Mikel Arteta can only change so much between matchdays.
Let’s start with the easiest metric of diversity. What foot do they play with? Arsenal has a squad of roughly 30 players, and 22 of them are right-footed. We have four defenders, three midfielders, and one forward who prefer their left foot. Consider that three of those lefties are Sead Kolasinac, Mesut Ozil, and the injured Pablo Mari, and you’re down to six who are usable.
Our heavily right-footed bias makes our buildup predictable and one-dimensional. Players tend to dribble and pass with their dominant foot – duh – and very few of our starters can make effective use of their weak feet, meaning we’re suckered into using half of the options available, for fear of turning the ball over with a mistimed or mishit pass.
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The issue is exacerbated when our attack is completely composed of right-footers, as it so often is these days. Laca, Auba, and Willian all prefer moving the same way to open up space for a shot or cross, which tends to pigeonhole our offense. Auba steps into Laca’s space, Laca into Willian’s, and Willian gets hung out to dry on the touchline, with only the advertising boards for company.
Arsenal players also occupy the same roles on the pitch, oftentimes. With the exception of Gabriel, our center-backs are clumsy in distribution, occasionally too slow, and fall asleep while defending, David Luiz‘s passing range the notable exception to that rule. With the exception of Partey, our central midfielders are generally immobile, limited in distribution, or both. With the exception of Auba, our forwards lack cutting-edge, consistency, or both. You get the gist.
Arsenal simply do not have enough players who make a difference by being different. We rely on a style of play that Albert Einstein would hate more than anything. We try the same thing over and over again, and expect different results. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But the verdict is the same: we’re too one-track.
Our fans cry out for players like Joe Willock and Nicolas Pepe to start in the league, not because they are consistently excellent, but because they bring something different to the lineup. They have the unexpected in their locker, and while Willock is loose with the ball and Pepe is too left-footed, they specialize in creating the moments of magic this Arsenal squad desperately needs.
But because of the dulled banality of our roster, our struggles and problem-spots within the lineup often cannot change, even when personnel is rotated. As a result, we have become terribly predictable. And that’s why Arteta can’t change formation easily.
His system is designed, in theory, to get the best out of the players on the pitch, while minimizing their deficiencies and drawbacks. And while it worked during Project Restart, Arteta has begun to go the way of Chris Wilder. Because of selection issues, opposing teams know what they will face in Arsenal. They do not fear us. And that’s a huge issue.