Are Arsenal Now the Worst Team in the Premier League?

Arteta’s looking up… at 13 other teams

The answer’s no, by the way. But not by much.

I normally try to avoid hyperbole after a defeat, so the intent behind this headline needs to be understood.

I am not suggesting that we will be relegated. Nor that we will have a terrible season and never get above our current 14th place. I am more optimistic than that and I will explain why later.

My point is that right now – on the form of our last few Premier League games – we are very close to being the worst outfit in the division.

Incidentally, the one team worse than us is not poor Sheffield United, languishing in rock bottom with a single point. Oh no. If you cast your mind back to when we played the Blades earlier in the season, we were dead lucky to come away with three points. They matched us across the park and probably shaded things if we’re honest.

The only team I feel confident in saying we’re better than at the moment is Fulham, West London’s answer to the circus clown car. And even they have scored more goals than us so far this season.

The reason for my damning assessment of Arsenal is that we are currently rubbish at every aspect of the game. Even the relegation position strugglers are all good at something, even if it’s only ‘being hard to break down’ or ‘giving 100 per cent in every game.’

Not us though. We can’t defend. We have no structure. Our midfield is a disaster zone, our confidence is shot and when it comes to creating chances and scoring goals… well, let’s just say that we’re more barren than a bull who’s just had an appointment with the vet’s secateurs.

Our chance creation per minute is below every other team in the league. Our defence was looking pretty solid until the Leicester game. Now we have reverted to type, with all the security of a sieve in a rainstorm.

Even our goalie has taken to parrying every shot that comes his way into the path of the nearest opposition striker like a demented German Father Christmas. Santa Klaus.

If you want to hear some thoughts on how it has all come to this and what can be done about it I suggest you read the outstanding discussion in the comments after yesterday’s post (“Wolves Rip Gunners Apart”).

For now I just want to make the point that whoever we play these days – be it Leicester, Villa, Leeds or Wolves – I find myself watching the opposition and thinking: “I wish we played like that. I wish we could be that direct. I wish we could play simple, effective football.”

Our opponents seem to have a plan, they seem to know where their strengths and weaknesses are and how to work round them and, most importantly of all, they are all capable of making openings.

My view is that blaming our woeful form on the fact that our players are not good enough is silly. They’re who we have and, in any case, those same players were good enough to beat Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea en route to lifting the FA Cup exactly four months ago to the day.

Yes, that’s right. Just FOUR months ago we were on Cloud 10 and feeling full of optimism.

And there’s your silver lining: things can change mighty quick in football. For all the current doubt and despair, we really do have players who are much better than 14th place in the EPL.

They may not be of the standard of Liverpool and Man City, but they are better than they have been showing us and better than those at many of the teams around us.

We have a very young manager learning his trade. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (although I’ve always wondered how traumatic amputation fits into that paradigm) and if it’s true, Mikel Arteta will emerge from this current hell to be a much stronger boss in the future.

In the immediate term the answer’s simple. We have to go back to the back five (three centre backs) system that steadied the ship for Arteta in the first place.

Yes, it will blunt our attacking options but it’s not like they’ve exactly been sharp in our recent formations, have they?

And as it’s now December, my letter to Santa is going to ask for one thing: a fast, big, strong, powerful centre forward who can hold up the ball. If we get that kind of player in the team during the January window, everything else will fall into place.

We’ll finish in the top six or seven this year – just wait and see.



21 Responses to Are Arsenal Now the Worst Team in the Premier League?

  1. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Rocky. As you know I think it’s a failure to transition in the right way to a back 4 system. However a return to a back 5 for me might make us a bit better than what we have seen recently but still isn’t the best team and system we can play right now and will be a fatal regression.

    The answer for me lies simply in looking at players like Pepe, Saka, Nelson, Willock as all being players who we should be developing into regular goal scorers to support our main current 3 of Auba, Kaca and Nketieh. That means playing them in positions that most frequently get them into goal scoring positions.

    I won’t bore again with how that should be done as my views on this are well documented but we need to go from 1 or 2 significant goal threats in our line up to 4 significant goal threats, and in every game.

  2. LB says:

    Love the optimism Rocky.

