After a lot of back and forth about the north London derby itself, Mikel Arteta was eventually asked about what mattered most. It was put to the Arsenal manager whether it was a concern that his side are already four points behind Manchester City following this 2-2 home draw with Tottenham, with that just the sixth game of the season. It is already a lot to make up, and a sizeable psychological task given the champions’ points return.
“I’m not thinking about that,” Arteta insisted, even if it wasn’t completely convincing. The same could be said of the display, which is maybe what is most relevant for what the Basque said he was most bothered by, which is just winning games.
This was a frustrating afternoon for Arsenal in a few senses. There was first of all the fact they were in complete control and could have killed the game even before it became a proper contest: Gabriel Jesus wasted a huge chance.
There was how they lost Declan Rice to injury, conceded two soft goals from a defensive point of view, and never really had that big chance towards the end. They didn’t really bring on any game-changer.
Arteta fairly pointed to five injuries but it still feels as if Arsenal are missing something more.
It is actually what most of the market was looking for this summer: a prime finisher.
It makes it increasingly surprising that Arsenal didn’t pursue this option. They instead went for Kai Havertz, who was brought on in this match as a potential game-changer.
It didn’t do much.
This isn’t to criticise the German, who is obviously a far better player than much of the worst criticism has made out so far. He could go on to become a very productive player for Arsenal, and it was obvious he was signed to give them a different tactical option, especially given how their main first XI ran out of steam last season.
He is still adapting, though, and his qualities weren’t quite what was needed here.
Many will similarly point to Jesus, who missed that big chance. That reflected a lot of the discussion. Jesus is a brilliant all-round forward who links play superbly, but arguably the least of his abilities is his finishing. That missed effort brought echoes of a common refrain within the game, that the Brazilian isn’t “a killer”. Arsenal still don’t really have that.
If it seems harsh to be focusing on the attack when Arteta’s side still scored two and conceded such soft goals, it is mainly because it was their profligacy that offered Spurs such encouragement. That fed into the defensive issues.
They should have been out of sight.
It may well mean they look around next summer, or perhaps even as early as January. All of the major London clubs like Ivan Toney, including Arsenal’s derby opponents here. The Brentford forward feels like he is now ready to make that step up.
Could he step across? Arsenal are monitoring the situation.
That’s natural, since he is an obvious option, all the more so since Arteta didn’t have such clear choices on the bench.
Good youth products in Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe were brought on, and it would of course be better for everyone if they were capable of rising to that level; of offering that difference.
That might even have been the case in a sport that didn’t involve such concentration of resources at the top as the modern game. As it is, for all Arteta’s insistence he isn't even thinking about it, Arsenal face the most modern of problems.
They have to match City’s points return. That may mean trying to match the champions with a clear number nine in Erling Haaland.
Arteta is now so close to that finished product, even allowing for these slips at the start of the season. They maybe just need that finisher and those finishing touches.
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