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What is causing Arsenal’s stagnation?

Arsenal travelled to Vicarage Road in the late kick-off on Saturday, and were on the back foot for much of the first half, with Watford choosing to take the game to Arsene Wenger’s men rather than sit back and invite pressure.

However, the Gunners’ resilience, especially in the absence of key defender Shkodran Mustafi, was something to be appreciated, as they were able to contain Watford without too much difficulty, and went and scored themselves from a very straightforward corner kick routine, aided by some poor marking by the Hornets defenders.

It was little surprise to the observing neutral. Marco Silva and Arsene Wenger had 15 minutes to reorganise, and in the second half, the team in yellow attacked with a lot more intent and increased urgency, causing the Laurent Koscielny led Arsenal defence to show some cracks under pressure. Richarlison was a thorn in the left side of the Arsenal backline, with substitute Troy Deeney asking all the right questions of their rival defenders.

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Yet again, Arsenal came undone, and on this occasion it was 2 minutes from time when Tom Cleverley found the roof of the net from six yards out to ensure that the visitors would be going home without a win on their travels for the fourth successive time this season.

Some obvious frailties were displayed by the Arsenal side that looked completely unable to shift out of first gear. The faults and cracks were evident, though where do Arsenal’s failings lie?

  • Lack of Inspiration

This was the most pressing factor of all, for it was this imbalance that swung the game Watford’s way. The Hornets were eager to make something happen, were eager to deliver, and they got the winner purely due to the urgency and the motivation they showcased in the entirety of the second 45. Arsene Wenger’s words from the touchline seem to be falling on deaf ears, as there is no proper response from the team when Wenger does indeed shout out instructions from the sidelines.

  • Lack of Leadership

Arsenal’s first XI is a side of relatively calm temperament, and one in which there is close to no assertiveness by any player. This can be a bad thing, as it is proving to be time and again in Arsenal’s case. Laurent Koscielny and new signing Sead Kolasinac are the only men in the first team who display any sense of leadership and / or command. A leader isn’t someone who displays authority, but rather someone who organises the team and lets his players know where they’re going wrong, when they’re slacking off, and ensures no one loses their head in frustration. Because of a lack of this, the Arsenal side, especially the attacking players, are getting away with some slackness, which is costing them big time.

  • The Mesut Ozil Conundrum

Arsenal shelled out the big bucks for long time target Alex Lacazette, and while he is one of Europe’s most potent goal scorers, he too needs something to build on from. With the right service or the correct runners, he’s shown glimpses of how good he is, especially from the edge of the box. The problem that arises is the lack of top notch creativity in the absence of Ozil.

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Xhaka and Ramsey are both holding midfielders with the occasional top corner shot and the key pass in them, but they aren’t the creative maestros of the side. That title is Ozil’s alone. However, when Ozil is on the pitch, Arsenal are effectively down to 10 men without the ball, as his defending work rate is non-existent. Any big team can exploit that to good effect. So would you rather have extreme creativity for the strikers, or handicap the team while defending? Dilemmas, dilemmas.

  • Lack Of A Midfield General

Every successful team needs someone to run the midfield, to win the ball back, make interceptions, initiate tackles, and in the process, control the flow of the game. Liverpool have Can and Henderson, City have Fernandinho, United have Matic etc. The closest Arsenal have to that general is Francis Coquelin, who isn’t featuring for them regularly. Arsenal’s attack hasn’t yet attained that level of fluency that allows them to start without an out-and-out defensive mid, and in the absence of one, they lose their midfield battles and are exposed to wave after wave of opposition’s attacks. A long overdue signing.

  • Overdependence on Alexis Sanchez

There’s undoubtedly a fine line between looking to a player for inspiration, waiting for him to spark something up for the rest of the team to build on from and carry forward, and looking devoid of direction in his absence. Sanchez is that player for Arsenal, and the case is the latter. His minutes on the pitch have been quite limited this season, so Lacazette and Co. have had to do without his assistance for much of the campaign, and the result is showing. It is hard to dispute that Arsenal can indeed attack without Sanchez, but their attacking exhibits static-ness instead of dynamism.

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When a top team attacks, it’s hard to call their next move, as the play is quite free flowing, with the man on the ball having the luxury of options, i.e going for goal himself or picking out a runner. Arsenal’s attacks, on the other hand, are getting relatively easier to see through. The best example I can offer is Manchester City’s second goal against Stoke. De Bruyne’s reverse pass, disguised as a shot, took out 3 Stoke defenders and left 3 City attackers in behind. Arsenal had a great 2v2 chance on the counter against Watford, but the obvious pass was picked, which was comfortable to defend against.

Arsenal’s present side is showing the same signs that Pellegrini’s City exhibited in the latter half of his final season in charge. The same lack of inspiration, the lethargy in attack, the defensive fragilities, and the overall dullness in build-up. In my personal opinion, the players no longer respond well to Arsene Wenger, who is developing, or being forced into developing an easy going attitude, due to lack of response and / or respect from his players.

Something needs to change. And it needs to change soon.

Written by Ayush Verma.

Ayush Verma

20. Student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Manchester City correspondent for 90MAAT

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