How Mikel Arteta can return Arsenal to the Premier League top six


Find a partner for Luiz, get Lacazette firing again and finish the shopping before Euro 2020… here’s how Mikel Arteta can help sorry Arsenal recover from a WOEFUL season and get back to the big time

  • Arsenal languish in mid-table after struggling to convert draws into victories
  • Mikel Arteta has improved Gunners defensively, but they lack spark up front
  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang burdened up front as Alexandre Lacazette misfires
  • David Luiz is offering leadership but Arteta needs to find defensive partner
  • Arteta has done well to revitalise Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira in midfield
  • But Spanish boss will need key reinforcements in the summer transfer window 

Any Arsenal fans hoping that Mikel Arteta would provide the rocket boost their season so desperately needed have been left sorely disappointed.

The Spaniard has won just one of seven Premier League matches since taking charge but conversely he has only lost one.

The Gunners have become even more of a draw specialist, with 13 from their first 25 matches setting a new Premier League record.

Mikel Arteta has overseen some improvement as Arsenal boss but there’s much work to do

The Gunners are out in Dubai on a warm weather training camp during the winter break

The Gunners languish in 10th position in the Premier League table, some 10 points off fourth

Arsenal fixtures 

Premier League unless stated

Sunday Newcastle United (H)

February 20 Olympiacos (A) Europa League last-32, first leg

February 23 Everton (H)

February 27 Olympiacos (H) Europa League last-32, second leg

March 2 Portsmouth (A) FA Cup fifth round

March 7 West Ham United (H)

Their sorry tally of just six wins is the club’s lowest after 25 games of a league season since 1912-13, when they suffered relegation from the First Division.

While there’s no danger of a repeat, it’s painfully clear that while Arteta has undoubtedly made Arsenal tougher to beat, it has come at the cost of their attacking edge.

No doubt Arteta will agonise over these shortcomings during the current winter break, trying to figure out ways of making his team effective at both ends of the pitch.

Arsenal sit 10 points now off the top four and any hopes of returning to the Champions League already rest with winning the Europa League.

So what does Arteta need to do to get Arsenal back to the top again? Sportsmail takes a look at a few short and longer-term challenges.

Reduce the burden on Aubameyang

A breakdown of Arsenal’s goals this season shows Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored 16 of their 59 in all competitions and 14 of their 32 in the Premier League.

So there can be no complaints about his contribution, but others clearly need to step up to the mark.

Alexandre Lacazette, supposedly a striker of equivalent rank in the Arsenal side, has failed to score since Arteta took over and hasn’t scored at all since netting against Standard Liege on December 12.

His return of just six goals this season suggests a player short on form and confidence and Arteta perhaps needs to have a heart-to-heart with the Frenchman during Arsenal’s training camp in Dubai.

Alexandre Lacazette has cut a forlorn figure as he struggles to find the net this season

Arsenal top scorers

All competitions

16 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

10 – Gabriel Martinelli

6 – Alexandre Lacazette

5 – Nicolas Pepe

4 – Joe Willock

3 – Bukayo Saka

2 – David Luiz, Reiss Nelson, Sokratis, Lucas Torreira

1 – Hector Bellerin, Dani Ceballos, Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Shkodran Mustafi, Eddie Nketiah 

It isn’t for lack of opportunity – Lacazette has started all but one of Arsenal’s matches since Arteta took the job.

The stats show that Lacazette is still getting as many chances as in previous seasons, but his shot conversion has slumped.

Another factor is that Lacazette is increasingly dropping back into midfield to get a touch of the ball and try to spark Arsenal into life going forward, therefore reducing time spent in the opposition box. 

Arteta needs to tell him to concentrate on remaining in those advanced positions, pointing to the No 9 on the back of his shirt, and get into scoring positions.

It’s crucial they reduce the burden on Aubameyang because 18-year-old Gabriel Martinelli, despite showing remarkable promise, and 20-year-old Eddie Nketiah can’t be expected to pick up all the slack. 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored 14 of Arsenal’s 32 Premier League goals this season

Get the winning mentality back

Being draw specialists is all well and good but it has left Arsenal some way off the pace of the top six, where they have become accustomed to finishing for the past two decades.

They must start converting one point into three and not reach for half-baked excuses when they fail to do so.

After the goalless stalemate at Burnley last time out, Arteta blamed the length of the Turf Moor grass and the fact it hadn’t been watered.

Arsenal endured an afternoon of frustration as they drew 0-0 with Burnley last time out

‘That’s not a very helpful thing to play football,’ he complained. Well, it seemed to work for Burnley and Arteta then admitted his team had prepared on an unwatered pitch with long grass the week before anyway.

