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Monday Cannon Fodder: veteran players

Arsenal’s senior players, by their own admission, aren’t playing at the level they can or need to have.

Arsenal v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

For two matches running, Thomas Partey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have been the two worst players on the pitch for Arsenal. More generally this season, it has been the senior players at the club, not the youth movement, whose performances have been found lacking. The veterans aren’t playing up to the level Mikel Arteta, they (and we) know they are capable of.

Said Mikel Arteta last week, “the senior players are the ones who have to lead and the younger players are the ones who have to follow.” The implied second part of that sentence reads something like, “and right now, they aren’t leading like they should be,” my words, not Arteta’s. The manager was quick to praise his senior players’ workrate and that they are trying, in Aubameyang’s case, to score goals.

Both Aubameyang and Partey have recently acknowledged that they need to do more. Said the Arsenal captain after the loss to Manchester United, “I have to stand up and score that opportunity and maybe get a point for us...I should definitely score that type of goal, but I will not give up and I will keep trying to score goals.” Aubameyang has also acknowledged, more generally, that he is acutely aware of his scoring slump and is trying to break out of it.

In an interview with Sky Sports over the weekend, Thomas Partey evaluated his overall performance at Arsenal: “I’d give myself a four out of ten.” He said that he feels as if he has not fully adapted to the Premier League in the way he thought he would or should.

It’s A Good Thing that both players recognize they have more to give. I’ve never been one to doubt players’ commitment or workrate, and those comments should hopefully be enough to silence the critics, at least on that front (sidenote: they won’t because the critics are unreasonable). For you, does their honesty about their own performances change the way you’re looking at and evaluating them right now?

Arsenal need their striker and captain to score goals. And they need the player handpicked by Mikel Arteta to be the midfield engine to control and dominate matches. It’s all well and good that they’re saying the right things, working hard, and trying to reach that level, but the bottom line is that the performances aren’t where they need to be.

How long do you stick with guys who are struggling before trying something new — whether that be formation or lineup?

With both Aubameyang and Partey, it’s not like Arsenal have a ton of options. The Gunners don’t have many options to carry the scoring load. Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette ain’t it. Gabriel Martinelli would have to learn how to lead the line. Folarin Balogun is incredibly inexperienced and likely heading out on loan in January. For goalscoring, Aubameyang is pretty much it.

The same can be said of the base of the midfield. Sambi Lokonga has been surprisingly good this season but has also (understandably, he’s 20 after all), looked lost defensively and not quite up to Premier League pace. Granit Xhaka is just back into full training this week, and we know his limitations. Mohamed Elneny and Ainsley Maitland-Niles are squad players.

It seems like Arsenal are going to have to dance with the veterans that brought them. The African Cup of Nations in a month is going to be fun for the club.