Arsenal have no time to lick their wounds. Two and a half days after losing their place at the top of the Premier League table, they are back with one of the managers they most want to face: Unai Emery awaits them at Villa Park, undoubtedly more motivated than ever as he Try again, to prove against his old employer.
After a four-match winless run in all competitions, Mikel Arteta's side have all the makings of an away game. Ahead of Wednesday's loss to Manchester City, Arsenal are expected to be without Thomas Partey again, while Gabriel Jesus remains unavailable.
This is undoubtedly a decline in form, although Arteta believes that the team's performance is still maintained at a high level. So what can the Arsenal boss do to revive his side in this title race and what's behind the latest slump?
Call-ups of Xhaka and Martinelli
One of the defining features of Arsenal's early-season form has been Granit Xhaka's remarkable transformation as an attacking midfielder. Xhaka was never a prolific goalscorer, but in the first half of the season he suddenly became crucial from the back.
In Xhaka's first 15 appearances for Arsenal this season, he has scored four goals - more than his previous three seasons combined. However, he failed to score a single goal in his next 15 games. Against City, Xhaka found himself in a promising position in the second half but seemed unsure whether to pass or shoot.
Another problem has been Gabriel Martinelli's lack of sharpness in recent weeks. The Brazilian has been one of the most exciting and prolific young strikers in Europe this season but has gone eight games without a goal since the start of the year. It wouldn't be a surprise if Leandro Trossard, who came off the bench against Brentford last weekend, could score
"He impresses every time he plays," Trossard's Arteta said. "He's an option."
lack of rotation
Arteta has made just 16 changes to his starting XI this season, the fewest of any Premier League team so far. How unusual this is, the average number of changes for the rest of the "Big Six" this season is 59.
Obviously, this is one of Arsenal's biggest strengths this season. Arteta has a defined system and a clear vision of which players will make it work. That's in stark contrast to a club like Chelsea, which have made 79 changes to their squad this season and haven't looked more closely at their best team.
But a team can only go so far without deploying their entire squad and it's clear that rotation will be required in the coming weeks, especially once Arsenal's Europa League resumes. Especially since some fringe players need the opportunity to build some rhythm,
"I've always said you have to pay the bills, especially with the young players in our squad," Arteta said earlier this season. "And the math is they're going to make mistakes at some point, they're going to experience things for the first time, and they have to go through that."
Unfortunately for Arsenal, they paid one of those "bills" against Manchester City on Wednesday when a mistake cost his side. Defensive errors by Takehiro Tomiyasu and Gabriel Magalhaes, while Eddie Nketiah wasted time in front of goal.
That's the reality for Arsenal's side, despite gaining more experience with the signings of Jorginho and Trossard in the January transfer window.
Arsenal are the youngest team in the Premier League this season, with an average age of just 24 years and 255 days (exactly the same as Southampton's). The vast majority of these players have never been in a championship game, nor have they ever felt the pressure that comes with it. In recent games, notably against Everton and Brentford, the pressure seemed to be starting to cloud their judgment at times.
Arteta needs more experienced players - such as Oleksandr Zinchenko, Jorginho and Thomas Partey - to keep going and stay calm.
"You need experienced players to guide you, reassure you and show them [young players] how to do it," Arteta said on Friday.
"That's what we're talking about. If you want to win the league, you have to pay. Sometimes you lose a game or two, sometimes you should win one, sometimes you have to win the game in the 96th minute,
It hasn’t been a smooth few weeks for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal.
Apart from a nervy 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League and an extra-time miracle against Reading in the Capital One Cup, Arsenal have lost three times and drawn once.
All this, of course, on the back of some solid and encouraging performances at the start of the season that suggested that this could be the first season in quite a few that Arsenal finally get their hands on some silverware.
It’s still entirely possible that they do finish the season with a trophy—especially if Wenger considers a fourth-place finish as a trophy—but there’s no denying that the Gunners are going through a recent slump.
Let’s look at 10 reasons behind Arsenal’s current run of poor form—and, as usual, feel free to have your say in the comments below.
First, the most widely used reason of all: Andre Santos.
In fact, Santos has been blamed so frequently for Arsenal’s recent troubles that it’s beginning to seem like he’s being made a scapegoat.
But there is lots of merit to such a claim, because Santos’ recent run in the side has coincided with some very poor defending and goals conceded from the Gunners’ point of view.
The fact that he has had to come in to replace the injured Kieran Gibbs—whose loss incidentally came in Arsenal’s last convincing win against West Ham in early October—means that his performances have been judged against Gibbs’ impressive early-season form.
In Santos’, it’s hard to pinpoint one particular thing that is his downfall: his all-out attacking philosophy, his lack of tactical awareness, his aloofness in defence, his inexplicable positioning.
And that’s because the whole is unfortunately greater than the sum of its parts.