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The former attacker feels his old side should abandon any hopes of challenging for honours this season and instead start building for next year

Arsenal should “write this season off” after a terrible start to the 2020-21 campaign, according to Paul Merson, who feels the club should give their young players more playing time and begin planning for 2021-22.

The Gunners have been bad enough to spark talk of a potential relegation to the Championship, with key players failing to find their best form and looking bereft of ideas on the pitch, while Mikel Arteta’s future at the club is a constant topic of discussion.

The north London outfit’s hierarchy has publicly backed the manager, however, and it appears the Spaniard will be given time to get things back on track. Still, Merson feels this season is now a lost cause and that Arteta should be looking instead to build for next year.

“I feel for the manager, I know he’s a bit lost at the moment,” Merson said on Sky Sports. “He’s a young manager coming into the game with an unbelievable opportunity at Arsenal but you’ve got to have these players. 

“I’d sit down with the board and write this season off. We’re going to stay up [so] let’s get all these youngsters in now and see how good they are. They have to have 15 games these kids to see if they’re good enough and then build for next year.”

Merson added that the lack of quality within the ranks at Emirates Stadium is such that historically weaker teams with far fewer resources now appear to have players that would walk into Arteta’s side, and singled out Granit Xhaka’s poor discipline as a major issue.

“Let’s be honest, I’m watching the game against Southampton thinking half the Southampton players would get in the Arsenal team,” Merson said. 

“You can’t have 10 players. People like [Xhaka], without being horrible, get the manager the sack because they go down to 10 men and that’s it. 

“This is no disrespect to Southampton because they are doing very well and they are a good team, but half the players would get in. That should not be right. This is Arsenal.

“I was thinking Danny Ings would walk straight in, the two midfielders (James Ward-Prowse and Oriel Romeu) would walk straight in, the two centre-halves (Jan Bednarek and Jannik Vestergaard) would get in easily. 

“I mean that’s the spine of the team straight away. What are you going to win without the spine of a team? Any successful team in the world is a great goalie, great centre-half, great midfield player, great centre-forward and then you build around that. 

“If you’re not strong through the middle you’re never going to win anything.”

Summer signing Gabriel Magalhaes had been one of the better performers since arriving from Lille in the summer, but the centre-back showed discipline problems of his own when getting a second yellow for hauling down Theo Walcott.

As a result, Merson was not impressed, commenting: “People are going on about Gabriel? Seriously? You’ve had a yellow card already, why are you getting tight? Why would you get tight and pull him down? He’s still got to beat four or five players to score and then he’s shocked?”

In an attempt to find any positives, Merson quipped on the Brazilian: “His teeth looked good!”

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December 19, 2020
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