How Arsenal can improve next year

Before we start anything let’s take a moment to congratulate Arsenal Football Club on their return to the Champions League, a competition I have virtually nothing but shitty memories of us playing in. So many years, so many disappointments, mistakes, and controversial refereeing decisions. I pray to Crom that Arsenal will solve the riddle of steel and do what’s necessary to give us a good chance to win the Champions League, not merely stay in it year after year.

And what does the riddle of steel tell us that we need to do?

Well, for one, we need to keep all the young players that we have and make sure we are paying them appropriately and have them on long-term deals. I’m thinking specifically of William Saliba and Bukayo Saka. I hear from journos on twitter that those deals are in the works so, fingers crossed we don’t run into any impediments on getting those deals done.

The other big thing that Arsenal need to make sure is that we are bringing through top quality academy players. Everyone has their favorites and there’s no point even arguing over whether they are ready or not because they are largely emotional picks. What I hope is happening (especially with Smith Rowe) is something which Man City do a lot of (with multi-million pound players) and that is bringing them along slowly. Jack Grealish, for example, didn’t feature that often for City his first year. Kalvin Phillips is now in his first year and hasn’t played many meaningful minutes. Julian Alvarez comes on to give a breather for Haaland and so on. Getting a pipeline set up like that, of ready-made replacements is part of the entire “process” of rebuilding a club like Arsenal and I believe that Arteta will want to do that and is pursuing that goal.

One thing that shows up in the stats is that Gabriel (two saints) was Arsenal’s most-played player. He played over 3,954 minutes last season, which is the equivalent of about 44 full 90s. I know that somewhere in the past Arteta said that modern players can play 50 matches a season now and maybe that’s true. Looking over at Man City’s stats, Rodri is on 45 and will almost certainly surpass 50 before the season’s over.

But there’s also no question for me that some players CAN play that much and not suffer and others cannot. It’s been pretty plain to see that Bukayo Saka’s form has taken a dip in the last few months. He has just one goal and one assist since returning from international duty. Is that due to fatigue or is that because of Saliba’s injury? We don’t know, because we aren’t privy to his medical reports. But we can ask, who is Saka’s backup?

Many folks say Reiss Nelson and I am one of the people who sing “All we are saying, is give Reiss a chance!” but there is a small problem there: Nelson is right footed. That may seem like a small detail or even insignificant but it just means that on the right – where Saka plays – Reiss ends up playing less like an inverted winger and more like a traditional wide man. That’s why while he does come on for Saka, he’s often deployed on the left side of the Arsenal attack. His heat map for the season shows him playing both sides but it favors the left.

Trossard is more two-footed than Reiss, but he’s still not a lefty. The only two lefty options are Vieira and Øde and I don’t think either of them are viable forwards. So, I think we need to find a solution to the problem of playing Saka too much and also I would say Gabriel (two saints). Gabriel’s played nearly every minute of every Arsenal match at RCB and while the load can be less on CBs than on forwards, it’s still important to have someone ready to come in and take over. Is that Kiwior?

On the left, Xhaka is reportedly leaving. That means either Vieira is going to be promoted to permanently take over that role or Arsenal need to purchase another player to play there. Personally, I’d like someone more robust than Vieira. I would pick Alexis Mac Allister to play that Xhaka role (or Ilkay Gundogan who is also supposedly available) or if you want to go into the European market you could try Enzo Le Fee or Rayan Cherki. I know that many folks love the redemption arc of Xhaka and I will tell my children about his perfect final season but any of the names I’ve mentioned would be an upgrade because they are all excellent with the ball.

The British press are saying that Arsenal are “just waiting for West Ham to set their price” for Declan Rice and that he’s our main target this summer. I’m guessing that what they mean is that we are waiting to see if West Ham get relegated before making our first offer. But if this is true, it’s huge. The TIFO IRL (informative video) guys believe that Rice could play in the Xhaka role but I’m not as convinced as they are. I see him as the natural replacement for Thomas Partey instead.

