Arsenal‘s horrendous start to the season continued with a thrashing by Manchester City in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals, leading Jamie Redknapp to label the club’s experienced stars a ‘team full of kidders’.
The Sky Sports pundit insisted Gunners boss Mikel Arteta can only rely on three or four players in his squad because players like David Luiz and Mesut Ozil ‘get bored’ after putting in a few good performances.
However, Arteta himself claimed after the defeat by City that he saw ‘a lot of fighters’ and claimed the players kept showing spirit despite the four goals they conceded against Pep Guardiola’s men.
So, who of Redknapp and Arteta is kidding themselves? Here, Sportsmail analyses every member of the Gunners squad and whether they fit the former or latter’s description of the current crop of players with the side out of the League Cup and languishing in 15th in the Premier League table.
Jamie Redknapp labelled Arsenal ‘a team full of kidders’ after losing to Manchester City
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta however insisted he saw ‘fighters’, so who between the pair is right?
Alex Runarsson’s nightmare performance against City only seemed to highlight how well Bernd Leno has done in the Arsenal goal since joining from Bayer Leverkusen in 2018.
The established No 1 has shown his proclivity for making saves and is a member worthy of the jersey he currently holds, and while there are areas to improve he has often – such as the home defeat by City last season – made scorelines look more respectable than they ought to have been.
Bernd Leno has made scorelines look more respectable than they should have been at times
The warning signs about the Icelandic’s deficiencies were notable during this season’s Europa League group stages, particularly against Dundalk and Molde.
But the summer signing from Dijon’s real nightmare performance came against City when he was at fault for at least one of the goals, and managed to punch a Riyad Mahrez free-kick into the net.
He carried on and made a couple of saves, but there is no doubt he is currently kidding the club with his recent performances.
Alex Runarsson’s nightmare performance against Man City showed he is not up to the task
Four Gunners managers have persisted with the Spain international at right-back, but he has never looked the same since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in 2019.
The 25-year-old vice captain has frustrated fans at both ends of the pitch, often lacking a final ball to find a team-mate to score and struggling to mark and track runners when in his own defensive third.
Hector Bellerin continues to frustrate Gunners fans at the both end of the field right now
Amid Bellerin’s poor form this season, it is telling that the Portugal international has been unable to force himself ahead of the Spaniard in the pecking order.
The former Southampton right-back made an impressive start to life at the club by netting on his debut but has rarely wowed since despite the 29-year-old being described as one of the Gunners’ strongest players in wide areas by Arteta when he first joined.
Sometimes operating on the left-hand side has not helped matters, but this could yet be another player they struggle to shift on given his age and the four-year deal handed to him in the summer.
Cedric Soares has shown little evidence that he could displace the underperforming Bellerin
One of the players singled out by Redknapp, and despite his good performances so far this season, the Brazilian’s past performances make the criticism justified, and he has now even reportedly fallen out with Arteta.
‘David Luiz will play well for 10 or 11 games and you’ll go “he’s a good player,” then he’ll start making mistakes because he’ll get bored,’ Redknapp said.
Red cards against Chelsea and Manchester City last season were evidence of this, and while he appears to guide Gabriel Magalhaes and the younger players well on and off the field, rushes of blood to the head often tarnish whatever good he does in that respect.
David Luiz’s past of making rash decisions means he is not the sort of fighter Arsenal need
The last week has summed up the English centre-back’s Arsenal career, showing promise but lacking consistency.
He was critical to Arsenal holding on to a draw against Southampton last week with some excellent headed clearances and blocks, but was completely dominated by Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the defeat by Everton, a game in which he was named captain.
There is clear faith in him from Arteta after telling him to reverse his decision in the summer to head out on loan to Newcastle, but nearly five years after joining the club the 25-year-old is yet to consistently show he has what it takes.
Rob Holding has shown glimpses of promises but has lacked consistency in displays
An impressive start to life in north London has stagnated in the last week after being sent off against Southampton and looking equally rash against Man City.
But it should not detract from the start the Brazilian has made in north London and he offers some physical presence and skill on the ball which his fellow defenders lack.
His over eagerness to help out his struggling side having come into a new league and country may well have contributed to his performances during the last week, but there is no doubt he is showing the fighting attitude Arteta is calling for.
Gabriel Magalhaes has had a poor week but an overall good start to life in north London
Another English defender who has shown promise and a lack of consistency at times during his Arsenal career after joining in 2014.