Burnley mocked them by changing the header photo of their Twitter account to an image of overgrown grass next to mown grass.

It’s really just the latest example of the fragile mentality that crept into Arsenal during the latter Arsene Wenger years and most definitely continued under Unai Emery.

Opponents still rightly believe that Arsenal can be rattled when out of their comfort zone and despite some defensive improvements, they still crack under pressure.

Arteta made the excuse that the grass at Turf Moor was too long and hadn’t been watered

Arteta’s Arsenal have thrown away leads against Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United with early promise in games replaced by a familiar sense of regret.

It’s not something that can be changed overnight but Arteta needs to find a way of restoring a mental toughness to Arsenal and stop reaching for the excuses. 

Find a settled defensive line

One of the immediate fixes Arteta needed to make after replacing Emery was Arsenal’s leaky defence.

In truth, it had been an issue for quite some time and arguably still needs a summer clearout and at least two top quality acquisitions at centre-half.

But, with David Luiz playing the lead role, there have been some signs of defensive improvement since Arteta arrived.

David Luiz has displayed his leadership qualities in the Arsenal back line since Arteta arrived

Though they continue to chuck away leads, Arsenal don’t invite quite as much pressure as they did before.

Of course, they still have their moments, such as Luiz’s red card at Chelsea that left Granit Xhaka playing alongside Shkodran Mustafi at centre-back for over an hour.

But the good news is that Arsenal’s defensive injury crisis is starting to ease and with Pablo Mari coming in on loan from Flamengo, Arteta now has a selection headache.

As well as Luiz, Mari and Mustafi, he will have Sokratis and Rob Holding available too and now is the time to find out which combination is most effective.

The Brazilian let himself and Arsenal down with a red card against former club Chelsea

With the personnel at his disposal, Arteta could even select one back line for the Premier League and another for the cups.

They are due to travel to Portsmouth in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the beginning of March and have been drawn against Olympiacos in the last 32 of the Europa League.  

Secure that midfield leadership

Arteta has been credited with turning around the fortunes of Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Mesut Ozil this season and rightly so.

It seemed Xhaka was a cause beyond redemption after he criticised fans after being substituted, telling them to ‘f*** off’, against Crystal Palace back in October and was stripped of the captaincy.

There seemed no way back but Arteta had no issue returning the Switzerland international to the starting line-up and has been rewarded with a series of consistent performances.

Granit Xhaka has redeemed himself after being stripped of the captaincy back in October

It’s evident now that Xhaka complements Torreira in the midfield and vice versa. The Uruguayan’s manner of playing protects the defence and frees Xhaka up to dictate things a little more.

So all of a sudden, Arteta has an effective midfield duo to keep Arsenal ticking over going forward.

Ozil was barely involved under Emery at the beginning of the season and suffered the trauma of the attempted violent robbery on himself and team-mate Sead Kolasinac last July.

Mesut Ozil has looked better at times but needs to start delivering goals and assists again

He had returned to the Arsenal side under Emery in the autumn but Arteta clearly appreciates him with Ozil starting every Premier League game since he arrived.

But while the German has shown some flashes of form, he remains some way short of his best, as a return of just one league assist and no goals this season testifies.

Make the right moves in the summer transfer window

Improving Arsenal’s existing squad will only take them so far and it’s evident that Arteta will need to strengthen once the transfer window opens in the summer.

Sportsmail revealed that Arteta will prioritise a box-to-box midfielder, a central defender and a creative central midfielder while aiming to wrap up all business before Euro 2020.

That’s because clubs often inflate prices if a player performs well during a major tournament.

Feyenoord teenager Orkun Kokcu is one of the players Arteta is said to be keeping tabs on

Houssem Aouar would provide an exciting creative spark for Arsenal fans to get behind

Feyenoord teenager Orkun Kokcu – the Dutch-born Turkey under 21 midfielder – is one player under consideration, while the likes of Boubakary Soumare at Lille, Houssem Aouar at Lyon and Pedrinho at Corinthians could be options.

In defence, potential names in the frame include PSG’s Layvin Kurzawa, Gabriel Magalhaes at Lille and RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano.

Layvin Kurzawa (right) is a free agent in the summer and would be a smart signing for Arteta 

It seems that Arsenal will back Arteta with a decent transfer kitty this summer and clearly the manager knows what he wants.

Making the right calls in the summer will determine whether Arsenal return to the top six next season or continue to languish in mid-table mediocrity.


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