Alan Smith on Arsenal: Mikel Arteta has selection dilemmas to solve

Smith discusses Aubameyang’s struggles, Arteta’s selection dilemmas, Arsenal’s January plans, Tierney’s captaincy credentials and Xhaka’s form; Watch Arsenal vs Newcastle on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 7pm on Monday Night Football; kick-off 8pm

Football Expert

Sunday 17 January 2021 10:22, UK

Sky Sports’ Alan Smith gives his verdict on Arsenal ahead of their Premier League clash with Newcastle on Monday Night Football.

It’s been a better few weeks for the Gunners, who are now unbeaten in five matches in all competitions, but they did endure a frustrating night against Crystal Palace last Thursday.

Mikel Arteta’s side were held to a 0-0 draw by Crystal Palace and they have now failed to score in seven league matches this season, as many as in the entirety of last campaign, as focus once again falls on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and the misfiring forward line ahead of their clash with Newcastle, which is live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event from 7pm on Monday (kick-off 8pm).



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Speaking to Sky Sports, former Arsenal striker Smith talks Aubameyang’s struggles, Aubameyang vs Lacazette as a central striker and Gabriel Martinelli’s potential return and the selection headache it could leave Arteta.

Arsenal’s January transfer window plans, Kieran Tierney’s captaincy credentials and Granit Xhaka’s form are other topics covered as Smith analyses the current situation at the Emirates Stadium…

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Auba’s struggles continue

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang still seems a little below par.

He had one or two moments against Crystal Palace, one when he cut in off the left flank before getting a strong shot away. That was a bit more like it, but, in fairness, he was part of a team that was stuttering and couldn’t really get going.

That didn’t help him. Chances were not being created, and you can’t underestimate what a big miss Kieran Tierney was. His runs on the outside allow Aubameyang to drift in and get closer to goal.

That didn’t happen enough against Palace.

Having got a goal against Newcastle in the FA Cup, you are hoping now he can get one or two more and go on a run.

He doesn’t now want to go on a run of three or four games without a goal because anyone’s confidence would be affected under those circumstances.

Alex Scott on Arsenal's performance vs Crystal Palace…

“I can sit here and be totally frustrated with the performance, but I think it’s a reality check of where this Arsenal team are. The fact we’re talking about relying on the youngster, so how critical can I be when that’s what Arsenal are dependant on at the moment?

“Even though you’re having to change those youngsters, like Bukayo Saka from his position that he’s been playing well, you’re bringing on experienced players who aren’t giving you anything. I think it’s where we need to remind ourselves that this season, it’s about Arsenal trying to climb the table and still rebuild.

“Without Kieran Tierney, we can see what he brings to this team, his runs going forward, his confidence when he’s on the ball and make others play around him, making opportunities for others and that was totally missed.”

Selection problems for Arteta

Alexandre Lacazette has been scoring goals. It’s difficult for Mikel Arteta to leave him out, as things stand.

In terms of link play, that’s Lacazette’s game more. We saw that with the part he played in some of the goals at West Brom and also to a certain extent against Newcastle in the FA Cup.

Aubameyang is a goal scorer. He can produce something out of nothing, and we’ve seen that so often in the past, and you’ve got to believe that will come back again.

But if Gabriel Martinelli comes into the equation for the game against Newcastle then things are different. If fit, you really want to see him in the team because of the way he performed before sustaining that ankle injury in the warm-up ahead of the cup tie with Newcastle.

He brings an awful lot to this Arsenal side, and if he does play on the left then it does give them more options.

It provides an opportunity to bring Aubameyang into the middle. Do you then keep Emile Smith Rowe in the side? For me, Lacazette is not a number 10.

They experimented with that a couple of times earlier in the season, but I don’t think you’d want to play him in that withdrawn role again. Smith Rowe is much more suited to it.

It will be interesting to see which way Arteta would go when everyone is available.

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Arsenal will need patience vs Newcastle

No striker will want to sit out, that’s for sure.

