The world has changed beyond recognition in the past three months, but you can count on Arsenal to have the same old problems.
Wednesday night’s 3-0 defeat at Manchester City poured a bucket of cold water over their ambitions to compete for a place in the Champions League by the end of the season.
But Arsenal’s problems go far beyond another suicide bomber masterclass championed by David Luiz.
Mikel Arteta looks on with worried expression as Arsenal are beaten well by Manchester City
David Luiz endured a nightmare night when Arsenal’s restart didn’t go as planned
Mikel Arteta has the unenviable challenge of rebuilding the club he represented with distinction on the field into a force competing for trophies and title.
We are looking at some of the hurdles to get Arsenal back to a position of strength in the Premier League.
DEFENSIVE CALAMITY AND DAVID LUIZ
Arsenal fans must have trembled when Pablo Mari limped at the Etihad stadium and the television cameras turned to David Luiz delimiting the steps to follow.
Luiz had one of those calamitous nights that followed him throughout his career, responsible for opening Raheem Sterling, and then being expelled for dragging Riyad Mahrez into the box.
The Brazilian has figured prominently since Arteta’s takeover in December and is starting to reassert some authority, but now his manager will wonder if he is too responsible.
Luiz Takes Full Responsibility After Horror Performance In Arsenal Loss To Manchester City
Luiz was caught on the wrong side of Riyad Mahrez and dropped the attacker in the box
Defender was kicked out early in the second half when Manchester City dominated
Luiz, 33, is only engaged until the end of the season, but wants to stay at Arsenal. But you are wondering if we have now seen the last of him in the Premier League.
We didn’t need Wednesday night to tell us that Arsenal urgently needed defense stability. They have now conceded 39 Premier League goals this season, one less than what they have scored.
This explains why Arsenal have drawn 13 league games this season to leave them ninth in the standings. They just took one point when they expected three far too often.
Pablo Mari could be sidelined for next games after injuring City
Arsenal may call on William Saliba (right) to sign £ 27 million next season
Luiz has followed the same path as Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi, while Mari’s injury will now be even more worrying.
Arteta will not be able to work with William Saliba, their very promising £ 27m signing last summer, until next season after returning to Saint Etienne.
Saliba, 19, offers hope for the future, but it is obvious that Arteta must target at least one experienced center commanding half of this summer. It will be easier said than done.
Without tackling their leaky back line, Arsenal simply cannot move forward next season.
The return of the Premier League after a three-month hiatus brought the promise of unpredictability. Fitness and fitness were there for all of the teams, so Arsenal certainly wouldn’t have a better chance of surprising City.
No chance. It was the same old story for Arsenal as they collapsed to win away from home against an opponent they considered their contemporary “top six” not long ago.
Arsenal have not won their last 25 visits to City, Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham since January 2015, losing 15 and keeping a clean sheet.
Mikel Arteta instructs his Arsenal players during defeat at Manchester City
Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud were there during Arsenal’s last top six victory in 2015
Sure, that scorching record is something that Arteta inherited from Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery before him, but the longer the race continues, the more it becomes a psychological barrier.
Even before Luiz’s red card on Wednesday evening, their attackers barely made a dent.
Either way, Arteta has to get to the root of the problem and it’s no longer like hostile crowds can be used as an excuse.
He’ll have another chance before the end of this season – a derby trip from north London to Tottenham.
THE OZIL CONUNDRUM
The lack of spark in Arsenal’s midfielder this season is reflected in the facts and figures. No midfielder has scored more than one Premier League goal, while Mesut Ozil and Dani Ceballos have only had two assists.
That said, remarkable striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored 17 times and remains in contention for the Golden Shoe.
But it’s the sorry case of Ozil that best portrays Arsenal’s drift and decline in recent times.
Their best salary, with a handsome weekly salary of £ 350,000, has contributed to one goal and three assists in all competitions so far this season.
Mesut Ozil was kicked out of the Arsenal team for their visit to Man City on Wednesday
Ozil participated in Arsenal warm-up matches and suffered no injuries
And that says all that Arteta left him out of an extended team of 20 players for Wednesday night’s game for “tactical reasons.”
It is incredibly difficult to remember the last time Ozil produced a game-changing performance, especially in a big game.
