Freddie Ljungberg certainly made a statement in his last game in charge, with Ozil left at home suffering from his foot-in-the-mouth problem caused by his comments on China (foot injury was the official line, I believe) and with Pepe and Lacazette on the bench.
It really looked like a line-up for a pre-season friendly at Barnet and the team played like it. At least, new boss Mikel Arteta will know the enormity of the task ahead of him now, if he didn’t already.
Luckily for Arsenal, Everton were just as devoid of ideas and could not capitalise on the visitors’ lack of experience.
Despite that, Arsenal put up a valiant performance defensively, with Calum Chambers winning the man-of-the-match award. He has been Arsenal’s most reliable player for some time, so deserves all the plaudits he gets.
Meanwhile, I was glad to see David Luis back and I believe he did more than enough to justify his selection.
Maitland-Niles looked reasonably solid defensively for perhaps the first time, while Saka was actually impressive, playing out of position at left back.
Although Freddie can clearly get more out of the youth players than the seniors, it’s rarely a good policy to throw them into the team all at once. Nelson was mostly ineffective, while Martinelli worked hard but produced little. The same applied to Smith-Rowe, who’s a great prospect but not ready to start Premier League games away from home.
With that attacking midfield and Torreira and the immobile Xhaka providing the service for Aubameyang, it was no wonder the captain cut an isolated figure. Talk about having to feed off scraps!
To change the game, Freddie threw another youngster on: Joe Willock. Of course, it wasn’t likely to work. Young players need older heads around them: they shouldn’t nearly outnumber the experienced ones.
Given the personnel that Freddie used, perhaps the result was good: a clean sheet can’t be bad, can it?
Now the big question is: can Arteta turn this mess into a team with an identity. My answer will be if he can motivate the experienced professionals to actually put a shift in, he’s got a chance.
He may need to offload some underperforming players like Xhaka, who has improved of late but is still not of the standard that Arsenal need in central midfield. Perhaps he’s playing better because the transfer window opens soon, and that’s fine as there seems to be interest from Hertha Berlin and Newcastle. I’d certainly sell Xhaka if I were Arteta.
Could that be why Robbie Burton has been training with the first-team squad? It would be risky to blood another youngster, but the Welshman can actually pass forwards as well as run. As many of us have noted, Xhaka struggles with both, so it’s time to get rid. Xhaka’s ‘range of passing’ involves passing back to the keeper frequently and gifting the ball to the opponents. I’d prefer less of a range and just keeping possession and the opponents under pressure.
Aside from having to deal with Xhaka, arguably the biggest problem involves Ozil. Should the German get one more chance? I’d probably answer ‘yes’ to that, although his social media gaffe has cost the club millions of pounds in all likelihood and damaged the club’s reputation in China. Perhaps Ozil should enter politics one day, but not while he’s on Arsenal’s pay roll. If the Gunners can offload Ozil to Fenerbahce then Arteta will have one less problem to deal with.
However, if both Ozil and Xhaka leave, it will be necessary to bring in another experienced player to bolster the squad and keep the likes of Aubameyang and Lacazette happy. Arteta needs to get the best out of those two, but who can supply them? Could it be Pepe? Whoever it is, once Arsenal get the supply line sorted, both strikers will feel more incline to sign new deals. That would be another problem over.
In fact, by joining after the Emery debacle this year, there is less pressure on Arteta. All he has to do is finish sixth and many fans will be pleased, given the team are currently 11th in the table; Arteta simply needs to arrest the slide.
I would argue, just like some of the players, that Ancelotti would have been a better fit. Some fans say he won’t do well at Everton, but I beg to differ.
The same applies to Mourinho at Spurs. Just because Tottenham lost to Chelsea, it doesn’t make them in free-fall.
When it comes to it, Arsenal just need to focus on their own problems and fix them. Perhaps Arteta can do it, as he knows the club inside out. Personally, I thought he was one of Arsenal’s best ever captains and, what I particularly liked about the Spaniard was, he always knew when to pass short and when to try something more ambitious. The funny thing was he rarely surrendered possession, so he could teach the current midfielders a thing or two.
The next question is will the players listen to him? We’re about to find out!