Statistically, Rice ticks all the boxes so my only hesitation is that when I’ve seen him play against better pressing teams they seem to be aware that he is largely one-footed and they literally show him onto his left foot. He’s broken that move a few times with a creative right-foot dribble but any time he needs to use his left foot to drive forward it looks awkward. In fact, a lot of his dribbles look awkward.

I will also add that Rice has an uncanny nose for defending. So much so that I don’t know if I would want to sort of “waste” it up top in the Xhaka position. Up there, he’s not going to get a chance to show us the full range of his defensive abilities. Though on the other hand, if he did play up there I’d expect that he’d force a lot of turnovers in a more dangerous position.

The other midfielder currently strongly linked is Moises Caicedo. Caicedo is another interesting choice at Arsenal because he hasn’t really demonstrated the ball control and elite level passing that you would typically want to see from a CDM. That’s not to say he can’t pass, he’s good, just not elite. That said, he’s more than just a destroyer. He’s got quite a bit in the locker that would help Arsenal in the DM role but in terms of passing, I think he’s a step down from Partey or Jorginho. So, I’m not sure how Arteta saw him being deployed. I do know that Arteta wanted him, so he had something in mind! I also definitely don’t see him playing in the Xhaka role but what he can offer is the ability to play multiple positions. He played Right Back when Arsenal lost to them this weekend. I don’t know if Arsenal are still interested in Caicedo, however. We balked at Brighton’s absurd asking fee last time and I don’t know why they would lower their ask.

It might seem like I’m naming a lot of players needed at Arsenal and I am. Sorry but we saw all of these problems emerge throughout the season. In a perfect world, we’d be selling on the players we aren’t going to use anymore and I can name a few more that I think we should sell even if we are going to use them. If turnover and money were no problems I would get in a backup keeper, another left back (if Tierney is moving on as rumored), another LCB, another RCB, another RB, a new CDM and backup, replacement for Xhaka, backup for Saka, and another option up top for Jesus. It’s not very realistic, though. In reality we will probably get two or three players in and move a bunch of players on. There will hopefully be a few academy players added to the permanent rotation as well, which is a good thing.

Tactically, there is a weird problem that I can’t figure out and I haven’t heard anyone else identify: why Arsenal’s home form sucks. In away games, Arsenal have the best record in the league (City will probably catch us when they play their next away match) but at home, Arsenal were 3rd best (and will probably drop to 4th when Man U play their next home game). Specifically, it’s goals against which are killing our home form. We are 2nd in the league in goals against in away games and 14th in the League in goals against at home. It’s incongruous to say the least.

That said, in the past, I’ve argued that away form matters slightly more during a rebuilding phase because it shows more of what the potential for a team is. Those away games are the harder matches so, playing well there is a more positive sign. I’m also 110% certain that Mikel Arteta is angry about our home form and will be looking to do something about it. I’ll be surprised if we don’t have the best or 2nd best home defensive record next season.

The other thing I think Mikel needs to improve on is his in game management and the team’s flexibility. Brighton surprised Arsenal by playing man-to-man out of possession. This is normally a suicidal tactic because to defeat it, all you have to do is have one of your players make runs that drags a defender into a weird position and suddenly there will be a ton of space. But it looked like Arsenal were sort of ultra rigid in their positional play and didn’t want to break their formation which made it easy for Brighton to play their man-marking system. Arteta will again be fully aware of this and will want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Especially because we were playing brilliantly defensively against them with our high press, forcing them to simply go long. If Arteta and the team had been able to react to the man-to-man pressure, (and Kiwior not tried to tie his shoe on a defensive possession) that result could have easily gone the other way.

So, there you go. Lots of work to do this summer for Arsenal. And most of it starts, kinda, now.



  1. For Sure Out – Nuno Tavares, Pepe, Patino, Elneny (free)

    Rumoured Out – Xhaka (I will believe it when I see it).