Perhaps one of the Arsenal players who resisted a 12.5% pay cut in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis will be one last drop.
But Arsenal faces an enigma. With Ozil’s money grab contract not expiring until next summer, this year will be their last chance to get money for the 31-year-old. But there is little interest in the field.
Arsenal boss Arteta (left) said Ozil was kicked out of the team for “tactical reasons”
Owner Stan Kroenke is desperate to cut the club’s payroll by £ 230 million a year to boost the club’s record against the coronavirus crisis, and Ozil would be the first to win.
However, with the German more than happy to sit down and recover his money for another year while contributing almost nothing, getting rid of him will not be easy.
It doesn’t bode well for Arsenal when you have Luiz’s agent Kia Joorabchian and also club technical director Edu speaking of “several issues within the entire structure that will be resolved” in the coming days.
Joorabchian’s comments reflect the fact that Luiz’s future is not all in the air at Arsenal.
In his post-match remarks after his horror show on Wednesday, Luiz suggested that uncertainty about extending his contract for next season was the reason for his poor display.
Luiz Kia Joorabchian’s agent has set a deadline for the client’s future
Like Luiz, star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not yet resolved his future at Arsenal
With Luiz keen to stay in the UAE, the player and agent are only too happy to put pressure on the fast-paced time to make a decision.
And he’s not the club’s only contractual puzzle. There is Ozil and then the alarming situation which sees the star player and captain Aubameyang and the young hopeful leader Bukayo Saka with only one year left on their contracts.
Arteta stressed the importance of tying 18-year-old Saka to a long-term contract, and Aubameyang is clearly waiting to see if Arsenal qualify for Europe and the offers ahead before deciding to sign up.
Questions will be asked of Huss Fahmy, the club’s chief negotiator, who had a solid reputation for making deals, about how this happened.
Young talented Bukayo Saka (right) is another whose contract expires next summer
LOOMING FINANCIAL DISORDER
Qualifying for the Champions League each season has become an expectation for Arsenal during the Wenger era, but they now have three years to go, settling for the Europa League.
And missing lucrative Champions League revenue is starting to show up on their balance sheet with figures for the 2018-19 season showing a loss of £ 27.1 million.
So the last thing they needed was a turbulent season that saw them spend a club record £ 72 million on Nicolas Pepe, a mid-season change of management, an early exit from Europe and a position low level.
It was a season of frustration at Arsenal with the current ninth team in the Premier League
Arsenal, owned by Stan Kroenke, can’t afford to miss the Champions League
This financial loss occurred before the Covid-19 crisis and an analysis by the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust suggested that a slim profit of £ 4 million for 2019-2020 would now be a loss of £ 19 million in because of the loss of income for the day.
And they predict that if all of next season is also behind closed doors, the club risks losing 144 million pounds.
With Arsenal Europa League prices overshadowed by what their rivals invent from the Champions League, a wealth gap is starting to widen.
Failure to qualify for Europe could see assets like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leave the club
It could be a stormy financial prospect for the club if Covid-19 was combined with a field failure
The Gunners will be far from alone, without a world football club – no matter how big – sheltered from the chilling impact of the coronavirus.
But that underscores how vital it is that Arteta puts them back in the Champions League as soon as possible. According to the evidence from Wednesday evening, it will be a tough fight.
Failure to do Europe at the end of the season will inevitably have a ripple effect not only on the fact that people like Aubameyang will stay at the club, but on how quickly reconstruction can take place.
Arsenal clearly has cash reserves to spend on the market, hence their interest in Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey, valued at £ 45 million.
Atletico itself doesn’t have a vintage, but why would Partey, used to playing in the Champions League, choose to go if Arsenal were outside Europe?
Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey, valued at £ 45 million, is a player that Arsenal is interested in
The same logic can be applied to all other first-class summer targets and makes Arteta’s life much more difficult to attract the required quality.
Despite the setback for City, there have been many signs of encouragement since Arteta’s arrival in December. There is more fighting spirit at Arsenal and they were on a good winning streak before the break.
But they still occupy the ninth row of the table, well drifting from their rivals, and need several new faces to close this gap. Not being in Europe taints prestige, but also makes the practical aspects of reconstruction difficult.