Another poor result away from home has heaped pressure on Unai Emery and his ability to steer Arsenal in the right direction.
Realistically, the Gunners are aiming for fourth spot but the defeat at Bramall Lane leaves them 5th in the table and, more worryingly, their performances seem to be stagnating. In order to make progress, it might be necessary for a few changes to the playing personnel.
In the past, most Arsenal sides have been synonymous with free-flowing attacking football and they've always possessed a distinctive style. Under Emery, however, it's less clear what the actual plan is and what instructions the players are being given.
For the defeat at Sheffield United, Arsenal made only one change from the team that laboured to a 1-0 win over Bournemouth two weeks ago. Joe Willock came in for Dani Ceballos as the creative midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 system but the decision backfired, with Willock mostly anonymous in the first half last night.
Ceballos replaced him at halftime and although the Spaniard added more urgency and bite in the final third, there was very little end-product to speak of from the on-loan Real Madrid man.
Here are three proposed changes that could shake things up at Emirates Stadium.
🥽 Mesut Özil for Joe Willock
The curious case of Mesut Özil, the 2014 World Cup winner who has been completely frozen out by Unai Emery. Despite a returning to full fitness, he was again absent from the travelling squad last night. Joe Willock is a talented operator and his time will come, but the first half at Bramall Lane passed him by last night and some time on the bench might do him some good. It might also be a smart idea to shield the 20-year-old from unnecessary criticism aimed at him by fans so early in his career when he's still acclimatizing to football at the top level.
Whether it's Ozil or Ceballos that replaces him, some creative spark and experience is needed in the final third to get the most out of Arsenal's quick, talented attacking trio of Nicolas Pepe, Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, not to mention the fit-again Alex Lacazette.
There is absolutely no doubting Özil's ability to create chances, and it's time for Emery to put his ego aside to accommodate the German in the team because Arsenal will be a better side with him in it.
🤺 Rob Holding for Sokratis
It's been a difficult couple of months for Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos. He was recently omitted from his national team's latest squad, and his performances for Arsenal this season mean that it was a justified decision. He and new man David Luiz have yet to form a cohesive partnership in the centre of defence, with Sokratis looking uncharacteristically panicky and rash with his tackling. Rob Holding deserves a run in the side.
🧮 Lucas Torreira for Granit Xhaka
Another player whose role in the Arsenal squad is far from certain is Uruguayan defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira. Signed as a man to shield the back four and start attacks from deep, he's been deployed in a more advanced role this season, and mostly as a substitute. He scored Arsenal's consolation goal in the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool in a foreign attacking midfield role, and although goals from midfield are welcome, his best position is undoubtedly at the base of the central midfield duo. Matteo Guendouzi looks set to keep his place in the side, meaning that captain Granit Xhaka would have to make way to accommodate Torreira. Xhaka's displays haven't been nearly as bad as fans on Twitter have made them out to be, but a stint out of the side may help him to re-focus. There are no doubts about Xhaka's winning attitude, commitment and range of passing, but his lack of pace and tendency to commit needless, reckless fouls continues to halt his and Arsenal's progress. If there's more competition for his place, we might see the best of the Swiss midfield maestro as he'll be determined to get back in the side.
Can Arsenal get back to winning ways on Thursday night against Vitoria and what will the starting XI look like?
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