    Arsenal should consider offers for – Tierney, Balogun or Nketiah (or both), Partey. Tierney before this season has been injury prone. Partey gets injured, his form drops and it takes too long for him to regain momentum. Balogun doesn’t want to come back to be 3rd striker. Is he better than Nketiah?

    All told, Arsenal could net £100m in transfers if Balogun is sold (he has to be worth £50m in the current market). Add another £80-90m like the Kroenke’s have seemed willing to spend every summer and that’s a good war chest to buy 4-5 top new players (if recruitment is right). I wouldn’t spend big money on Rice or Caicedo – big money transfers almost never pay off. Better to shop for young and in the £30-40m range.

    If we lose Saliba, we go back 2-3 years. It will shake the team’s confidence in the project. His new deal has to be done before end of June. Otherwise, he has to be sold, he can’t walk on a free.

  2. Balogun has 19 goals from 34 games in Ligue 1. I haven’t watched him play because it’s Ligue 1. Is he any good?

  3. Our home form sucks but so does our late form.

    Two seasons in row now that we’ve thrown in the towel, raised the white flag, given up, etc., at the end of the season.

    We dropped out of the CL last year and relinquished the top of the table this year.

    We dropped 9 points in April and have the title to Man City

    How do we solve that?

    1. By keeping the same approach: improve. Logically, if we improve next year, we finish 1st. So, as Tim mentioned, get better players in and improve game management. I’d like to add that a better assistant coach is needed. It looks like when he advocates for something with Mickel, like against Brighton, a disaster happens. Maybe a coincidence. Last year he was more involved.

      1. As the great George Clinton said, “Free your mind, and your ass will follow.” You can’t fake the funk. That’s what we need.
        We’ll all know it when we see it.

  4. I have a feeling Arsenal will be outbid for Rice, Caicedo and MacAllister. I don’t hear any talk about Moussa Diaby anymore. Left footed, right wing. 23 year old.

  5. After a season like this, where we played so well for so long, and then crumbled due to depth (and managerial and player inexperience), all of the transfer rumors are EXCITING. Especially given KSE and Edu have shown improvement in our transfer strategy.

    That said, I find myself fixating on wanting to get rid of Partey. At times, he’s seemed a revelation. Maybe because we were so used to Xhaka being played in a role he wasn’t meant to play in, and the vestiges of Wenger’s ironclad desire to convert CAMs to CDMs. But the injuries, and drop-offs in big games are hard to look past, not to mention the unanswered questions about his character.

    He was at fault for more than one goal in decisive matches. A player of his experience and with his skillset simply cannot be excused for these lapses in the way a younger player, or even the Xhaka of yore, could be.

    However, I don’t know who would want him, or how much we could get for him, I just want him gone.

  6. Home form has definitely been frustrating. The sense I got was that Arsenal have been a little too gung-ho in our approach at home, especially after the World Cup. The pre-World Cup run had established us as the best side in the league (to that point), and Arteta/Arsenal seemed to want us to be a dominant home team. In reality, my perception is that we rushed things too much at home for the sake of tempo – rushed passing, rushing out of positions to try to win the ball back. Combined with the fact that we had generally moved higher up the pitch as a result of our play, the chances conceded when we got played around or the opposition had a powerful runner meant much more clear cut chances conceded.

  7. I would keep BOTH Balogun and Nketiah, and play Balogun in the CL group stages and some of the PL games, saving Nketiah as a sub; the latter has recently signed a long term contract and so there is not much he can do about that. If this sounds a little Machiavellian, I apologize.

    1. Why not sell BOTH? You can get 70-80 for the two of them. If he can stay healthy, then Calvert-Lewin offers something different to the current forward line and he’s English. Everton probably sell him for 50, because they have financial issues.

      1. DCL has played 26 90s in the last two seasons. If we buy him, we’d need to buy a backup for him.

        1. And he’s injured again. The right type of player when he’s healthy, but no way we should make a bid for him.

      2. I cant see an upside to selling two middling strikers for one middling striker.

        Shame about Balogun. He has a right to expect to be a regular starter for someone, but it’s not going to be Arsenal. And I’d rather have Balogun than DCL.

