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How Arsenal Can Return to The Top 4

Since Mikel Arteta’s appointment in December 2019, the 38-year-old has overseen highs and lows. The highs include beating the likes of Liverpool and Man City in the same week, but the lows include the struggles at Brighton and losing to bitter rivals Tottenham. With finances stretched, this summer will not only have to be focussing on the short term but also setting the foundations for long term success.

Both Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira are clearly not in Arteta’s plans and at 21 and 24 respectively. Together, they could raise upwards of £60 million as well as make room on the wage bill however, they are undeniably talented and should tried to be used in the first team. Mesut Özil is another player Arteta doesn’t favour and as he is on £350k a week, he is surely a priority to move on despite Arsenal being unlikely to get more than £10 million for the 31-year-old. Mohamed Elneny is another one the Gunners are likely to move on from as the Egyptian has had an underwhelming loan spell at Beskitas whilst Henrikh Mkhitaryan wants Roma to make his loan deal permanent. However, these is another midfielder that splits opinions, Granit Xhaka.

Although Granit Xhaka has undeniably improved under the Spaniard’s tenure, his deficiencies mean Arsenal can only go so far with the Swiss in their midfield. Xhaka only averages 2.2 defensive actions per 90 but that has never been his main skill. He is renowned for his passing which is highlighted in his 88.1% pass accuracy and 2.3 key passes per 90 in the Europa League however, he is very easy to press. When put under pressure, he often struggles to sort his feet out and his reliance on his left foot (only 14% of his passes are completed with his right foot) makes him an easy target.

Xhaka could be replaced by Manuel Locatelli. At 22-years-old, the Italian will be a starter at the Emirates for a long time. The 6’1” midfielder has been crucial to Sassuolo’s eighth placed finish as only Caputo and Consigli have played more minutes than him, the latter is a goalkeeper. The former AC Milan player averages a huge 4.1 tackles and interceptions per 90. He couples his hard work off the ball with flair on it as his 7.4 passes into the final third is more than anyone in the current Arsenal squad and his 2 key passes per 90 has seen him get five assists, around half of what Arsenal’s current midfield got in 2019/20. However, he is also an elite ball progressor through dribbling as his 1.8 per game successful dribbles and a success rate of 78% make him among the best midfielders in Europe.

The Gunners should also look to make Dani Ceballos’ loan permanent especially due to the 23-year-old’s resurgence under Mikel Arteta. As well as this, they should look to not sign Thomas Partey. The Ghanaian is clearly a talented player but would cost £45 million, most of Arsenal’s budget. Partey is also 27 meaning once Arsenal’s young crop of talent are coming into their prime, Thomas will need replacing as he will be in his 30s.

Since Arteta’s appointment, only four Premier League sides have conceded more goals. This means that the defence is good, but when the club have eight natural centre backs, they could do with moving a few on. Sokratis and Mustafi would be many Arsenal fans first picks, if they were to go this would mean Arsenal would be likely to sell Chambers or loan Mavropanos out again and bring in another centre back.

The creativity is arguably a bigger problem at the Emirates, as emphasised by the draw to Leicester and loss to Tottenham. This has become a bigger problem as they tend to line up in a 3-4-3, this means creativity would come from the wide players or deep central midfielders. According to Scott Willis, Arsenal’s midfield four create a combined 0.9 chances per game. The wingers Arteta has at his disposal are Saka, Aubameyang and Pépé. One is a teenager, another is a striker who wants to get on the end of chances and the last is a player who likes to dribble into tight spaces. This means Arsenal need an all-round forward; someone who can create, score, dribble and press. One day, this could be Emile Smith-Rowe however, many think he isn’t ready just yet.

Saïd Benrahma could be a viable option. The Algerian has been linked with the Gunners, Chelsea and Leeds United and it is clear to see why. The 24-year-old has been labelled as the Championship’s best player for a while, especially since Thomas Frank has taken the reigns at Brentford as he has got over 25 direct goal involvements for the second consecutive season. The Algerian creates 2.4 chances per 90, more than anyone at Arsenal which he couples with 3.9 shots however 2.2 are from outside the area. Players like Emi Buendia and James Madison have been recent examples of players who can transition quickly from the Championship to the Premier League.

By getting rid of the deadwood and using that money to invest smartly into the weakest areas, Arteta could have the Gunners challenging for the top 4 within 12 months. He may not be able to get them playing the most attractive football, but Arsenal fans just want results at the moment.


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