Yesterday was one of the worst ever games I've witnessed as an Arsenal fan in almost a decade. Look, we've had some embarrassing defeats. The 6-0 against Chelsea, 8-2 away at Manchester United, 5-1 at Anfield, and so on. But to play at home (even if there are no fans) and to accumulate an xG of 0.02 over 90 minutes is totally unacceptable.
It doesn't matter who you're playing against. This Liverpool side counter-pressed very well, but for us to have 2 shots over the course of 90 minutes against a team with an inexperienced center-back pairing of Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips is disgraceful!
If there's one thing Liverpool really exposed yesterday, it is the interconnected deep-rooted issues within Arsenal's squad.
Let's have a closer look at them.
1. A total lack of consistency over 38 games:
This has been something that has plagued Arsenal in recent seasons. If you want to secure Champions League football or fight for titles, you need to be able to do it over 38 games. We haven't done it. We're too hot and cold.
Just have a look at our Premier League form since February: LLWLWDWDL. No stability at all. You look at our performances against Leicester City and Tottenham and go 'Wow, that's exactly how I want my Arsenal team to play.'
Then you see performances like yesterday which makes you scratch your head.
For individual games that players feel up for, they are able to step up and win. That's why we have been a Cup team in recent years. We're not able to do it in the league partly due to a lack of quality and also due to a poor collective mentality that Arteta is trying to change in his 'cultural shift'.
2. Over-reliance on a few players stemming from a lack of viable alternatives:
Every football team has players who are important. The same is the case for us. But if certain players get injured, the drop off in the levels is way too much.
• If David Luiz is injured, we don't have a defender who can replicate his ball-playing qualities. Well, technically we do, but he's on loan to Nice.
•If Kieran Tierney is injured, we have zero natural left-backs who can come in, fill in for him and do a job. We're forced to play a right-footed player there which ruins the dynamic completely.
•If Thomas Partey or Granit Xhaka are injured, Dani Ceballos and Mo Elneny are a huge step-down in level. Take a look at Chelsea/City/Liverpool/United as those are the teams we want to be fighting with. We lack the central midfield depth that they have.
•On a rare day like yesterday when Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are injured, the ones that played instead proved themselves incapable of stepping up and filling that gap. These two are just 19 and 20 respectively and it's sad we're relying on them to this degree.
3. The youngsters help the seniors when it should be the other way around:
Any club that is doing well and fighting for titles has a good core of senior players - I said this back in December, Arsenal's core of seniors are rotten.
Take the game against Chelsea which somewhat turned our season around - it was Smith Rowe, Martinelli, and Saka who carried the team, played without any fear, giving 100% and expressing themselves.
Look at a team like Manchester City, for example. When Phil Foden is integrated, he plays in a very stable set-up, some fantastic senior players who have been part of a winning culture that makes the transition that much easier for him.
At Arsenal, the seniors have proved time and again that they're incapable.
You're in trouble when you're being carried by players who are so new at this level, even if they're very talented.
4. The questionable Mikel Arteta decisions:
I back Arteta, but I believe as manager of Arsenal you're accountable for what happens on that pitch.
Firstly, the signing of Willian has been a disaster. At the start of the season, for over 3 months he was poor. But Arteta persisted and persisted... It took away minutes from not only Nicolas Pepe, but also Reiss Nelson who scored the winning goal against Liverpool in his last Premier League start... I find it quite baffling that he hasn't had a game since.
Next, the decision to loan out Saliba is something I do not agree with. Yes, he's inexperienced but is also the perfect profile. When you look at Wesley Fofana thriving the way he is at Leicester City, Saliba was someone who is rated even higher in France. I get that Arteta might have wanted him to gain more experience, but why do that when he can easily play for this Arsenal side and give us great utility?
The decision to persist with Aubameyang on the left is baffling and it was totally exposed yesterday. We struggled to relieve pressure down that side as Auba isn't a winger and someone who dribbles out of tight situations. Our best performances this season came when only one of Lacazette/Aubameyang played. The 3-1 win against Leicester, 2-1 against Spurs, 3-1 against Chelsea, and 4-2 against Leeds.
We had to play a natural winger yesterday, whether it was Willian or Nelson, basically someone who is good in tight spaces and can help relieve pressure. But we didn't do that. Arteta must prioritise playing the right profiles over just putting out experienced players together.
5. Arsenal haven't had their key players fit together for a prolonged period:
What would you say is Arsenal's level as a squad? If I am to put a team of say: Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney, Xhaka, Partey, Odegaard, ESR, Auba, Saka you'd be inclined to think its a team that must finish at about 5th/6th.
Arsenal's 'best possible 11' is actually pretty good, some really solid players in there which is something to build on.
The issue, however, is very closely linked to the point about 'over-reliance - we lack quality alternatives for certain players.
Tierney and Partey's injuries haven't helped. Smith Rowe has only been fully fit since December and Odegaard was only brought in January.
Factoring all of this, it isn't a huge surprise to see us in 9th. I'd say the level of the squad is about 8th if you account for the injuries.
This isn't an excuse, it is just the reality of the situation. And something for Arsenal to properly address in the coming window.
6. Poor squad balance:
We have 4 right-backs, but just 1 natural left-back. We have 2 ball-playing center backs for the left, but just one for the right. Arteta spoke about 'specificity' - Aubameyang and Lacazette do have their fair share of flaws and to some extent need to be accommodated in a system. The ones who don't have significant flaws are the youngsters - ESR/Saka/Martinelli. They might be new at this level, but they fit the need when it comes to profiles.
In midfield, until December we didn't play with a number 10. The signing of Odegaard has helped us, but if the plan is to continue with ESR from the left which suits him nicely and Odegaard is unavailable, we have to make changes.
Essentially, due to poor squad planning over the years, we're in this mess, something that Arteta must look to fix ASAP.
To conclude: We've done better since Christmas, but the cracks are there for all to see. This team has needed an overhaul for a long time - I'd be inclined to listen to offers for any player not named Tierney, Partey, Gabriel, Martinelli, Smith Rowe, and Saka. This doesn't mean 'sell all of them', rather be open to the idea of that, and if we get the right bid in and can find an upgrade, just go for it.
This summer, we have to be ruthless in this regard and fix the gaps. I respect the opinions of people that want Arteta gone, but for me, he needs to be given a fair shot of spending money and bringing the players that he wants.
This mess won't be fixed overnight, but at least we all know exactly what the problem areas are.
Interested to hear your opinions in the comments here.