Football

5 things Arsenal must address following the World Cup break


Arsenal are finally back in Premier League action on Boxing Day, when they will face West Ham at the Emirates Stadium hoping to continue their push for a first league title since 2003.

Sitting on a five-point lead over Manchester City in the table, it’s very much a case of ‘so far, so good’ for Mikel Arteta’s team, although they can expect serious challenges to their position to mount over the course of the second half of the season.

With that in mind, it’s imperative Arsenal hit the ground running following their World Cup hiatus. Upcoming fixtures against West Ham, Brighton & Hove Albion, and Newcastle United all look tricky on paper, while a north London derby away at Tottenham Hotspur is always fiery.

A clash with Manchester United at the Emirates will close out January. Here are five things Arteta and Arsenal need to address following the World Cup break to help prolong their strong first half to the season.

Eddie Nketiah

Eddie Nketiah will finally get a run of starts in the Premier League / Craig Mercer/MB Media/GettyImages

The silver lining to Gabriel Jesus’ knee injury, sustained during Brazil’s final World Cup group game against Brazil, is that it now gives Eddie Nketiah a run of games as starting striker in the Premier League.

The bad news is that Mikel Arteta has no other natural striker in the squad and Jesus could be out for at least three months.

Gabriel Martinelli is one player who could be moved into a more central role but it would be prudent for Arsenal to make a move for a replacement as soon as the January transfer market opens.

Former target Dusan Vlahovic isn’t a realistic option for now, despite Juventus’ future looking increasingly uncertain, but if the goal truly is to win the Premier League this season (and it should be), Arsenal can’t rely on just Nketiah and Martinelli for the remainder of the campaign – with Europa League and FA Cup fixtures to come as well.

They need a quality striker in as soon as possible, worry about the balance of the squad in the summer.

Kieran Tierney

Kieran Tierney has made only three Premier League starts this season / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Arsenal are blessed with two outstanding left-backs in the form of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Kieran Tierney, with neither deserving to sit on the bench.

A minor muscle problem ruled Zinchenko out of Arsenal’s friendlies during the World Cup break, meaning Kieran Tierney has started in victories over both Lyon and AC Milan during their warm-weather training camp in Dubai.

Zinchenko should be back in contention for game time once the Premier League returns on Boxing Day but his lack of match fitness may make Arteta’s decision for him.

Long-term, however, he will need to know which of the two he prefers for big games and at the moment, it really is a toss-up.

Ben White - Soccer Player

Ben White left England’s World Cup camp early / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Ben White returned home from England’s World Cup camp on November 30, citing personal reasons. Ever since, the rumour mill has been in full swing, particularly concerning a potential falling out between White and Steve Holland, an important figure among England’s coaching staff.

Whatever the reason, it is imperative for Arsenal that this does not distract from the otherwise fine season White is having at right-back.

In short, England’s loss is Arsenal’s game and the player should be raring to go (and with a point to prove) after failing to make an appearance at the World Cup.

Arteta has shown an incredible knack for motivating his players so far in his managerial career, it would be no surprise if he uses this relatively minor incident to spur White on to even greater heights.

Whatever happens, it is important that the drama is soon forgotten about – and the best way to do that is for White to let his football do the talking

Fabio Vieira

Fabio Vieira has shown real glimpses of quality in an Arsenal shirt / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Fabio Vieira has made only one Premier League start this season but has, in contrast, taken to the field from the off in all six Europa League games.

That lone start was during a 3-0 win away at Brentford, a performance Vieira capped off with a wonderful strike from outside the box. In the Europa League, Vieira has impressed too and has a further goal and assist to his name in that competition.

It’s clear that Vieira has the quality to become a significant contributor during the second half of the season and Arteta should be able to give him more starts in the Premier League as accumulated fatigue becomes a factor.

Bukayo Saka, for instance, will need some rest following his superb World Cup appearances with England. Vieira is the perfect player to step in and give him a well-deserved breather.

Reiss Nelson

Reiss Nelson’s contract runs out at the end of the season / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

At 23 years of age, it is probably time to accept that Reiss Nelson isn’t good enough to break into the Arsenal first team – not least with Martinelli, Saka, Vieira and Emile Smith-Rowe all younger and ahead of him in the pecking order.

The problem for Arsenal is that unless a contract extension is agreed upon soon, they will lose him on a free transfer come the end of the season.

Nelson, who has two goals and an assist to his name in two substitute appearances in the Premier League, would be a decent backup to those other options at the club. Not to mention help the homegrown quota for European competitions.

He would also be a great signing for a number of teams further down the league table or abroad. Whether he would agree to stay on at his boyhood club as nothing more than a squad rotation option seems unlikely but it would be a shame for Arsenal to lose him for nothing.

Perhaps the best-case scenario would be an extension and another loan, although that path could continue to stall Nelson’s career. With Emile Smith-Rowe due back in the new year, it appears his time at the Emirates could be up for good.



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