Opinion

How Mikel Arteta set Arsenal up to fail against Brighton

Harry Symeou
Mikel Arteta's Arsenal fell to a second successive Premier League defeat at the hands of Brighton
Mikel Arteta's Arsenal fell to a second successive Premier League defeat at the hands of Brighton / JUSTIN TALLIS/GettyImages
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It's been a week to forget for the Gunners with Mikel Arteta's Arsenal having suffered two damaging defeats, subsequently handing their local rivals Tottenham the upper hand in the race for the Champions League places.

The Gunners have already surpassed the expectations most had for them at the start of the campaign, amassing 12 points more at this same stage than last season. While mathematically they are still very much in the hunt for a top four finish - they're still just three points behind Spurs with a game in hand - looking at their remaining fixtures doesn't exactly fill you with confidence and so there's a feeling that their challenge is beginning to unravel.

The squad's inexperience was always a concern, as was how they might be impacted in the event they pick up two or three key injuries. But on Saturday, perhaps more than anyone, it was the manager who showed he's still a little wet behind the ears.

Arsenal were rocked by the news earlier in the week that Kieran Tierney will miss the rest of the season and further scans showed Thomas Partey's injury sustained at Selhurst Park on Monday is more severe than initially thought.

Having implemented his playing style over the course of the season that for the most part has seen the side pick up improved results, Arteta could ill afford to further upset the balance of the side. There's not much a manager can do when it comes to enforced change other than to try and limit the effects of it. But he opted to overcomplicate matters, overthinking the whole thing.

Nuno Tavares was expected to be named in the starting XI at left-back. After all, he was brought in to deputise for Tierney and did so competently earlier in the campaign. His form of late has been questionable but surely given Partey's absence in midfield, Arteta couldn't afford to weaken that area further by using Xhaka to fill in at full-back, right?

The Xhaka at left-back experiment has failed in the past, most notably during the Europa League semi-final defeat to Villarreal last season and the outcome this time was no different. Add to that, the Swiss' absence from the midfield left Albert Sambi Lokonga with the task of marshalling the midfield alone - it was painfully obvious even prior to kick-off that this selection weakened Arsenal in multiple areas.

Brighton's first goal game from a ball being dropped into the area normally occupied by a conventional left-back, and like the second when the ball was cut back towards the edge of the penalty area, the lone figure of Lokonga was unable to keep track of Brighton's runners.

The reshuffle also resulted in Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe having to play in slightly different roles than they've become accustomed to this season and so it's no wonder we saw such a disjointed display.

The minute the team news was announced and began doing the rounds on social media, the general consensus was that Arteta had taken a huge gamble. He'd have thought long and hard about it and briefly explained his reasons for doing so in the post-match press conference. But given how badly his side performed and the clear issues caused by his decisions, there's no hiding the Gunners boss has to own this one.

Whether the result will prove costly in Arsenal's pursuit of a place back in Europe's premier competition remains to be seen but back to back defeats and the lack of reliable cover raises an important question - are the Gunners ready for a return to the Champions League next season? Perhaps not.

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