The best squads in the world are those whose drop in quality from starting XI to fringe players isn’t overly noticeable. The Gunners’ performance against Southampton ran home that Arsenal do not boast quality second string options. At all.
On the face of it, this shouldn’t be the case. The fringe players include a £72m transfer, a 70-cap Brazilian international, a Euro 2016 winner, a record goal scorer for England Under-21s and others of similar ilk. On the merit of performances however, many of them look like they’ve forgotten how to play football.
Nicolas Pepe‘s last season could be excused considering acclimatization to the Premier League and the disarray Arsenal were in. Five goals and six assists in the Premier League – a goal contribution every three games – showed potential. Only two goals in 12 Premier League games this season is an indication of the massive step back he’s undertaken, in a season which he supposed to have kicked on to become a regular match winner. Especially considering his price tag.
The less said about Willian, the better. Arsenal fans must be tearing their hair out watching his insipid and uninspired performances this season, more so knowing that he is 32 and on a three-year contract. At his age, he can only get worse. He is yet to score a goal and yet to provide an assist since the opening matchday of the Premier League. A catastrophic waste of money signing even if he was a free transfer.
Arsenal’s second string side is an embarrassing concoction of misfiring talent
Eddie Nketiah went from rotating with Alexandre Lacazette for the starting role to a goal-shy striker bereft of confidence and poor shooting statistics. Regressing since the season started, he is badly in need of a loan.
Mohamed Elneny is a player with zero attacking intent who can’t be relied on for anything but defensive contribution, even against inferior opposition. A player useful for protecting the lead in last ten minutes of a game and absolutely nothing more.
Of the aforementioned, only Pepe and Nketiah offer some hope of redeeming themselves. However, Pepe doesn’t look like justifying his lofty price tag anytime soon. Equally, Nketiah isn’t good enough to lead the line (yet).
There is very little on offer from the second-string. No one is knocking on Mikel Arteta’s door, pushing for a deserved starting role. As worrying as that is, it would be even more so should one of Bukayo Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Partey, Kieran Tierney or Lacazette get injured. Except for centre-backs, quality in the backup options for Arsenal is thread-bare. A sign of atrocious squad planning and transfer decisions for a number of years.
The rebuild phase has well and truly started. Martin Odegaard and Mat Ryan will provide some craved quality and depth.
Most of the deadwood has been shifted and this needs to continue. A crucial part of next few transfer windows has to be acquiring players who provide genuine quality and are legitimate options off the bench, not just hit and hope. For now, pray none of the starting XI players fall foul to injury.