Arsenal are currently sitting 15th in the Premier League table after a miserable start to Mikel Arteta’s first full season in charge.
The Gunners have won just four of their opening 11 league games, drawing one and losing a frankly embarrassing six.
The side is suffering from numerous issues ranging from a lack of form from the players’ aspect to poor decision making from both the coaching staff and higher-ups.
Arteta has had only one summer transfer window to improve his squad, as well as the January window that opened only a few days after he was hired.
In the January window, he only signed two defenders, Pablo Mari and Cedric, on loan deals which have since been made permanent. The summer window saw a bigger spending spree on the likes of Willian, Gabriel and Thomas Partey.
So, while Arteta’s Arsenal has begun to take shape, it is still impossible to see what Arteta wants his squad to look like in three-to-four years time.
Apart from Gabriel, Arteta’s signings have been short-term fixes. Even Partey is 27 and incredibly unlikely to be a part of any title push in the next half-decade.
So, here we will look at how Arteta can turn Arsenal’s season around and build on it next season.
Realistically it will be 2023 at the very earliest before Arsenal can sustain a title charge. With that in mind, we will mainly be focusing on this campaign and next while laying the foundations for the future at the same time.
Similar to our article on how to fix Manchester City, this piece will look at system and tactics first, before going on to look at the playing squad and who needs to come in.
Choose a system and stick to it – the Arsenal way
The first thing that Mikel Arteta needs to do is decide on a regular system and formation. He can then worry about fitting the parts in afterwards.
Arteta started off playing a 4-2-31 in his first few games with mixed results. He then experimented with a 3-4-3 after lockdown to much greater success. His team played a lot deeper and sacrificed possession in favour of dangerous counter-attacks.
In fact, they won games against the likes of Liverpool and Wolves in the league playing this system, as well as putting both Manchester City and Chelsea to the sword en route to winning the FA Cup.
However, three-at-the-back was quite clearly not the Spaniard’s long-term plan, as proven by his return to a four this season.
Considering he is a disciple of Pep Guardiola, Arteta likely will want to settle with a 4-3-3, or perhaps 4-2-3-1, in future. He will want to have the majority of the ball and have his side control the game.
This season, Arsenal are having more of the ball but their performances and results have gotten worse. It is clear that they played better in the system that Arteta does not actually want to use, particularly against the bigger teams.
This begs the question of how to strike a balance between laying the foundations for the future and not asking players to do things that they simply are not able to do.
Yes, a new manager should probably get their style of play into their players from the off. Gegenpressing was implemented at Melwood by Jurgen Klopp from day one.
Arteta cannot come into the dressing room and say “this is how we are playing until I get rid of all of you and sign players who are capable of playing the way I really want to.” So they need to find the right balance.
Arsenal should try to play 4-3-3 with possession-based football, but they must have to have a plan to stop the best counter-attacking teams.
Look at the likes of Liverpool or Bayern Munich. The midfielders and front line work incredibly hard to not let counter-attacks develop, even more so when they are high up the pitch. If the midfielders do get caught high up, then the fullbacks will hold back.
As seen in the North London derby, Arsenal pushed both on and suffered the consequences.
In short, Arteta must pick his shape, be it a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, and fit 11 players into it the best way he can until he can sign the ones that are the right fits for the positions.
Sign a partner for Partey and Ceballos – Arsenal need creativity
As mentioned, Arsenal have a massive issue with creativity.
The Gunners are crossing an awful lot for a team that does not have a forward that is particularly good in the air. In fact, the team as a whole only wins about 45% of their aerial duels. Yet their 20 crosses per game match Burnley and is more than Liverpool.
So they need to choose at least one of a series of options. Either sign a creative 8 to play in a 4-3-3 or a creative 10 to play in a 4-2-3-1. Maybe, the could get in a creative winger or an elite creative right-back.
Whatever they decide to do with regards to creativity, one thing for sure is that they need another midfielder.
Assuming that Dani Ceballos’ loan is made permanent next summer, Arsenal already have two excellent central midfielders at the club. He and Thomas Partey should be a part of the side’s spine for at least three more seasons.
If Arsenal plan on playing 4-3-3, they need to decide whether they want to play them both as No 8’s or one of them as a No 6. Both players are capable of playing either role.
If they do decide that they are both at their best playing box-to-box, then Arsenal have to sign a holding player. They would also need a creative winger if this is the case.
Ceballos and Partey could be an excellent partnership in a double-pivot. If they plan on 4-2-3-1 going forward, they simply must sign an elite No 10.
So, who should they sign?
Option A: 4-3-3 – 6/8 and a winger
Playing Thomas Partey as a No 6 would most likely limit his opportunities to use his superb dribbling ability. So perhaps it is best to give him some attacking freedom and leave him as an 8.