        Im in 2 minds on this…
        Either we need an Adebayor type purchase — someone who offers that classic 9 game, but is young and inexperienced enough to not expect to play every week…

        … or we need the same, but experienced competition. A Vlahovic type. Ready now. Can compete hard with G9 for starter.

        I dunno. But that does seem to be the missing skillset among our forward options.

        Further back, I do like Declan Rice. Cultured player.

        Squad depth will be the key, with Champions League and multi-competition demands.

        1. We have Jesus as the primary striker that makes the Clockwork Red tick when we have Martinelli, Saka and Odegaard.

          We have Trossard that played a wonderful false 9, interchanging with Martinelli during play for 3-4 games.

          So we need an option different to both of those. Nketiah is Jesus-lite – works hard, links well but things need to be put on a plate for him to finish.

          Balogun is an unknown, whether he can replicate what he did this season in the Premier League. And he says he doesn’t want to come back.

          Vlahovic is a name people throw around, but what Serie A striker since Zola has come to England and succeeded? Even Lukaku can’t duplicate his Serie A form in England. Besides, Vlahovic used Arsenal last year.

          If he was 5 years younger, Mitrovic would be a great alternative to 5’9” Jesus and 5’7” Trossard.

          The profile of our Striker B should be under 23, 6’2”+, mobile and willing to press, tough enough to bully Reuben Dias, van Dijk, Varane and some of the goons at CB lower down the table. If that player exists we should be comfortable selling both Nketiah and Balogun.

          1. Ferguson at Brighton has potential to be pretty close. But doubt they would sell him to Arsenal at this point. Toney would be OK if he didn’t have the ban (which is pretty hypocritical given how many teams have gambling sponsors). Iheanacho maybe, given Leicester may be going down?
            If Balogun were willing to stay 1 more year and not be a guaranteed starter, it feels like he’s got more upside than Eddie. But not sure that Balogun will stay unless he starts most of the time.

  8. There is no tactical issue with our home form per se.
    We have just given away stupid goals. It’s mostly individual errors.
    We do have an issue defending set pieces.
    Especially when one of Partey/xhaka are missing.
    Normally, you need 5-6 players who are good in the air for set pieces but when one of xhaka/Partey are out, we had 4.

    We dropped off defensively when saliba and Partey both went missing.

    Just like everyone wants to move on from xhaka, we need to move on from zinchenko and Gabriel to hit 100 points
    City for all the money spent, have only hit 100 points once.
    That’s the points tally that we need to hit.

    About reiss Nelson being right footed.
    Our balance is flawed there but it’s a small issue.
    It’s better to have one left footer and one right footer on the flanks.
    Like nelli and xhaka.

    2 left footers in RHS makes zero sense
    We make it work because saka is good on his weaker foot.

    That RCM role needs a right foot b2b CM
    Saka is better off with a runner than a passer beside him.
    Back up to Saka should be cozier duberry.
    Nelli/Jesus/Nelson can play there short term too

    The LCM role needs to be the more creative passing CM.
    Having a passer behind nelli makes more sense

    To facilitate that you need a DM who is better defensively than Partey and you need a LB who is stronger defensively than zinchenko.

  9. in goal, i think we’re solid. turner’s better than you think, tim. likewise, he’s gotten better since he’s come to arsenal. i would have loved to have leno or martinez still but both are way too good to be on the bench behind anyone, hence they’re both starters for decent premier league teams. hell, emi won a world cup.

    right back is an issue. i believe arteta thought ben white could be what zinchenko is. on paper, it seems sensible. he can play rb, rcb, and cdm and is supposed to be this great passer. it would explain why arsenal paid so much for him. i just don’t think he can do it. i’ve already talked about why i don’t fancy zinchenko as a left back…he can’t defend. gabriel looks good partnered with saliba but seems to tray and do too much when saliba’s not in the team. he’s got to relax. saliba could be a problem due to how arteta’s managed him in the past. they may be on good terms now but he hasn’t forgotten. if real madrid were to come for him, i wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to leave and arsenal get nothing for him.

