Arteta’s Two Big Challenges: the OPAL Boys and Finding the New Arteta. John Stones Would Help.

We are far from sexy, winning football but Arteta’s red light is starting to lure me in and get me excited alright. Our game v Palace was hard on the eye for most of the time but still there were clear signs of good things to come. 

Aubameyang finished off a beautiful ‘Wilsheresque’ team goal and for a moment we thought we had ‘Our Arsenal’ back, all sexy and decisive. But then we sat back on that slender lead too much, whereas the Arsenal of old would have pushed hard to get the next goal, and the next goal. This will come. Seasonal fatigue and a lack of strong midfield options played a big part. Arteta will sort it but Birmingham and London were not build on the same day so to say.

It is clear that the team’s driving force needs to come from midfield, and I am relieved that Arteta has been reenergising this area by believing in the Xhaka-Torreira partnership and allowing Mesut to be our free and creative soul once more.

So simple, but Emery did never buy into this duo/trio and it cost him his job imo. The problem is that we have no decent back-up for any of these three as yet, and as soon as one or two of them are not able to play (anymore) we lose our shape and intensity significantly. Torreira’s injury was felt instantly, and it probably cost us two juicy points in the end.

Yet it could have been worse when Auba was sent off for an uncharacteristic bad foul and the team had to see the game out with ten men. The ten stood strong and at least a point was taken north of the mighty Thames. This is also something Arteta is establishing in the team: resilience and team work.

Mikel will have to work on our depth in midfield and this will take time. Ceballos, ESR, Guendouzi, AMN and Willock all have potential and who knows how quickly our manager can get them to become proper alternatives to the TXO midfield trio?! I am still hoping for the one buy this January we need to make: a midfielder who can play in either Torreira or Xhaka’s positions without needing to play each and every game.

Arteta needs to find…. an Arteta, just the way Arsene found him nine years ago. A 29-30 year old PL player who would love to come to Arsenal and give their all, yet does not expect to play in each and every game. For me that would be Francis Coquelin but there are alternatives I would be happy with too (see also previous post re this).

The midfield is Arteta’s main area of concern, but he also needs to fix our effectiveness in attack. I am not too worried about our defence: the way we kept the Red Mancs away from our goal told me that we are defending much better as a team now, and then all of a sudden our defenders look like quality players.

The arrival of John Stones would of course be helpful, especially now that Mustafi really seems out of favour, even with Arteta. Stones’ inclusion could free-up Luiz to come and play in midfield and that would add depth to that key area instantly. Luiz could stand in for either Torreira or Xhaka and not weaken the team doing so. Stones is a good passer of the ball and would fit well into Arteta’s philosophy of playing out from the back, so I can see some value in getting him on loan till the end of the season (and maybe longer).

But it is Arsenal’s approach to our attacking game that needs working on: our OPAL lacks shimmer.

OPAL – a gemstone consisting of a form of hydrated silica, typically semi-transparent and showing many small points of shifting colour against a pale or dark ground – is not clicking as yet. Ozil, Pepe, Auba and Laca are working hard on and off the pitch to become the Gem they hold between them but they seldom sparkle and shimmer to their combined potential.  This African-European foursome should be awesome but somehow it is not clicking as yet and this is THE big, big challenge for the management team.

We can tell Arteta likes the young, versatile gems of Nelson, Saka and Martinelli and their future is certainly bright at Arsenal, but getting much more out of the experienced (and expensive) OPAL chaps will be his highest priority for the remainder of the season. 29 goals as a team total in 22 PL games is well below what we need, so lots of training is required to get the OPALs to start beating up the net properly. If he gets this right, boy will be become a team to reckon with!

A work in progress no doubt but there is every reason to remain positive: the future is red and white!

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By TotalArsenal

17 thoughts on “Arteta’s Two Big Challenges: the OPAL Boys and Finding the New Arteta. John Stones Would Help.

  • Brilliant piece as always.

    We need another midfielder that can make us tick like Carzorla. The closest is Willock but i have yet to see John-Jules.

    I feel that there is another gem that he have yet to unearth from within the squad. Maybe Nketiah is the gem?