So the question turns to who can sit in front of the back four and fill any gaps left when Partey and Ceballos bomb on. They also need to be good on the ball and capable of recycling possession.
Due to the good defensive numbers of Partey and Ceballos, any potential signing does not need to be exceptionally mobile, just good enough to fill spaces. Essentially, a holding midfielder in the shape of Andrea Pirlo at Juventus or even Jorginho at Napoli.
One interesting option is Rodri at Manchester City. He is not mobile enough to cover City’s extremely attack-minded free 8’s but could be perfect behind two midfielders that will do their share of defending.
City themselves need a more mobile option at the base of midfield due to how little their No 8’s defend. It is not completely impossible for them to sell to Arsenal, especially considering Arteta’s link to the club.
Manuel Locatelli would possibly be the best option. But he, like Partey would be limiting his game if he had to play as a 6.
Denis Zakaria is probably out of their reach at this stage.
If they do take this route, then Arsenal will also need an exceptional creative winger. This is because neither Partey nor Ceballos will offer elite creativity from the midfield. They will, however, be very capable of supplying the forward line with the tools to create with their excellent ball progression.
The signing of Nicolas Pepe has not worked. The Londoners should probably cut their losses with him if possible. Willian has also proved to be an awful signing, as many predicted he would be.
Basically, Arsenal need someone in the Jack Grealish mould. The Aston Villa man would be perfect, but he looks like an unrealistic target.
All three are excellent at creating chances. They all play for smaller teams than Arsenal, so a move to the Emirates would be a step up for them all.
Option B: 4-2-3-1 – playmaking No 10
If Arteta decides that the foundations for his Arsenal side lay in a 4-2-31, then they need an elite No 10.
The previously mentioned Buendia and Szoboszlai would be also good options here. The pair are versatile enough to cover the wings or attacking midfield role, while they could also drop back as a No 8 if needed.
The best option is probably Lorenzo Pellegrini at Roma.
Pellegrini also has excellent defensive numbers for a No 10. He is making 3.8 tackles and interceptions per game this season.
Another option is the incredibly exciting Matheus Cunha of Hertha Berlin. The Brazilian is even younger than Pellegrini at 21-years-old.
Cunha has had an exceptional start to the season, with 6 goals and two assists in the league. He is making 1.8 key passes and 3.2 tackles & interceptions per game.
The ex-RB Leipzig man also has a decent xA of 0.21 per 90. He may be less of a creator than Pellegrini but has loads of room to improve.
Christopher Nkunku may be out of their reach but is well worth an ambitious attempt.
Use Aubameyang through the middle
When Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang extended his contract at the Emirates a few months ago, most Arsenal fans were over the moon.
Yet ever since he penned his new deal, the Gabonese forward’s form has dropped significantly. He has only scored twice in 11 league games this season.
Aubameyang’s shots per game are down from last season, as well as his percentage of shots on target. He is also shooting from much further out from the goal, indicating that he is not getting good chances but still trying to force a goal.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly why this drop in form has occurred.
The obvious thing to point towards is that he has often played on the left of a front three this season. Yet he was also playing that role after lockdown last season, and playing it incredibly well.
Perhaps he is finally showing signs of age.
All the same, Aubameyang has always been better through the middle throughout his career. Considering his age, Aubameyang should be used similar to Jamie Vardy is being used at Leicester.
This season looks like a bit of a write-off, barring a dramatic run of form in the new year. But if Arsenal are to have any chance of Champions League qualification next season, Aubameyang is going to need to improve drastically.
As mentioned, creativity is an issue. If they take the advice from above, the 31-year-old should get more chances. He is still able to finish expertly.
Ideally, the Arsenal front three next season will be Aubamyang through the middle with Bukayo Saka and a potential new signing out wide.
Alex Lacazette looks to be another player who’s time in London is coming to a close. He could also be sold to make money for new acquisitions.
Integrate Saliba ASAP
Finally, Arsenal need to find a partner for Gabriel at the heart of the defence. Strangely, it seems like they already have that man in their squad.
It looks like he will not feature at all for the first team this season. Arsenal’s management has decided that he still needs more time to improve and get used to senior football.
However, this decision is simply ludicrous and Arteta and co. must consider changing their minds.
As mentioned, Arsenal are not going to compete in the Premier League this year. The top four already looks like too far a stretch.
Surely they may as well give Saliba minutes and experience while they essentially have nothing to lose?
Young players benefit from playing games. One just needs to look at his ex-Saint Etienne teammate Wesley Fofana at Leicester for a case study.
Gabriel needs a partner better than what is currently available. Surely Saliba wouldn’t do a worse job than David Luiz or Rob Holding. But even if he did, so what? He would learn from any potential mistakes and benefit in the long run.
Arsenal already have too many centre-halves at the club. They could sell at least three of them and still have plenty of cover.
The simple option is to get rid of some of them, integrate Saliba and use the money for attacking signings.