicken-egg” situation — are they playing poorly because the system / tactics are muddled or do things look disjointed because the important pieces are out of form? It’s probably a bit of Column A, a bit of Column B.
Arsenal are too static. When an Arsenal player receives the ball centrally and looks up, too often his teammates are stood next to their marker instead of making a forward run or checking back to make themselves an outlet. That bit feels like a tactical problem. The rigid structure Mikel Arteta has imposed has dulled the movement and creativity in the attack.
On the other hand, miscontrolling the ball, getting caught in possession, hitting passes two steps behind teammates, etc. is down to players not playing well. There’s room for improvement all-around, which if you want to look at the glass half-full, is a good thing. It’s not like Arsenal are playing anywhere close to their ceiling. The team has plenty of room to raise their level.
Bukayo Saka is a doubt for the Gunners. He did not train all week following James McArthur mistaking his leg for a ball and kicking him with full force. The good news is that it seems to just be a bad bruise for the Arsenal winger that shouldn’t keep him out of action for an extended period. I wouldn’t be surprised if Saka is an unused substitute today.
Aston Villa will be without Trézéguet, who is out long-term for the visitors. Leon Bailey and Bertrand Traore are both question marks, although it seems like Bailey will be available today. Matty Cash, who was forced off early at the weekend with a dead leg, is available as is midfielder Morgan Sanson.
Arsenal - Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Lokonga, Partey, Saka, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Aston Villa - Martinez, Konsa, Tuanzebe, Mings, Cash, Douglas Luiz, McGinn, Targett, Buendia, Ings, Watkins
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