  10. partey had a poor couple of games last month but, overall, he’s been brilliant this season. simply put, i believe we can win stuff with partey playing well but i can’t say that with jorginho, even at his very best. we need, not so much a back up, but competition for partey…someone younger. that’s not jorginho or elneny. up steps caicedo or rice.

    if xhaka leaves, instead of leaving disgraced, he’s leaving a fan favorite. it’s a good move for him and a good time. germany’s so much closer to switzerland than england. that’s not to mention a potential 4-year deal for a 30-year old? i wish him the best if he can get that deal. for me, the best deal to replace xhaka is still youri tielemans…because he’s talented, league-proven, and he’s fucking free! i’ve watched a bit of rayan cherki since laca went back to france. he’s a talented player but not a #8…too weak defensively. i would say he could compete with odegaard but arteta wouldn’t like him. i prefer carlos alcaraz to cherki and even fabio…believe he’s got a greater upside and he’s young and cheap.

    brighton wanted so much for caicedo because it was january and they couldn’t afford to lose him. he’ll be expensive but much more affordable early in the summer. sambi needs to leave. to replace him, i like his countryman, lavia, from southampton. however, both caicedo and lavia are a bit short. declan rice isn’t.

  11. up front, i’m okay with trying to sign dusan vlahovic and telling gabriel jesus to compete. i like center forwards and there are few good ones in world football. vlahovic is one of those good center forwards who both provide a different set of skills and offer proper competition to jesus.

    folks are saying sell eddie but we had that conversation last season. you can’t move that guy as he’s on £100k a week for 5 freaking years. no one is gonna pay that for eddie money. arsenal were fools to pay him that much. if you wanted to give him a bonus, that’s fine. now, they’ve gone on and messed up the wage structure. bukayo, odegaard, saliba, gabriel, and everyone else who’s been important to arsenal’s success but are on less than £100k a week have a legitimate argument because the 3rd-string center forward is on that money and he rode the bench all season.

    it crossed my mind a few weeks ago that the reason bukayo, who we all think needs to sit, always plays is because arteta is afraid to drop him…because bukayo hasn’t signed a new deal yet. if true, that’s a management failure. if bukayo is playing like ass, give reiss the nod. when bukayo got hurt and had to come off earlier in the season, nelson came off the bench and got two goals and an assist. reiss playing well puts all of the pressure onto bukayo.

    1. …instead, we have a situation where reiss is reluctant to extend his contract at arsenal and could walk for free; because he deserved a chance but arteta was afraid to give him one.

  12. Interesting points re: Arteta management of Saka and Saliba, especially about his viewing Saka as “undroppable” because of his contract situation. Reiss Nelson did show up when called upon, but I can’t shake the suspicion that were he given more chances, he would not have been able to replicate the form he showed in the few chances he was given. I guess that’s why you give him a shot though.

    Also agree re: Eddie money, but let’s not forget that the club was trying to maintain the youth-driven values of the regen when they made that deal, which tempers my criticism of that a bit. Maybe that’s part of the learning curve for Edu and company: sorting out contracts for second string players, while also making the big-ticket moves that supporters expect.

    As to Partey, I wouldn’t describe his season as brilliant. He missed about a third of Arsenal’s PL matches. His exceptionally poor run of form coincided with the part of the season when he was needed the most. Some of the errors he made were flabbergasting. Letting attackers waltz right past him. I thought that we could win stuff with Partey. Now I don’t, unless he has a better player next to him. The point about him needing competition is interesting, but what I saw this season was a player who went missing at the worse possible moments. Nothing about that suggests that he would step up if there were competition for his spot.