  • TA ….. good work. I like how you’ve drawn attension to the fact that since Arteta got the players defending as a team, our defenders have been looking good. The follow up is that there is now a recognition that our attack has also been below par. Again, I believe it is not the fault of the attackers only but of the team’s attacking.

    That’s the next stage Arteta is expected to address. Our build up play and transition have to improve and to my thinking another ball playing hard working midfielder has to be introduced in place of one of the PALs. It just doesn’t add up that a team fielding the PALs (representing about £170m in capital) would make only 2 attempts on goal against Palace in the 1st 45minutes. It makes little sense to be top heavy with a poor supply line. To make matters worse, each of the PALs is not reputed for build up play. We need the balance tilted in favour of ball suppliers as against goal scorers.

    Ozil can’t do it alone. Xhaka stays deep and Torreira is good at disrupting opposition attack and simply recirculating the ball.

    Fate possibly has done us a favour by by reducing the PALs to two for the next 3 games. We might see an upsurge in attempts at goal. That should get Arteta thinking.

  • Excellent point, PE, and I think I agree. Three attackers is possibly too many and playing somebody off the wing to work with Mesut in the middle might make a big difference. As you say we may see a different approach now that Auba is suspended for a few games.

    It is a real shame Mkhi didn’t work out and is now away on loan. Surely he should be that sort of player we are talking about?!

  • Yes Mkhi. Arteta must be thinking of how to fit Ceballos into that equation. Arteta is so keen on possession high up the field.

  • TA, your fine post has been complemented by some really thoughtful comments.

    Thinking of Mkhi – it’s more than likely that he would have fitted well into an Arteta style squad.

    I stick by my comment that this is a lost season – but I feel strongly that the knowledge of the players that Arteta will gain in the remaining games will serve him well during the off season. It will allow him to start off 2020/21 with a clean sheet and (hopefully) the players that will have the skills, energy and mindset to get us back where we belong.

  • Cheers GN5, I am less pessimistic about the remainder of the season than you are but I understand your feelings. I do now look forward to every game and who knows how it all will end? Every bit of progress is to be celebrated as long as Arteta has a plan which I think he does.

  • I too am optimistic TA– and enjoyed your piece.

    And once again– have some news from the almost always reliable ‘The Athletic’:
    “Arsenal are in advanced talks over the signing of Paris Saint-Germain left-back Layvin Kurzawa. Head of football Raul Sanllehi is leading the negotiations, with key discussions understood to be taking place today.

    The 27-year-old would be available on a free transfer when his contract expires this summer but Arsenal intend to sign him immediately and there is some hope that they may be able to recruit him without paying a fee.”

    Appears Arteta have convinced the decision-makers, Raul&Co.– that he might yet find light at Tunnel’s End this season. Finding low-cost signings and loan deals during January look to be the fashion in which Mikel wishes to power the team’s chances.


  • On OPAL: I think there are a few teams in the PL where Arsenal can (and maybe should) use the full OPAL front against them from home. That means plenty of chances created – ideal against teams ‘parking the bus’, where the focus is on the defense, and Xhaka+Torreira can maintain the midfield superiority (or at least the equilibrium). On the road, or against teams with stronger midfield devoting 4 players to attack is indeed a liability. We should utalize only a front 3, which could be either Ozil with 2 strikers (Auba & Laca), or could be a lone striker with 2 wingers. In the latter case I would prefer Pepe and Nelson (and maybe Martinelli in a year or 2), because they can do more than a dangerous cross, they can create the chance for themselves too. Pepe is a great dribbler, and Nelson is quite impressive. Both could work together with Lacazette or Aubameyang, which gives flexibility as well as potential for rotation.

    Regarding the next Arteta: besides the previously recommended Grzegorz Krychowiak (who had a season with West Brom), the only capable DM in the 29-31 age brackett with PL experience would be Jack Cork of Burnley. (I’m not a fan of Matic or Milivojevic.) If we lower the age limit, we can bring back Francis Coqelin, but I would still prefer Danilo Pereira from FC Porto.
    Would we consider classic CMs than Davy Propper from BHA or Adrien Silva from Leicester (currently loaned to Monaco) could be options.

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