Arsenal suffered another setback on Sunday as they were thrashed 3-0 at home by Aston Villa, leaving them in 11th spot in the table going into the international break. Mikel Arteta’s side were never truly in the game, leaving the manager needing some serious tactical changes.
Arsenal went into the game on Sunday knowing a win could catapult them into fifth spot in the table.
After a stop-start opening to the campaign, that would have been a real boost to Arteta’s side going into the international break. Instead, they find themselves in 11th place, having lost half of their games so far.
They approached Sunday’s clash against Aston Villa like they have so many of their fixtures so far – cautiously. Arteta named a 3-4-3 formation – which looked more like a 5-2-3 with Hector Bellerin and Bukayo Saka playing as wing-backs.
They were caught out for their slow start just moments into the match, as John McGinn dummied the ball past Thomas Partey and fired into the roof of the net after just 45 seconds.
Luckily for Arteta, the goal was ruled out after Martin Atkinson – with the help of VAR – deemed that Bernd Leno’s vision was blocked by Ross Barkley, who was stood in an offside position.
They failed to take advantage of their second chance at the match, however, and found themselves behind for real after 25 minutes.
Saka was unfortunate to put through his own net under significant pressure from Trezuguet at the back post after a neat cross from Matt Targett.
Arsenal were still slow to move the ball forward, and appeared sluggish in their build-up play.
Alexandre Lacazette had the best chance of the half for the hosts, as he raced towards the back post to meet a beautiful cross from Kieran Tierney – but his header soared over the bar.
Arteta is widely regarded as one of the best young managers around at the moment, having given Arsenal an identity of their own this season.
However, even he noticed his team wasn’t doing enough going forward at half-time as he hauled off Partey for Dani Ceballos, with the idea of the Spaniard playing in a more advanced role than Partey was. However, even he was unable to make the difference.
It’s easy to make comparisons between Arsenal and Premier League champions Liverpool – especially when you look at their respective front threes.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Willian, much like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, can both kill opposing full-backs with their blistering speed, and have shown they have the ability to cause anyone trouble when played in behind the opposition back line.
But against Villa, they were barely given the chance to get into the game, and were left frustrated with the lack of chances created for them.
With the international break approaching, Arteta might well decide to use the break in the schedule to have a look at his tactical approach to the game.
It would be easy to say that bringing Mesut Ozil back into the squad after January would help the situation due to his ability to pick a pass, but a more likely solution is for Arteta to analyse Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp’s tactical approach.
The champions have always been known for their desire to get the ball forward quickly and create options for their front three, and have done so in the last few seasons with frightening effect.
Ceballos’ arrival at half-time sparked an improvement in Arsenal’s desire to get the ball forward, but they were still caught napping too often and waiting for the game to come to them.
Arsenal were still too sloppy at the back and slow in their build-up play, and were punished in the closing stages of the game when Ollie Watkins grabbed a deserved second goal for Villa.
When they were finally forced to go all-out in the search for a goal, it was too late for Arsenal and they were easily opened up by Dean Smith’s side. Watkins scored his second of the game through a brilliant strike after Ross Barkley was left in oceans of space after Arsenal chucked players forward.
Arteta will go into the international break asking himself and his players some tough questions, and it may be time for him to ditch his counter-attacking approach.
He has a wealth of exciting attacking options available to him – as shown when he swapped Willian and Lacazette for Nicolas Pepe and Eddie Nketiah with half an hour to play.
If he were to take a leaf out of Liverpool’s book and build his tactical style off his attackers, Arsenal could have every chance of turning things around and mounting a challenge for the top-four at least once club football returns in a fortnight’s time.
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