  3. Any team face Arsenal now it s a problem, our team is worse very worse, no progress at all, coaches must do something

  4. RockyLives says:

    I take your point GoonerB (and you have been very consistent on this).

    I just think we’re in such a hole now that we have to stop the rot, particularly with Partey probably not back for weeks.

    MA has stabilised the ship with a back 5 in the past and should do so now and then work towards changing it further down the line when he’s figured out some answers and maybe added a creative attacking midfielder in January.

    Oh… and a centre forward 😀

  5. Well that’s a bit more like it, why settle for top 6/7? In reality we are more than two wins away from the relegation zone, ie all below us need to win twice and we need to lose twice more to be down there. On the flip side we are a win and a draw away from 5th if everyone else above us loses.

    Simple fact is we will not finish the season with a worse record than 17 others and therefore should avoid relegation.

    Last night Fulham beat Leicester and West Ham beat Villa, did anyone expect that? Remember when Hull came to the Emirates and beat us 2-1 on their return to the EPL, a lot of the newly promoted teams have something of a purple patch carrying on their success of the previous year but slowly that gets tested and normal order is restored. Our fixture list so far whilst not all top sides are all teams wither in the newly promoted bounce or would be considered difficult opponents for us over last few seasons where the results could go either way.

    Thats not to say that everything is rosy in the garden, but I am certain that a few games against some lower league cannon fodder may restore some confidence.

    That said it could be a miserable Christmas for us, I’ve just looked ahead at league fixtures


    For me the minimum expected from that little lot would be 12 points (beating Burnley, Southampton, Brighton, WBA) but the target should be 15points 4 wins and three draws.

  6. RC78 says:

    Hi Rocky – great post as always.

    I have a very good and cheap option for a Center Forward – Milik, Napoli’s forward and Polish international whose contract runs out in June, refused to extend and is now frozen out of the team by Gattuso. He is a very good player and would do better than the out-of-form Laca for sure.

    That said, I really think that the missing pieces of Arteta’s jigsaw are Martinelli and…Grealish (or any midfield that can drive the ball forward and create chances and score – Sabizer from Leipzig?).

    I think Martinelli will add the gusto needed up front and a player like Grealish will add this threat from midfield. At one point, you do need someone that can drive the ball forward from the midfield. We were at our best with players like Parlour, Vieira, Fabregas, Cazorla (when fit), Ramsey (when fit) and even Wilshere. At the moment, we do not have this and I hope that Partey will bring a bit of that ability but he needs someone else in midfield to share/shoulder the burden of creation. Grealish would be the ideal player but he s pbbly not even considering Arsenal…In the meantime, let us try Saka in that role and play Martinelli up front with Auba.

  7. RC78 says:

    Di Maria may also be available…if Tuchel does not leave from PSG. I am so annoyed this season because there is not one team that I support (Arsenal, PSG) that is giving me something to rejoice about…In the 90s and early 00s, Arsenal was making up for PSG’s woes and since 2013, PSG makes up for Arsenal’s form but this year, nothing exciting from either team 😦

  8. RockyLives says:

    Di Maria is more of a wide player isn’t he RC?

  9. jjgsol says:

    On the assumption that Grealish would agree to come, where would we get the money to pay for him?

    After De Broyne, he is most probably the hottest midfield talent in England.


    We have a player who can do the same and more and would cost nothing to buy.

  10. Aaron says:

    Thank you Rocky for another post.

    Been thinking and reading a lot about everything, tactics, players, formations, you name it I have read it.

    Conclusion, we have a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don’t match the game or puzzle.

    So, for me until we get some drive through the middle of the pitch, yes I said drive, through, the middle, teams just load up defensively on our wide areas and our attack comes to a dead stop!

    In defense, we are playing zone defense, and there is NO pressure on the ball, in order to transition quickly we need the dang ball. Mikel needs to figure out how to get it back, as we do not really play a possession game anymore.

    If and when we do get the ball, we need Willock, AMN, or anyone with some speed to go past people in the middle of the pitch with Partey, when he comes back, along with no more than 2 touches on the ball in transition.

    Also, when the opponents drop back into their Roman shield, that means playing the entire team up the pitch 10-20 meters further. and compress space to get a turnover.

