Monday, September 25, 2023

Mikel Arteta faces familiar Arsenal problem against Tottenham as Gabriel Martinelli hope emerges

Arsenal leave points on the table

The narrative from this game may well focus on how Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham side came through their first big test well. Spurs went down twice and showed good character to stick to their principles and come back to level on both occasions. They can certainly take heart from the performance. From an Arsenal perspective though, the analysis is far more disappointing.

This was a game where three points were there for the taking. At first the opportunity arose when the Gunners found themselves in front. The game had been relatively even until Cristian Romero deflected Bukayo Saka’s shot into his own net, but once Arsenal got in front they had Spurs at their mercy. For a period around the half hour mark they created chance after chance, with the best ones undoubtedly falling to Gabriel Jesus. Having smelt Spurs blood though, Arsenal failed to go in for the kill.


Tottenham grew in confidence after David Raya’s wondersave to stop Brennan Johnson, and began to create chances. Just minutes later Arsenal were made to pay for toying with their food as Son Heung-Min finished James Maddison’s low cross.



The Gunners would grab the lead again though via Saka’s penalty. The England international had showed great character to stick away such a high pressure spot kick and deserved better than the error from Jorginho that gifted Spurs a route back into the game just moments later.


What has been a feature of Arsenal’s home performances in the Premier League this season though has been late waves of attack. Normally this is propelled on by the supportive Emirates Stadium crowd who combine with the team to create a tsunami that opposition teams can’t cope with. As Spurs braced for impact though, the big push never came. Instead Arsenal ended the North London Derby with the kind passivity that does not belong in this kind of fixture, leaving Mikel Arteta thoroughly disappointed.

“We are very disappointed not to earn the three points, that’s for sure,” he told press after the game. “Especially when you go in front twice in the game and have the opportunity to win it. Especially the moments that we conceded the goals. We had control of the game, could have made it 2-0 with Gabi (Jesus) and then you concede the goal and you have to bounce back. We did and scored the goal but it’s a shame that within a minute you concede the other one.


“I think that affected the team emotionally quite a lot and we lacked some composure to make more passes in the final third. It became a more transitional game that is a risky one to play against them. We pushed in the last 15/20 minutes but we lacked the quality in the final pass to win the game.”

Perhaps it was the frenetic nature of the derby, but Arsenal never really settled into their rhythm. Even the usually cool William Saliba overegged a pass early in the match that prompted Martin Odegaard to gesture with his hands for the team to calm down. They never really did though, particularly in the second half, and as a result were left to rue the missed chances of the first period.


A lack of killer instinct has been a real problem for Arsenal at times this season. Although they’ve been nowhere near their best they should have won all six of their matches so far, and their goal difference should be significantly higher than the +5 it currently stands at. Arteta has spoken regularly about needing to increase the margins of victory this campaign. Sunday’s North London Derby was yet another example of just how pressing that demand is.


Injuries pile up


As the transfer window came to an end Arsenal could quite fairly have said they were comfortable with their squad depth. Just over three weeks later though and the group is starting to look a little thin.


Prior to the Tottenham game we already knew that Jurrien Timber is possibly out for the season with an ACL injury sustained on the first day. Thomas Partey is also absent with a groin problem, while Gabriel Martinelli was still recovering from a hamstring issue.


To make matters worse Leandro Trossard had limped out of training on Saturday with what sources have indicated is a lower hamstring problem. Then during the game Declan Rice had to be withdrawn with what Mikel Arteta confirmed was a back problem.


While it is understood that there is optimism that Partey will be back after the October international break and some hope that Martinelli may be back in contention for next week’s trip to Bournemouth, the brutality of a high level game every three days is certainly starting to hit home.


It’s not just those who are absent too. Gabriel Jesus is still getting fully up to speed after having knee surgery only two months ago. The club are also having to manage Alex Zinchenko’s minutes carefully following a four and a half month absence with a calf problem, and Mohamed Elneny has only just come back into contention after missing nine months with a knee injury.


Despite the challenges, Arteta has remained bullish over his squad’s ability to cope. “It’s what we have,” he said when asked by about the number of injuries his side were dealing with. “As well it gives opportunities to the other ones. We have a game every three days and that’s the level we have to show so go for it.”


Thankfully Fabio Vieira’s half time substitution for Kai Havertz was only tactical, so Arteta’s options are still relatively deep. With a game every three days until the international break next month though, managing his squad carefully could be the biggest challenge that the Spaniard has to overcome.


Arsenal cede yet more ground to City



In any other era of Premier League football, it would certainly be too early to talk about the title. With the presence of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City though, it can never be too soon.


Under Guardiola, City have raised the bar for consistency levels required to win a league title. Prior to the Spaniard’s arrival Leicester won the division with 81 points. Now you are looking at 90 as a bare minimum to earn yourself an open top bus parade come May.


With how City have started this time around though, it could be argued that that is optimistic. Guardiola’s men have won every match they have played, and conceded just three goals in the process. You could say that they’ve been gifted with a kind fixture list, but the early pace being set is formidable.

Having dropped two points on Sunday in a game they could certainly have won, Arsenal find themselves now in a position where they have already given City a four point head start. This is not a team who need any form of leg up.


As you would expect Arteta played down any concerns over this in his post-match press conference. “We’re not thinking about this,” he said. “We have a game every three days, we try win our games. We tried to win our game again today and we didn’t manage it for very obvious reasons. That’s it and we have to improve.”


Despite Arteta’s calls for calm though, if Arsenal cede any more ground away to Bournemouth next week, then it could legitimately be argued that their game against City the following Sunday is a must win. That may sound crazy to say as we enter the back end of September, but, then again, Guardiola’s side have set some pretty crazy standards.

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