The 25-year-old looked like he was a key part of Arteta’s plans after the Spaniard joined a year ago, but a serious knee injury suffered against Chelsea last December has meant he has only just returned to training and U23s football.
Whether he can recapture that form after such a long period on the sidelines remains to be seen, and if he doesn’t he could well be heading down the same path as Holding.
Verdict: Jury’s out
Calum Chambers suffered a serious knee injury last year after playing well under Arteta
Again demonstrated against Manchester City why he has fallen well down the pecking order at the Emirates Stadium, failing to track the runs of Gabriel Jesus and Aymeric Laporte for their goals and then raising his arms and screaming at others in what appears to have become an automatic response after seeing his side concede.
The German arrived for £35million in 2016 but has made countless mistakes under four Arsenal managers and become one of the most maligned figures at the club in supporters’ eyes.
The centre-back reportedly rejected the Gunners’ startling proposal for an extension in October, and if he departs on a free in the summer, which he looks set to do, few will have complimentary words to describe his time at the club.
Shkodran Mustafi has continued to make mistakes ever since he joined the club in 2016
Omitted from the Gunners’ Premier League and Europa League squads after failing to secure a move away in the summer with Napoli reportedly interested, the Greek is yet another recruit who has failed to solve the club’s defensive issues.
The former Borussia Dortmund defender was deemed not good enough as early as March by Arteta due to his uncomfortable nature when passing out from the back, but the decision to exile him from the team has reportedly caused dressing-room divisions.
Sokratis was left out of the Gunners’ Premier League and Europa League squads in October
Has figured for Arsenal just four times since joining from Flamengo in January after suffering a knee injury which had kept him out since the first game following the restart at City.
Lacking in pace but with an ability to read the game, Mari’s injury means there is still doubt over how is Arsenal career could pan out.
Verdict: Jury’s out
Pablo Mari has played just four games for Arsenal since arriving from Flamengo in January
The Scotland international has been one of the club’s few shining lights this season and the leadership he is showing has led to calls from some sections of the fanbase to hand him the captain’s armband.
Excellent in defence and an ability to deliver dangerous crosses – a rare quality among the current crop of players – from the left, the 23-year-old is already becoming a fans’ favourite.
Fronting up to speak to media after the shock home defeat by Arsenal and accepting the criticism too, Tierney is one of the few players who genuinely looks prepared to battle the current adversity his side are facing.
Kieran Tierney’s on and off the field actions make him one player Arteta can rely on
Another player whose promising start to life in north London has petered out into very little productivity at either end of the field.
The 27-year-old was an attacking menace who had defensive lapses in 2017 after joining from Schalke, but since then even the ability to score and assist has gone out his game.
A move back to the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen failed to transpire in the summer, but he has not shown why he should be kept around after being given chances back in the side this season.
That being said, there is no doubting his incredible spirit off the pitch, with the Bosnian defender fending off would-be-muggers last year when he and Mesut Ozil were targeted by armed moped riders.
Sead Kolasinac’s attacking prowess has petered out as have his performances at Arsenal
Secured a second loan move from Real Madrid in the summer following an excellent end to last season, the Spain international has looked a shadow of the player that helped the Gunners lift the FA Cup.
Often sloppy in possession and lacking the legs and creativity to drive a midfield, it is very difficult to see how his career at the Emirates Stadium will extend beyond the end of the current campaign.
Arteta has often praised Ceballos’ passion when playing, but it has become misguided in recent weeks and turned into petulance, particularly against Everton when he was lucky not to be sent off.
Dani Ceballos lacks the speed and creativity that many hoped he would bring from Real Madrid
Arsenal have failed to record a top-flight victory since Thomas Partey inspired them to beating Manchester United at Old Trafford in early November.
The Ghanaian’s thigh injury has kept him out of most games since and his return in the north London derby only saw him aggravate the problem.
The Gunners’ midfield has looked completely lost in his absence, and a man who has spent the majority of his career under Diego Simeone will understand the fight on his hands when he does eventually return to the fold.
Thomas Partey’s Arsenal career has been blighted by injuries since his move from Atletico
Another player who simply appears to have been afforded far too many opportunities to show why he is not the answer to controlling the midfield.
Xhaka’s ill-discipline has cost him on several occasions, most recently when he was sent off in the defeat by Burnley after grabbing Ashley Westwood by the throat.
