Five Arsenal decisions Mikel Arteta must make to keep season on track | Football

Mikel Arteta has some tough calls to make at a crucial stage of the season for Arsenal (Picture: Getty)

After 45 games and over eight months of pulsating drama, it seems Arsenal’s season could hinge on the next four days, with Mikel Arteta’s men travelling to Bayern Munich and Wolves in the wake of their crushing defeat to Aston Villa.

It’s the first time that Arsenal’s place among the elite has been called into question since the side’s sticky period over the winter, when confidence levels seemingly hit an all-time low under Arteta after just one win in seven in all competitions.

But after some serious soul searching, the Gunners displayed a real doggedness to dig themselves out of their malaise, embarking on an 11-game unbeaten streak in the Premier League, which included a highly commendable goalless draw away to reigning champions Manchester City.

Though the campaign has been one of many positives, a wounded Arsenal will need to rediscover that fighting spirit over the coming days if they are to stand any chance of emerging with the one thing their long-suffering supporters want most: silverware and the bragging rights that come with lifting major trophies.

Sunday’s painful 2-0 loss at the Emirates could be what breaks Arsenal this term but Arteta will hope it is the making of his team, as Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering City threaten to cruise to a sixth title in seven seasons and back-to-back trebles. They couldn’t, could they…?

Arteta will be the first to admit there are plenty of problems that still need fixing in his undoubtedly talented squad, but talk of trophies will come to the fore again should the north London giants pick up wins on the road at the Allianz Arena and Molineux this week.

Only then should Arsenal start looking ahead to their two potentially critical London derbies that follow, first at home to Chelsea and then away to bitter rivals Tottenham.

The Gunners’ season could ultimately come down to a handful of tactical tweaks and selection calls – key decisions that will no doubt be keeping Arteta awake at night as the club prepare for a crucial Champions League quarter-final second leg in Munich.

Who should start at left-back?

Jakub Kiwior shakes hands with Arsenal team-mate Oleksandr Zinchenko

There are calls for Kiwior to return at left-back in place of Zinchenko (Picture: Getty)

Oleksandr Zinchenko was heralded as one of the signings of the season last term after Arsenal convinced title rivals Manchester City to part with the player for a fee of £30million.

A four-time Premier League winner under Pep Guardiola, the versatile Ukrainian appeared a perfect fit for Arsenal’s starting XI given Arteta’s preference for inverted full-backs. His arrival even forced Kieran Tierney – a fan favourite in north London not so long ago – to complete a loan move to Real Sociedad in search of regular minutes.

However, Zinchenko’s progress has been hampered by two separate spells on the sidelines through injury this term and his performances have suffered a worrying dip, with club legends Ian Wright and David Seaman among those to voice their concerns in recent weeks.

Zinchenko looks on in Arsenal training

Zinchenko has struggled since returning from injury (Picture: Getty)

The 27-year-old has been a shadow of his former self since returning from his latest calf problem, repeatedly guilty of giving away possession in dangerous positions, and there have been calls for Takehiro Tomiyasu or Jakub Kiwior to return to the side at left-back.

It was Kiwior that started Arsenal’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Bayern, though the Pole came off at the halfway stage before second-half substitute Leandro Trossard struck to rescue the hosts a draw at the Emirates.

But given Kiwior was one of just four unused substitutes versus Villa, there is a chance Arteta may have been keeping the young Poland international well-rested for the Allianz.

What is Kai Havertz’s best position?

Havertz started in midfield against Aston Villa (Picture: Getty)

The debate surrounding Kai Havertz’s best position has become one of the major talking points amongst Arsenal’s support heading into the business end of the season, in the wake of the player’s high-profile £65m switch from Stamford Bridge last summer.

A barren spell of just one goal in 19 games had many fans and pundits questioning his hefty price tag and only strengthened the argument that the club should instead have prioritised signing a proven goalscorer in the summer.

But five goals in nine games for club and country seemed to kick-start the season for Havertz, who has appeared a player reborn in Arsenal colours since Christmas.

The Germany international has scored ten goals in all competitions for Arsenal this term (Picture: Getty)

Such has been Havertz’s transformation, choruses of, ‘£60 million down the drain, Kai Havertz scores again’, have grown ever louder as the season has worn on, with the German increasingly deployed as a false nine.

