Alan Smith: Defence sorted... now Mikel Arteta needs his Arsenal strikers to rediscover their bite

Alan Smith
·3-min read
Arteta has shored up Arsenal’s backline but needs their trademark attacking flair to return (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Arteta has shored up Arsenal’s backline but needs their trademark attacking flair to return (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Think of Arsenal and adventurous football comes to mind. A team creating chances and usually converting them. As for the defence, that's another story. Don't bank on clean sheets. You never quite know what's going to happen.

And now this — the situation flipped on its head. The Gunners have become very solid under Mikel Arteta, rarely giving much away. But going forward? It has suddenly got a bit awkward, the old fluidity and flair nowhere to be seen.

In fairness, that was always going to happen. In radically adjusting the mindset to become more resilient, Arsenal's attacking threat was bound to be compromised. Finding the right balance is the tough challenge now for a manager armed with less material than practically all of his rivals.

Look at Tottenham and Manchester United, two teams also harbouring top-four ambitions. Both have more quality and choice in the forward positions. That has got to lend an advantage in the long run. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, of course, remains one of the best, even though he has sometimes laboured in this opening spell. And I do think it's best to keep him on the left, from where he can more easily find room cutting inside.  

That leaves limited options for the role through the middle. Alexandre Lacazette will always work hard and nick the odd goal, but I'm not sure he has the mobility and nous to successfully lead the line on a consistent basis.

Eddie Nketiah is full of youthful promise, with a poacher's instinct, but it would be grossly unfair to expect him at this point to carry the burden. The same would apply to Gabriel Martinelli if he weren't recovering from a bad injury.

The Premier League is too tough to be banking on potential. To pinch someone's soundbite, to get anywhere at this level you need oven-ready talent. The fact Arteta isn't overly blessed with the attacking kind leaves him in something of a jam, especially when Nicolas Pepe continues to veer between briefly brilliant and underwhelming.

It all makes you wonder what will happen on Sunday. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, for sure, will be hoping his team can kick on from Wednesday, when RB Leipzig were swept aside.

In Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, United have some marvellous young talent. In Edinson Cavani, they also have an old master with a clinical eye.

It's enough to make anyone jealous, not least a manager trying to bridge the gap. To get a result at Old Trafford, Arsenal's new-found sturdiness will be needed once again. To generate more optimism, the attack must find teeth that have gone missing.

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