  13. Yeesh. This is dispiriting. Arteta is doing his best to do the Pep overthinking thing. Just play White at RB and Partey in the middle. Or take Partey off entirely and bring ESR or Viera on. And Nketiah for Jesus, who is looking pretty useless.
    That said, credit to Forest, and I’d be happy to see them stay up vs any of the other teams in the relegation zone.

    1. Is it time to perhaps blame this collapse on Arteta? That starting line up was not serious. He’s needed to bench Jesus for weeks.

      1. This comment reminded me of some posters I’ve banned in the past and what I can’t figure out is why there are two accounts posting from the same IP address saying opposite things, sometimes on the same day. This feels like you’re either trolling us or there’s some kind of miracle happening where you and another poster share the same IP address occasionally.

        Please be brave enough to only engage on the site with one account and stand up for the ideas that you believe in or I will have to ask you (lol, ban you) to leave.

  14. Power and pace is so needed in this team, especially in central midfield. Power and pace alone is not so hard to find. To find it in combination with technical demands and smartness is harder…

  15. “How Arsenal can improve next year” – start beating teams like N. Forest for starters? Just a thought…

  16. When the backup LCB gets the nod over what used to be your locked down starting spot…man, Arteta is really just rubbing it in Tierney’s face. It’s really a shame, seems like he’s found himself in the wrong era. But this seems to be a trend with our left backs. Monreal wasn’t athletic enough to be the Roberto Carlos-esque player Wenger demanded, so in comes Kolasinac. But, oh wait, he can’t pass the ball. So we sign Tierney. Blimey, he’s a player, but now he can’t play all purpose aux MF role so Zinch comes in and, whoops, he can’t actually defend. The irony is, if we look back where we started, Nacho would have been the perfect player for the inverted LB role.

    1. I’m a fan of Zinchenko (although I do recognize his defensive shortcomings) but I do miss both Nacho (on the left), and Sagna (on the right).

      1. Nacho Monreal would have absolutely slayed it in the box midfield role. That dude had the control and touch of a world class CF.

    2. NM was one of my favorite players of the Wenger era, and possibly favorite Arsenal players ever. So consistent, not flashy, but did what he was asked. Would’ve loved to see him in that inverted LB role.

  17. Re the topic of this post. Asides signing some real level raisers, I think even if we improve next year, we might end up around the same points tally because I think we’ve been incredibly lucky this year. Next year, with even more good fortune, we win all those games we ought to have won (Southampton home and away, Everton away, N. Forest away, West Ham away) without dropping points in the games we probably didn’t deserve to win and we’d be on course for a 96 point season. Freakishly, that doesn’t guarantee the league but nobody would say we bottled anything at least.

    As for signings, the areas of dire need is our midfield and while Rice is a dreamy player, I don’t want to overpay for him. Caicedo too. I would be happy enough if the following happened:

    Rice and/or Caicedo at the right prices. If not then Lavia (should be cheap given their relegation. Also, a team always under attack tells you more about a player’s defensive abilities)
    A right winger to rotate with Saka. There are a plethora of options here. My only criteria is they have to be ready to rotate and good enough that they could threaten Saka for more starts
    Tielemans (although, I’ve cooled on him a bit after seeing them essentially get relegated but the allure of a free transfer is strong)
    Vlahovic (I’ll forgive him his trespasses)
    Another left back that is at least as good as Tierney but I have no idea who
    A CB. Everyone seems sold on Guehi and I have no real qualms with it
    I don’t think we need a back up goalie

    Balogun (I’d love him to be given a chance but he’s never gonna be that target man we need and he’d be way easier to sell than Eddie who I’d have preferred to see leave. Just put a sell on clause somewhere in there or at least break our transfer record sale by 10m)
    Tierney (I don’t want to see him leave but it feels like it’s inevitable)
    Nuno Tavares, 20m or more
    The other exits seem to fairly obvious. I want to see us sell properly this time around

    If we do all this, we have a chance of another go next season because I don’t see any team massively improving next season except maybe Chelsea and they will still fall well short

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