Gary Neville says Arsenal still lacks game composure and is missing a forward capable of anticipating where the ball will go in the area.
His comments come on the heels of an eventful 2-2 draw with Tottenham in the North London derby.
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Spur’s Heung-Min Son scored for their respective sides in a heavyweight Super Sunday clash, although a point does neither team any favors early on in their bid for the Premier League title.
Despite the thrilling match, Sky Sports analyst Neville says Arsenal need to enhance their attacking options, with certain chances going unnoticed in crucial situations.
He cited a second-half incident in which Eddie Nketiah stayed motionless in the box as Saka’s inswinging corner was turned on towards the far post, as well as one before the break when Gabriel Jesus pounced on James Maddison on the edge of Tottenham’s area but wasted blasted wide.
On The Gary Neville Podcast, the former Manchester United defender said, “I’m not a fan of strikers who just stay in the six-yard box and grab a goal; not many of them exist anymore anyway.
“I like forwards who are flexible and can play on the left and right. But you’ve still got to have a couple of players on your team who have that smell of where the ball is going to land.
“Not a poacher; the days of traditional poachers are gone, but we’re still talking about someone who knows where to be.
“Listening to Sir Alex Ferguson and the England coaches over the years, it was always the way that forwards had to make runs across the defender. But if the ball’s on the other side and gets crossed to the back post, they can make a run into that area too.
“On a corner, when it’s getting flicked on, you’ve got to get in at the back post. I think of Ian Wright starting in and around the six-yard box because I used to mark him at corners, and he was a nightmare.
“He would always peel around to the back post to make sure if the ball gets glanced at, which it does, that he’s there. Nketiah wasn’t there. He was hanging out and didn’t make that run.
“And then earlier with Jesus, when he robbed Maddison, these were big moments in the game. You’ve got to be on the move and be sniffing, smelling, and anticipating, and Arsenal haven’t got that.
“I like this Arsenal team, and they could go on to win a title or finish second, have a great season, and win trophies without that type of player, but it became obvious in this game that it was missing. Alan Smith pointed it out on commentary too, and he knows far more than I do about playing up front.”
Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta felt Arsenal lost two points in their 2-2 draw with Tottenham and said it was a tough result to take.
A minute after Arsenal went ahead for the second time with a Saka penalty in the second half, Son equalized again at the other end, pegging the Gunners back.
Neville attributes it to a lack of “composure” from Arsenal and says the squad’s senior players should have been keeping the team focused on the pitch.
He said, “I want to see composure from this Arsenal team, and that’s difficult because the manager’s on the sidelines, jumping around like you wouldn’t believe.
“I want to see passion, but I also want to see composure and a coldness, and that feels like a contradiction. But I want to see it in the right moments at the right times.
“When they scored that second goal, Saka’s penalty, which was a beautiful penalty, was celebrated; celebrate it; give your fans something because they want to see it; it means something.
“But there should be two or three senior players in that group saying, ‘Right, come on. Switch on now; we’re ready, and we’re going to see this through’. Your mentality kicks in when you know when a game’s in danger.
“Rice had gone off at halftime, and that presented a danger, so should Jorginho have been left there as the almost last man on the ball for Son’s second equaliser? Maybe, maybe not.
“He should have done better himself, of course, but when you concede a goal a minute after one goes in, that’s what I’m talking about that mentality. They didn’t get set again.”
Arsenal will face Manchester City in the Premier League in only two weeks, with the two teams set to compete for the title once more.
However, the weekend’s games threw a kink in the works for both teams. Rodri was sent off against Nottingham Forest, and Declan Rice and Saka were both injured on Sunday.
All three players are important for their respective sides, and their absences could prove pivotal for how their meeting pans out, live on Sky Sports.
“I think Rodri’s been sensational for City for a couple of years now,” Neville said. “The development in his game over a three-, four-, and five-year period has been special, and he’s the best in his position by a mile.
“And it will be interesting in two weeks’ time without him to see whether Arsenal will also be without Declan Rice.
“The biggest problem for Arsenal is not dropping two points; it’s if Saka and Rice have four- or five-week injuries, because they are two very important players.
“Rice is a monster in there, and I think they beat Spurs with him out there for the full 90 minutes. He’s that type of player who just drives Arsenal forward, and in those corners at the end, he’ll get you something. He has that in him to will a team on and get that result.
“Rodri is a wonderful player, a leader for Manchester City, and I don’t know what he was doing on Saturday; it was absolute madness, and I can see why Pep Guardiola is furious with him.
“Rodri not playing now against Arsenal levels this game up because City don’t have anyone who can replace him. But they can’t have any excuses; they’ve got a strong squad, and they’ve got enough talented players to come in.
“But Haaland aside, because he’s irreplaceable, the two most important players in that fixture are Rodri and Declan Rice.
“So it will be big that Rodri’s missing, but Arsenal need to get Rice fit for that game in two weeks.”