It might sound painfully trite to say ‘something has to change’ after Arsenal’s season-opening defeat but it doesn’t make it any less true.
That Brentford, a squad which, while undoubtedly spirited, seriously lacks quality, were able to work out and largely nullify Arsenal’s strengths while capitalising on our weaknesses should be a deafening siren to Mikel Arteta and his coaching team.
Not only are we increasingly predictable but we are increasingly easily dealt with too. Our struggles creating good chances last season were in no way assuaged over the summer and, given how easily Brentford were able to defend us on Friday, it almost seems as if no attempt was made to do so.
If that problem persists, the only way is down for this side and the only way for the manager is out of the door.
The step up in quality between Brentford and Chelsea is vast and so any struggles we had with the former are certain to be in evidence against the latter, unless something changes. It is absolutely fair to say that the manager has not been helped by the absence of a host of key first-team players and the summer struggles in the transfer market.
I’m sure, in an ideal world, Arteta would have hoped to have shipped out half a dozen of the players currently lingering at the fringes of this squad by now, with just as many new faces coming in the door. That would have gone some way, perhaps, to addressing our current attacking, as would the availability of the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alex Lacazette, Thomas Partey and Gabriel.
As it is, things haven’t panned out as the manager might have liked and his reversion to the mean last Friday is perhaps understandable given the circumstances. What’s clear from here, though, is that he cannot do so again if he hopes to avoid a string of ignominious defeats in the weeks to come.
Discretion is the better part of valour, they say, and tweaking our system to minimise the problems we currently have might be the best way forward, at least until the transfer market adjusts to life in the COVID-straightened financial world.
If that means a return to a three-man defence or the sacrifice of a striker (figuratively, not literally) then so be it. Until such time as the manager has the squad he feels is capable of doing the job he wants, pragmatism is the only sensible way forward or so it would seem to me.
We only have to cast our minds back a few weeks to be reminder of what Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea side is capable of and how they will likely approach Sunday’s trip to the Emirates. As much as the manager would like to persist with his high defensive line and four at the back, doing so would further enhance the advantage already enjoyed by a side capable of spending £100million on a striker as if it was a mere trifle.
For now, Mikel would be wise to park his more nuanced tactical ambitions for this squad and get his team behind a shape and a plan. At the other end of the Seven Sisters Road on Sunday, we saw just how effective cohesion can be in the face of adversity. It’s a lesson we would should be cogniscant of with a tough season to come and lacking all the pieces of the puzzle we might have hoped for.
Persistence can, of course, be admirable and pay dividends in the long run but nobody can accuse the manager of not sticking to his guns with this squad. He has given them the best part of 12 months to adopt a certain system and, if the Brentford game is any sort of yardstick, it looks unlikely as if the lessons are sinking in.
For now, something has to change.