Aubameyang is the best striker Arsenal have got. He’s the captain of the side and Arteta will always be loath to leave him out, even though Lacazette has been scoring more goals.

That’s a problem for the manager and probably one he hoped he wouldn’t have after the game against Palace. He’d have hoped for a good win and that the team almost picks itself again for the Newcastle game, but we’ll have to see.

There’s a bit of thinking to be done by Arteta before Monday’s game as to which way he’s going to go about it because Newcastle will come and they won’t be a pushover in the way they have been at times in the last month.

Like Palace, they will be determined to stay in the game, keep that clean sheet as long as possible and frustrate the Gunners. It could be another night that calls for patience from Arsenal.

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Analysis: Jury's still out on Arteta's Arsenal revolution

Sky Sports’ Richard Morgan:

“Arsenal headed into Thursday evening’s London derby with Crystal Palace on the back of an impressive recent run of three successive Premier League wins. They had come at exactly the right time for under-pressure boss Mikel Arteta, with questions beginning to be asked about the Spaniard’s tenure at the Emirates.

In fact, the home team were looking to make it four league wins in a row for the first time since October 2018 and help reaffirm belief in their manager and his rebuilding job in the capital, while victory would have also kept their slim top-four hopes alive.

However, on a frustrating night in north London, the hosts turned in a flat, lacklustre display to remind their supporters and the general public just what a big rebuilding job Arteta has on his hands.

“And another blank up front means Arsenal have now failed to score in seven league matches this season, as many as in the entirety of last campaign. They last failed to register in more games in a season in 2015/16 as focus falls on their misfiring forward line.”

Strengthen in January?

It’s always the right thing to bring in new players but only if you can get the right players. Somebody who is going to suit what you are looking for, and importantly, who is good enough and who is the right character as well. Sometimes that is the hard part in judging whether they are right for the club.

Can they handle a step up? For example, somebody like Emi Buendia at Norwich or Yves Bissouma at Brighton, can they handle the step up in expectation at a bigger club? Some people can, some can’t, but you can never be certain until a player arrives.

We know Arsenal haven’t got much money, so they are going to have to be creative. They’d love to get three or four out of the club.

Arteta is still moulding a squad in his image. He inherited these players and he’s trying to get in the players he wants, but he’s got one arm tied around his back with the lack of funds.

All managers want two or three transfer windows at least with a bit more money to spend than he’s had. It’s certainly a longer-term project but, as we know in football, nobody gets time if the results aren’t there. So, he’s got to try and buy time with enough wins to get to the point where he wants to be.

It’s a long haul at Arsenal but I think they’ve got the right man in charge. He seems an excellent coach and hopefully he can improve the players he’s already got there. That’s what all good coaches do and hopefully he can also bring some more talent into the squad.

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Tierney absence a problem; Saka an option?

Tierney was a big miss for Arsenal.

I said in commentary there are not many matches I’ve seen where a team misses a left-back so much. You could say Andy Robertson at Liverpool. When he’s not playing you could argue Liverpool are not the same team, but it’s an unusual position for a team to be in.

It was stark how much they did miss him and those runs down the outside. More than that, his delivery into the box which has caused teams so many problems in recent weeks.

You really don’t want to be in a position where you are missing your left-back to that extent. That’ll be a real concern for Arteta, but hopefully it’s not too bad an injury.

He’s not a player who will want to miss games if he can help it. He’s a no-nonsense type of character so hopefully for Arsenal’s sake he returns quickly.

Tierney’s absence wasn’t helped by the fact Ainsley Maitland-Niles endured a bit of a stinker against Crystal Palace. He made a sloppy start, misplacing one or two passes early on and he couldn’t pick it up from there.

The team lost its threat on that side.

Bukayo Saka eventually went over there and because he’s left-footed he gave the team more balance. If Tierney is unavailable on Monday, then I’d be inclined to guess that is where Saka will start against Newcastle.

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