The one thing Mikel Arteta must change for Arsenal's season to be saved
Arsenal are in 15th place with just 13 points from 11 games after Sunday's derby defeat at Tottenham
Statistics being circulated after another Premier League defeat were never going to look good for Mikel Arteta's Arsenal.
The Gunners rank 17th in the league for goals, 18th for shots on target and 20th for chances created. If Jose Mourinho decides to compliment your team after the match, you know there's a problem.
"I want to give words, congratulations to Mikel Arteta because he gave us a very difficult game," said Mourinho after the game.
"Tactically they were very good, very organised. They gave us problems, problems we were able to resolve.
"They have a good tactical courage and incredible spirit. They are a good team and he is a good coach."
Mourinho loves coming up against Arsenal. For him, it's a personal battle as much as it is a derby and you could see that with his celebration for Son Heung-min's opening goal.
The Portuguese knew exactly what to expect from his opposite number. Tottenham play deep and hit teams on the counter attack - it's what they've done all season under Mourinho. He likes to give you possession and it's become a trademark of his managerial career.
Arsenal weren't battered by Spurs, far from it. Against Wolves they put in 33 crosses and on Sunday they attempted 44, the most by any team in a single Premier League game so far this season.
"I'm telling you that if we do that more consistently we're going to score more goals," Arteta said after the Wolves defeat last week.
"If we put the bodies we had in certain moments in the box, it's maths, pure maths and it will happen."
Football doesn't always work how you want it to and Arsenal's plan A isn't working right now. They scored from a Willian cross in the game against Wolves but the reality was that Nuno Espirito Santo's side had the Gunners at arms length for most of the match, and it was the same against their north London rivals.
Thomas Partey's injury certainly hampered any chance Arsenal had of getting something from the game. Arsenal looked to do things slightly different with the Ghana midfielder on the pitch, as he showed glimpses of why he was brought back into the team so fast. A rampaging run past Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and the Tottenham midfield reminded everyone of the added dimension he adds to the Arsenal side, but the gap he left for Spurs' second couldn't come at a worst time for his team.
Following Partey's injury it was Arsenal who reverted to crossing the ball in to no avail. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has never looked so unhappy at the club, only four months after winning the FA Cup and three months after signing a contract extension. It's clear that he's not getting the service he wants, but it's more worrying to see the club captain and star striker appearing so low on morale at a crucial time of the season.
Aubameyang has only managed only two goals in 11 starts for Arsenal this season but Sky Sports pundit and former Arsenal captain Alex Scott believes the Gabon striker isn't to blame.
“People are talking about Aubameyang and saying he’s not scored and focussing on him. But I think people need to look at the bigger picture," said Scott.
“Is he getting the service? Is the balance right? Is he getting the balls that he needs to be successful? You can’t just look at him, it’s a squad thing.”
Indeed, the balance couldn't be further away from what Arteta would want it to be currently. It is easy to make the excuses of not having a pre-season, players being out injured or not working with the players you want, but when you look at Arteta's managerial competitors the results are in stark contrast.
Those experienced managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Mourinho know how to win games even when the going is tough and it's something Arteta hasn't mastered yet. He will be given time to improve this squad and he'll get a January transfer window to ship out and acquire a few pieces of the missing jigsaw that he so badly needs. But it's not just personnel.
Persisting with the same players and the same ideas when things aren't working won't bode well for Arsenal's season. Reiss Nelson wasn't selected in the squad to face Spurs and three central midfielders in Dani Ceballos, Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles took their place on the bench. Who did Arsenal realistically have to come on and make an impact off the bench?
Arteta said that his team played exactly as he asked. They pushed their full-backs highs and Willian started as a right winger against a counter attacking side. The warning signs were there from the very start and there can be no doubt that the Spaniard knew all about his opposition's strengths. Both goals started from Arsenal attacks down the right hand side.
"You think of the Arsene Wenger era at Arsenal and they had lots of creative players," said Gary Neville before Sunday's defeat.
"At times, you almost said there were too many. But they haven’t got enough now, they haven’t got anyone on the ball who’s gonna find that pass. Even Lacazette in that number 10 role - it’s not really what he does. Willian, yes, Saka, but they’re more up and down wide players, not really players that can create brilliant moments consistently.”
Interesting to see Arteta say Arsenal played exactly as he asked. V high full-backs + Willian RW v a pure counter-attacking team.
Both Spurs goals start from AFC attacks down the right
Check Bellerin starting position v Son when ball breaks for 1st goal. Doesn’t even notice him https://t.co/MkdgJrzC4R pic.twitter.com/DG1D5bIONz
— Jonathan Fadugba (@JFfutbol) December 6, 2020
Perhaps what was more worrying to take from Sunday's game was the resignation in which Arteta described his team's frustrations in his post-match press conference.
"We need to score goals. If not, it's unsustainable. It doesn't matter what we do in other departments of the pitch, if we don't score goals we can't do nothing. We need to put the ball in the net, urgently."
Arteta's side have averaged more passes per shot than any other Premier League team this season - 55.5 - and have scored only 10 goals in 11 league games. They know how to keep possession and pass the ball around without inflicting any damage on the opposition. It's a sad indictment on a manager who has the attacking players to fire Arsenal up the league, but is currently not getting the best out of them.
It might be time for Arteta to get another body in a more attacking area instead, especially a more creative-minded player. For example, if you took out Arsenal's third centre-half against Spurs, they could have had Reiss Nelson on the pitch. The England youngster created five chances in the Europa League win over Rapid Vienna last week.
Arsenal's worst start in the league since 1981 has shown no signs of halting and there is evidently more than one major thing that needs to be changed by Arteta before results worsen. They could consider moving back to a back four and adding an extra attacking player like Nelson, or Pepe when he returns from suspension. There needs to be someone in the mindset of Partey, who before his injury on Sunday possessed the ability to breach that Spurs defence and create opportunities with his running and progressive passing.
The Gunners are stagnating at a rapid rate and dominating performances in the Europa League against mediocre opposition won't be able to paper over the cracks appearing at Emirates Stadium. January can't come quick enough for Arteta but it's the tactical changes that clearly need to be mastered in the next few weeks before the transfer window opens.