Ian Wright says Arsenal missed an opportunity with the way they played in their 1-0 defeat to Manchester City and believes Mikel Arteta should have stuck with Emile Smith Rowe in his starting XI.
Arteta opted for a midfield three of Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka in the Gunners’ previous Premier League clash with Leeds United but decided to recall Nicolas Pepe at home to the runaway Premier League leaders on Sunday.
And while the Ivorian – Arsenal’s club-record signing – will have been desperate to silence his doubters with a strong performance, he once again struggled to make an impact as Raheem Sterling’s early header extended City’s winning streak.
Club legend Wright believes it ‘didn’t work out’ for either Pepe or Odegaard at the Emirates and was disappointed to see Arteta ‘mixing up’ his midfield which had caused so many problems for Leeds just a week earlier.
‘Arsenal had three shots and one on target and didn’t look too threatening but for me it was a little bit of an opportunity missed in respects of Arsenal having a go at them,’ he told Premier League Productions.
‘There were certain opportunities where Arsenal did win the ball back but they didn’t get into them quick enough, it wasn’t intense enough. ‘Mixing up that three of Odegaard, Saka and Smith Rowe… I think they had something going.
‘It would have been brilliant to play them in a game like that to see how they get on against that kind of City side. All that does is build confidence, build momentum. ‘In the end, he went with Pepe and it didn’t work out, for me, today for Pepe and I don’t think it worked for Odegaard in there either, to be honest. ‘But in the end, City were too good, closing down spaces and Arsenal couldn’t break them down.’
According to Wright, Arteta deserves enormous credit for the defensive improvements he’s made since taking over the reins from Unai Emery back in December 2019. ‘When you look a couple of months back, Arsenal were 15th and people were really worried about what was going on,’ the legendary ex-Arsenal and England striker added.
‘Obviously, there was the emergence of Saka and Emile Smith Rowe and then the defensive work he’s done on that team has been brilliant because when he came in it needed doing.
‘There was so much work that needed to be done there so the defensive work I think is something that he’s put into place there. Arsenal are up there in respects of their defensive record at the moment.
‘Again, it’s going to come down to the creativity, the confidence and they found a little bit of confidence in the game but the last pass and final ball wasn’t good enough. ‘But I think that’s a good barometer to gauge yourself by against this City side so I don’t think it’s too disastrous.’