However, Arteta decided to drop Havertz back into midfield against Villa on Sunday, with Trossard and Bukayo Saka starting either side of Gabriel Jesus in attack, and the move backfired as the club’s unbeaten streak came crashing to a halt.

Arteta’s indecisiveness will have Bayern boss Thomas Tuchel guessing ahead of Wednesday’s eagerly anticipated meeting and the Spaniard’s decision between Havertz and Jesus will likely be a sign of things to come for the remainder of the Premier League run-in.

Should Jorginho be a guaranteed starter?

Jorginho started as a substitute versus Villa (Picture: Getty)

Havertz’s return to midfield saw Jorginho drop down to the substitutes bench on Sunday, with the Germany international lining up alongside captain Martin Odegaard and fellow summer signing Declan Rice in the engine room.

A promising first-half display appeared to validate Arteta’s decision but the hosts lost their way in the second period, allowing Villa to find their feet before Leon Bailey and Ollie Watkins’ late flurry saw the visitors steal all three points.

Arteta sent Jorginho on with 11 minutes remaining of normal time, though the momentum had already begun to swing in Villa’s favour by that stage, and many have since argued the Italian’s assuredness, experience and added control was missing in the middle of the park.

Arteta could field Jorginho alongside Odegaard and Rice in Munich (Picture: Getty)

It’s surely no coincidence that Arsenal have lost just three games that Jorginho has started this season, such is his importance to the side’s cohesion as a whole, and the former Chelsea man will be desperate to be given the nod in Munich.

However, Jorginho’s inclusion appears intrinsically linked to that of Havertz, meaning the visitors’ midfield trio – Odegaard, Rice and [insert name here] – will rest on the combination that Arteta lands on in attack.

Is Leandro Trossard best used as an impact sub?

Six of Trossard’s 13 goals have come off the bench this season (Picture: Getty)

Arsenal have been guilty of using the January transfer window to paper over the cracks in recent times but Trossard has proven anything but a panic buy, with the diminutive Belgian establishing himself as an invaluable member of Arteta’s squad over the last year and a bit.

The forward may, though, have been disappointed by his return in front of goal in his opening six months last term after netting just once in 22 matches in all competitions.

But a crucial last-gasp equaliser in Arsenal’s Community Shield victory appeared to galvanise Trossard and the 29-year-old has since announced himself as a genuine goal threat, finding the back of the net 13 times in 39 games this term.

Martinelli and Saka started the first leg against Bayern Munich (Picture: Getty)

Arteta has tended to use Trossard as an impact substitute when push comes to shove in high-stakes games, with the attacker starting just 12 of his 28 appearances in the Premier League this season.

And there is an argument that Trossard is best deployed in this manner against tiring defences, considering six of the ex-Brighton man’s goals have come off the bench this season – most recently in the first leg against Bayern.

It would take a seriously bold call from Arteta to bench one of Saka or Martinelli against Bayern, but Arsenal fans will once again be crying out for Trossard’s introduction should they seek a vital goal tomorrow evening.

Who starts if Gabriel Magalhaes or William Saliba get injured?

Gabriel and Saliba have been formed a formidable partnership at the back (Picture: Getty)

While there remain question marks surrounding several areas of Arsenal’s squad, one thing is for certain: Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba are guaranteed starters if fit.

The Gunners boast the best defensive record in the Premier League this season and the towering centre-back duo have been instrumental in the club shipping just 29 goals across the campaign – with Liverpool and City conceding 31 and 32 goals respectively by comparison.

However, Arsenal have been fortunate that both Gabriel and Saliba have managed to stave off any serious injury concerns since forming their formidable partnership and questions should be asked of the club’s lack of depth in this position.

One of Ben White, Tomiyasu or Kiwior would likely deputise at the heart of the defence should the unthinkable happen, but none of those options are ideal given all three have played the vast majority of their minutes out wide in recent months.

While central defence is hardly the most pressing concern for Arsenal, the club are already addressing the position as the club look to bring in cover for Gabriel and Saliba, with Sporting’s Ousmane Diomande and Nottingham Forest’s Murillo identified as targets ahead of the summer transfer window.

Until then, Arsenal should be doing everything in their power to wrap Gabriel and Saliba in cotton wool, such is their importance to the Gunners’ hopes in both the Premier League and the Champions League.

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