    If Mikel continues with this fine margins game, and the big xG for the opponents remains at 2 per game and us at 1-1.5, AFC is doomed!

    Let’s see what Mikel has in store for the team.

  11. RC78 says:

    Rocky – Di Maria’s best season was played as RCM but he usually plays RFW.

    Jigsol – If we found money for Gabriel, Partey and Saliba, we will find money for Grealish 🙂 We can sell Mustafi, Sokratis, Kola, Guendouzi, Torreira and even consider selling Chambers. We would still have enough players at our disposal….

  12. RC78 says:

    Aaron – I agree with the need for drive from the midfield. That’s why I d like to see Partey, El Neny, Saka as a trio in midfield and then up front, we could play (until Martinelli comes back) Ceba (or Willock or Pepe or Willian or ESR) – Nketiah, Auba.

  13. Aaron says:

    Totally agree with what you said too.

    I do not care where we get that player, we might have that player, but do not want anymore slow ponderous players in our midfield.

    Is Dominik Szoboszlai that kind of player- do not know, and even if he is, will Mikel play the guy in that way.

    Mikel is target fixated right now, and someone needs to give this guy the hard criticism so he can to continue to try and get more from this squad.

    There is data that showed improvements during the last game in the moving the ball forward, into the final third, and crosses, but does that data pass the eye test? Maybe a little, microscopic perhaps….

    Would enjoy seeing the squad maximize their collective effort this weekend more than anytime this year!

  14. fatgingergooner says:

    We’ve had an unsettled squad for quite a few seasons now, with contract situations, manager changes, high turnover of first team players, fan unrest, boardroom reshuffles, and different philosophies. Whilst the FA Cup win was a fantastic achievement, we shouldn’t forget that what Arteta inherited was a pretty disjointed bunch of players. Some would say the same about the squad that Emery took over when Arsene left. My point is that it takes time for a team to become successful. When you look at the other ‘big clubs’, then you can see that those who have had stability and success in the market are the ones with the silverware:-

    City have had Guardiola and his ideas in place for a number of seasons now with the majority of his squad staying the same. It’s no coincidence that with the loss of Kompany, Silva, Aguero (injuries), Sane, that their dominance has dropped off.

    Liverpool have been building steadily with Klopp for some time and now have a fantastic team, but it didn’t come overnight, and it didn’t come cheap. I wonder what Arteta could’ve done with the £300m that Liverpool brought in from Sterling, Suarez and Coutinho?

    Spurs have mostly the same players for 5 or so years and even though the manager is relatively new, he’s seen it all before and has only tweaked the team. Having a top class forward line has helped him and even if the other 8 players are average, he knows how to set them up to allow Kane, Son and Bale to win them games.

    Chelsea are probably the exception in terms of stability, but they have done what they’ve always done and thrown cash at the issues they were having. They always have a decent turnover of players and managers, but it’s much easier to make that work when you can throw £300m a season at it without blinking an eye. A few of those players will end up being gems. The transfer ban no doubt gave them time to tap up some of Europe’s finest and they’ve added some quality players this summer and are reaping the rewards.

    As for United, I think they are the closest to us in terms of their recent history. They’ve gone through a number of managers and a lot of players without finding true success. They’ve also had the same player issues we’ve had, with Sanchez and Pogba causing just as much grief as Sanchez and Özil did for us. Another similarity is in the boardroom and structure behind the scenes, with transfers being impacted and arguements breaking out between fans and the board. This shouldn’t be discounted as irrelevant when looking at the team performance as a whole.

    I guess the point I want to make is that Arteta should be given time to really put his ideas into the team. There is still so much going on at the club with Özil, the fans, the board, integrating new signings etc and it’s been less than a year since he took over an absolute shower of shit from Emery. We all know that we have some real potential in the squad, but the players and the team won’t flourish in the type of environment that’s become the norm at Arsenal in the last 5 years. Poor soil, poor crops…..

  15. LB says:

    I can’t imagine that the board see things any different than you describe Slim.

  16. RockyLives says:

    What a brilliant comment FGG

  17. Gööner In Exile says:

    Heres the thing, while I can’t help but agree with the sentiment FGG I do worry that Arteta is going the same way as Emery in over coaching, there was often a thought that Wenger didn’t do enough coaching but I just watched some Wengerball highlights on YouTube and whilst they may have given more results in league wind in the early days there was still something to enjoy watching players express themselves even if they were not as good.

