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Why Has Arsenal Struggled So Much To Begin the Season?

Following a successful end to last season in which the club gained another F.A. Cup trophy, the expectations for Arsenal were quickly rising. The performances improved drastically after manager Mikel Arteta was appointed as manager in late December. Even with a squad that lacked a lot of defensive stability, the coaching staff consistently found ways to earn all three points when they needed it most. Arsenal will need to begin picking up points sooner versus later, as they currently sit 14th in the league table after ten games.

Lack of Consistent Attacking Quality:

The biggest concern for Arsenal at the moment is the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The forward finished second in the league with 22 goals last season, but things have been very different to begin this campaign. Aubameyang only has two league goals in ten starts, one of which was a penalty against Manchester United in Matchweek 7. 

A lack of creativity around him has led to the 31-year-old finding himself very isolated on the wing. Without a true creative midfielder, Arsenal’s best player has lacked the goal scoring opportunities in front of net. It is very unlikely that Aubameyang struggles for the entire season, but the club needs to find him help if the offense is going to drastically improve. 

One player who I believe needs to improve for this team in the short-term is forward Alexandre Lacazette. After joining the club in 2017, the French international hasn’t been able to replicate the same form he showed at Lyon. 40 goals in a little more than three seasons seems solid, but the striker has underperformed during his time in England. Lacazette is extremely efficient in front of the net when he shoots with his right foot, but the same cannot be said about his weak foot. If he can gain some confidence and earn a run of games in the team, he could add another dangerman alongside Aubameyang. 

Arguably the biggest x-factor for Arsenal may be Nicolas Pépé, who has had a sluggish start to his time in Premier League. In 31 league appearances last year, the right winger only had eleven goal contributions. The £72m signing from Lille had high expectations after evolving into one of best forwards in Ligue 1, but Pépé has yet to adjust to the style of the EPL. There has been some rumors that the 25-year-old could be on his way out from the club following his red carded headbutt against Leeds United. If Pépé is considered part of the plans going forward at the club under Arteta, he will certainly need to find the back of the net more often.

Arsenal also has a few other attackers that could really improve this team offensively if they can become more reliable. Willian, Eddie Nketiah, and Reiss Nelson are three other forwards who have yet to hit the ground running this season, but offer a lot of potential. If any of them can add a different dimension to the offense, it will go a long way for the club going forward.

Zero Creativity in the Midfield:

Another serious problem for Arsenal is the lack of creativity provided from their midfield. The squad is missing a player who can create goal scoring chances for his teammates, which is one reason why Aubameyang is forced to do so much on his own. German international Mesut Özil is capable of being a top class attacking midfielder, but his last appearance came in March against West Ham United. 

The players who are getting a majority of the minutes in the team are considered “box to box” or central defensive midfielders. Dani Ceballos and Joe Willock are hard-working players who go forward but can also track back defensively. Thomas Partey is another all-around central midfielder who was signed from Atlético Madrid for £45m this past summer. Granit Xhaka is a “six” who is instructed to protect the back four as a defensive midfielder. Özil is the only player at the club who can provide any creativity going forward, so it will be interesting to watch if Arteta is willing to give him another chance. The attacking midfielder will likely leave the club after his contract expires at the end of the season, so it wouldn’t hurt to give him a run of games and see if he can unlock this attack.

More Stability at the Back:

Arsenal has struggled across the board to begin the season, but one area where they’ve shown improvement is on the defensive side of the ball. The team has only given away twelve goals in ten league games, keeping three cleans sheets over that time. Early in the summer transfer window, the board went out and acquired central defender Gabriel for £25m from Lille. While most of his impact has come in the defense, the Brazilain international has even scored two goals in the Premier League. Gabriel poses a legitimate aerial threat on set pieces, as his first goal in England came off a corner against Fulham in a 3-0 victory in Matchweek 1.

Besides Gabriel, Arteta has been unable to find a second center back who is capable of stringing together a good run of form. David Luiz, Rob Holding, and Shkodran Mustafi have all struggled at times, causing the backline to struggle against forwards who know how to take advantage of poor defending. It may only be a matter of time before 19-year-old prospect William Saliba makes his debut for the Arsenal first team, as the team is in dire need of a partner for Gabriel. 

The club has also found a sense of stability at the goalkeeper position with Bernd Leno. After joining Arsenal from Bayer Leverkusen in 2018, the German international has developed into one of the best goalkeepers in the league. When the defense allows attackers to get in behind, Leno has the ability to bail them out with his great shot-stopping ability. At 28-years-old, it looks like the club will continue to have a top class keeper for the long run.

Arsenal still has their fair share of issues defensively, but one area of strength lies at the fullback positions. Arteta can utilize different players on either side depending on the way he sets his team up. Héctor Bellerín and Kieran Tierney typically start a left and right back when the team is playing with four in the back. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sead Kolašinac, and highly-talented Bukayo Saka are also very capable of playing the fullback position as well. 

Overall Consensus:

After the way they performed at the end of the last season, I was one of many that felt Arsenal would take the next step domestically. It seemed as if a few signings in the right areas would propel this team near the top of the league table, but that has not been the case. 

The defense has looked better, but that attack may never return to what it was last season until a creative midfielder is brought into the squad. Aubameyang is the only outlet for Arsenal, but he can only do so much on his own at 31-years-old. If the club wants any chance to finish in the top six this season, the board will need to add an attacking midfielder in January to jumpstart the attack.

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