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One goal, no wins: What now for Arsenal after January from hell?

09:00 IST 24/01/2022
Alexandre Lacazette Arsenal 2021-22
Sunday's goalless draw with Burnley further dented the Gunners' top-four hopes, but all is not lost if Mikel Arteta can turn his side's form around

Five games, three defeats, two draws, and no wins.

Arsenal fans around the world breathed a huge sigh of relief when November - usually the Gunners’ hoodoo month - passed by without any real damage.

It turns out, however, that their suffering was only on hold for the opening month of 2022.

Mikel Arteta’s side kicked off January full of hope after a thrilling end to December saw them win five games in a row in all competitions, scoring 19 goals in the process.

But from the moment Granit Xhaka tripped Bernardo Silva to give away the penalty that sparked Manchester City’s comeback victory on New Year’s Day, things have started to go wrong.

They were shocked by Championship side Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup and were knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Liverpool at the semi-final stage following a 2-0 defeat in the second leg on Thursday night.

That defeat put extra emphasis on Sunday’s game against bottom of the table Burnley, their first Premier League fixture since the defeat by leaders Man City at the start of the month.

But despite dominating against the Clarets, they could not find a way through as they toiled to a goalless draw.

They had their chances, but an open-goal miss from Alexandre Lacazette following some superb approach play from Emile Smith Rowe summed up how things have gone for the Gunners in January.

The effort has been there, but in front of goal they have been found lacking.

Bukayo Saka’s strike that put them in front against City on New Year’s Day is the only goal Arsenal have scored in their five games this month.

They have gone four consecutive games without finding the net since then. It is the first time that has happened since December 2005.

"We have to find a way to win those games if you want to be fighting with the top teams," Arteta said after Sunday’s stalemate.

"We didn't start the game well enough, but we came out in the second half and were more incisive, we penetrated much more and the speed of the ball was better.

“But in the end we didn't show enough quality in the box to win the match.”

There are, of course, mitigating circumstances for Arsenal’s miserable January.

The squad has been decimated by injuries and Covid-19, while key players have been away on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations.

But that cannot be used as an excuse, because they have also shot themselves in the foot at times.

They have picked up three red cards in five games, with the dismissal of Xhaka against Liverpool at Anfield proving especially costly in the absence of Thomas Partey.

Partey himself returned after Ghana were knocked out of AFCON early, only to also get sent off in the closing stages in the return leg against Liverpool on Thursday, meaning both he and Xhaka were unavailable against Burnley.

The lack of midfield options has been clear, with Arteta having to switch formations to a 4-3-3 in recent games to cover for his absentees. It was a change done out of necessity, with Sambi Lokonga the only recognised midfielder left, but it just has not worked.

And it must be remembered that had Arsenal not allowed Ainsley Maitland-Niles to join Roma at the start of the month, he would have been a huge asset to Arteta in recent weeks.

In fact, had he still been around, Maitland-Niles would probably have started each of Arsenal’s last four games - such has been the extent of their recent midfield crisis.

Letting the 24-year-old leave so early in the month without bringing in a replacement looked an odd decision at the time. Now it looks a truly baffling one.

“It's what we planned, but the market is difficult, it's complicated,” Arteta said on Sunday, when asked if he expected to have some new signings on board by now.

“We are certainly trying, but I don't know if we're going to be able to do it [before deadline day]. 

“Players that come here have to be able to take us to the next level. We already have a level, and we want to see much better standards than we already have, and that is how we're going to recruit.”

The need to strengthen the squad in central midfield and up front has been obvious since the start of month, but so far Arsenal have been unable to secure any of their targets. The fact that they ended the game against Burnley with Rob Holding playing as the central striker said it all.

January is, of course, a very difficult month to do business, especially when it comes to signing a top-quality striker.

But if Arteta is not planning to bring Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back into the fold, then you feel it is crucial the Gunners manage to do something before the transfer window closes on January 31 to give them that extra bit of quality in the final third.

Because for all their struggles since the turn of the year, they are still bang in the running for a top-four spot. 

They just need to take their chances when they arrive, something they were unable to do against Burnley or against Liverpool in the semi-final earlier in the week.

“To win you need to have a different level of quality, and we lacked that,” Arteta admitted.

“With the amount of situations we generated, you need a spark. Someone has to win you the game if you want to be on top.”

The key thing now for Arsenal is to ensure they are ready to hit the ground running when they return from this international break.

As disappointing as the past month has been, Arteta’s side still has everything to play for in the league between now and the end of the season.

Players will be back from injury, suspension and AFCON when they are in action next, at Wolves on February 10, while you would hope at least one new signing will have also been added.

So the squad will be looking far stronger and you would expect the performances that follow to be more akin to December than what we have seen in January.

If they are not, then it will not be long before Arsenal’s top-four ambitions go the same as their dreams of ending the season with silverware.