    One goal that stood out to me was Giroud’s scorpion kick, lucky, maybe, one off, again maybe but he had the confidence to try it. Giroud!! Not VanPersie, Sanchez, Henry……Giroud.

    And then I see clips of Gibbs flying down the left wing playing one twos with Ramsey cutting back for someone’s to finish. Then it’s back to some Petit and PV link up, then back to Jack playing one twos with Cazorla and Rosicky.

    We’re these players that much better than what we have now, or were they simply coached in a more attacking way. Or did they simply enjoy it more.

    I know one thing I enjoyed it more, if you are going to play ugly football it better get results because otherwise you are Stoke.

  18. GoonerB says:

    Some excellent comments from all today. Arteta inherited quite a mess really and has started very well. The team needed to be taken back to basics and then go through some transitional phases at the right times.

    We have arrived at a key transitional phase just recently. Possibly it was held off slightly too long but also hasn’t quite been implemented correctly to date, but it’s never too late to realise that and correct it.

    I agree about the drive through midfield missing at present. We may have to recruit this player but similarly we may already have this player but just haven’t tried it out yet. Maybe ESR, maybe Saka, maybe Willock, maybe Nelson.

    All of them could be players that might add that midfield drive but we need to try them to find out but also they need to be the midfield drive in a 3 man midfield. This is something the 3-4-3 can’t give us and we need that 3 man CM set up.

    We would though also need that 3 man midfield with players like Grealish and the others mentioned, so it is in fact no use securing any if them till we play the formation that plays to their strengths, and I personally would like to see what we already have before we look at any recruitment to that area.

    There are always bound to be positions and players in the team that are exposed as not being strong enough as we transition to a better ultimate formation. At this stage I think we need to go more daring in our set up and let those weaknesses be exposed.

    Not every part of the team can be fixed in one go and it helps us to know where we genuinely need to strengthen by changing our attacking line up and finding that out. I have a couple of suspicions but maybe in some different areas than many think.

    At the moment I feel we are setting up to accomodate our weak links and hide them, but in fact, although it protects some players by not exposing their weaknesses, it is in fact weakening other areas of the team that could already be naturally stronger, if that makes sense.

    We are more scared of our exusting weaknesses than we are confident in our existing strengths.

    The team is already more solid overall now and I think we have the options to play with really effective attacking intent. I would like to see us play more to those strengths rather than try to hide the weak areas, and accept and expose where we are weaker in a new and better formation.

    At least then we can truly know what we have and haven’t got and then be more certain what type of player we need to recruit.

  19. GoonerB says:

    Excellent comment GIE about the over coaching. In some ways I think it ties up with what I was saying about playing to hide our weaknesses rather than playing to show our strengths.

    To be fair to Arteta he probably needed to carry out a lot of specific coaching initially to improve players understanding of positioning and other factors but it has a limit, and especially some players can only improve so far with it and then further coaching to try and minimise their natural weaknesses fails to get more out of them.

    Kind of like hitting a saturation point of improvement in our weak links that then becomes essentially overcoaching to the detriment of some of our stronger areas of play.

  20. Gööner In Exile says:


    I agree with the sentiments of focussing on our strengths but I also think we need to focus on our future.

    We have turfed Ozil and Sokratis onto the retirement pile because we have made monumental cock ups in acquiring players to a squad full of non home grown (per PL and UEFA rules) talent.

    So the club and Arteta need to agree on the objectives for this season, is it rebuilding or trying to be competitive, if it is rebuilding we need to lose the players who are not going to be around for long from starting line ups. My feeling is that is not what the club are doing if it was you dont buy Willian and persist with Luiz, Xhaka etc.

    If you are rebuilding you have to forget about short term results, it’s why we should have let PEA go, the message would have been clear, no one is that important, the team comes first.

    Youth and rebuild, and I’ll support the team even in 14th/15th because that will truly be a move forward. Right now it feels like we are drifting.

  21. RockyLives says:

    Excellent discussion the last two days.

    And now there’s a brief


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