Time for Arteta to Look For Solutions Elsewhere in His Arsenal Squad.
Joe Willock sat watching from the stands as Arsenal fell to an embarrassing defeat to Aston Villa in their last Premier League match on the 8th of November before the current international break. Reiss Nelson watched from home. Nicolas Pepe managed to get on for 25 minutes but by then, the game was lost. All three had made their cases to be on that pitch in Europa League games, demonstrating all the energy, directness, and positivity that Arsenal lacked in the game they were left out of.
Willian has been far from impressive since his summer arrival, but Sunday night was maybe his worst performance in an Arsenal shirt to date. The Brazilian was ineffective throughout the game, the closest he came to an impact on the game was a spooned volley from eight yards out. Pepe had only been on as his replacement for five minutes before shooting just wide from distance and providing more threat than Willian had for 65 minutes. It begs the question: why is Pepe not starting for Arsenal?
There is no doubt Pepe’s game is unpolished. He loses the ball a lot, is sometimes erratic and prone to poor execution. However, he has five direct goal contributions, the most of any Arsenal player this season, in just six starts and more importantly, he offers something Willian does not – creativity. While he loses the ball a lot, he tries the risky pass or dribble. While he can execute poorly, he can score incredible goals. It is time for Mikel Arteta to place his faith in Arsenal’s record signing and give him the run of games he deserves.
Joe Willock spoke of working hard and performing when given the chance following the Europa League fixture against Molde. He delivered yet another great performance as he had the previous week against Dundalk. Runs into the box, positive carries with the ball, and a professionally taken goal when sent through by Pepe, his profile is one the Premier League team lacks currently.
Arsenal were close to signing Houssem Aouar in the summer and it’s clear why they wanted him. While Joe Willock does not yet possess the quality of Aouar, he offers something Arsenal don’t have and something they badly need – attacking threat from midfield. While there is no guarantee that positive form will translate completely to the Premier League, he will add threat to Arsenal’s currently rather flat midfield.
Reiss Nelson is an interesting case. His talent, unquestionable. He first broke onto the scene in Arsene Wenger’s last season at the club as a confident 17-year-old, impressing fans with his natural technique and intelligence. But his career trajectory has not been so smooth since then. For Unai Emery’s first season at the club, he chose to send Nelson on loan to Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga. While life in Germany got off to a flying start with six goals and one assist in just seven appearances, his form was slowed due to complications with the manager and injuries.
Last season was complicated for Nelson, as it was for Arsenal in general but under Arteta, he began to show signs of that talent he possesses. Goals against Leeds in the FA Cup and Liverpool in the Premier League rounded off a positive end to the season for Nelson and Arsenal. This season started slowly for Nelson again, but there is new hunger in the winger’s performances. This looks like a young man determined to make himself an established figure in the Premier League team.
Against Dundalk, he was sensational. Driving at defenders every time the ball arrived at his feet, creating chances, putting the ball into the box. By the end of the night, Dundalk’s defenders were sick of the sight of him. Arteta spoke of Nelson’s desire to stay at the club and fight for his place and a spot in the first team now seems closer than ever. With creativity a clear problem in the first team, Reiss Nelson must be considered.
As the international break enters its second week, Mikel Arteta has plenty to think about. Sitting in his squad remain three unutilised assets and now is the perfect time to give them their chance to make an impact.