This was highlighted by Redknapp, who said: ‘You’ll have (Granit) Xhaka and be thinking “wow he’s a good player as well,” he’ll then get sent off,’ demonstrating his fighting skills again have not been channelled to the benefit of the team.
He struggles to bring defensive solidity or offensive creativity to the team, and a year on from when Arteta convinced him to reject Hertha Berlin’s advances, he now appears destined for the exit door.
Granit Xhaka’s constant lack of discipline makes him one of Arteta’s most unreliable players
The Egyptian began the season well alongside Thomas Partey and looked assured in possession and able to break play up.
But the bounce of returning to the club after a loan spell at Besiktas appears to have worn off and since the Ghanaian’s injury, Elneny has appeared cumbersome and slow in possession.
A stunning goal at Dundalk has been a rare highlight since, but he is surely a player that Arteta will look to move out over the next couple of seasons.
Mohamed Elneny started the season well but lately has looked cumbersome and lethargic
The 21-year-old has been handed plenty of opportunities to impress this season and appears to add a drive and goal threat from midfield that others in position at the club fail to bring.
However, Willock still appears too raw amid the added pressure of playing in an underperforming team to become a regular at the Emirates Stadium and his decision making in front of goal has often let him down.
There is no doubt a player who may well go on to enjoy a successful Premier League career, but he would raise a few eyebrows if it was to happen for him at Arsenal.
Joe Willock adds drive in the midfield but his decision making leaves a lot to be desired
Arguably the most versatile player at the club, many were calling for him to be handed a starting berth in midfield to add legs into that area in the absence of Partey.
Arteta himself has admitted Maitland-Niles had made huge improvements in his game over the last 12 months, and he has looked comfortable at right-back as well as central midfield.
His languid style may appear to symbolise a care-free attitude, but Maitland-Niles is one of a few youngsters who appears to possess the qualities to be part of the squad at the very least.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a versatile option who has filled in well in defence and midfield
Another high-profile omission from the Premier League and Europa League squads, the clamour for the German to be reintroduced in February has grown ever more vociferous amid the side’s incapacity to create chances.
The 2014 World Cup winner has made himself more of a social media presence during his exile, and reportedly wants to remain at the club in January and see out the final six months of his club-record £350,000-a-week deal.
However, as Redknapp pointed out, Ozil’s proclivity in the past of failing to show up in big games means he is unlikely to be the answer.
‘The manager will probably bring Mesut Ozil in and be like “we shouldn’t have left him out in the first place”,’ Redknapp said. ‘He’ll do it for a couple of games and then get bored as well.
Few would doubt the validity of that, and therefore is another player who can head for the exit door in June.
The most controversial omission in October, there have been clamours for Mesut Ozil to return
Along with summer signing Gabriel Magalhaes has been Arsenal’s player of the season so far.
The only forward player who appears able to create any sort of chance – as evidenced by his run for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal against Southampton – it appears unjust so much expectation is being placed on the 19-year-old.
His recent England call-ups and regular appearances in Arteta’s starting line-up, mixed with his constant bursts of pace to beat defenders, show that Saka looks ready to become a leading figure in this side sooner rather than later.
The shining light in a poor Arsenal season, Bukayo Saka looks one of the club’s few sparks
Excelled on loan at Huddersfield in the Championship last season but has struggled with a few niggling injuries since his return to Arsenal.
However, amid their creativity problems, Smith-Rowe has shown in his cameo appearances this season he has the ability to make things happen, and why Arteta has not turned to him rather than the tried and tested failures is a mystery.
The midfielder is nevertheless highly-rated at the club and many hope it will not be too long before he is given his chance regardless of potential January additions in his position.
Verdict: Jury’s out
Rarely given a chance by Arteta, Emile Smith-Rowe could add some sort of creativity
The main representative of the club’s current struggles when it comes to recruitment, Willian’s start to life in north London has been nothing short of a disaster.
A statistic from Sky Sports at the weekend highlighted he had only had one shot in his last 11 Premier League appearances, and the Brazilian appeared disinterested in working hard in the defeat by Everton.
The alleged favouritism he has been shown by Arteta, who has picked him continuously despite his ill-advised trip to Dubai during the November international break, has also caused friction in the dressing room.
Nevertheless, it appears the Gunners are stuck with the 32-year-old – who has not scored or assisted since the opening day at Fulham – after handing him a three-year deal on huge wages in the summer after he left Chelsea.
A disastrous signing, Willian has only had one shot on target in his last 11 top-flight matches
Arguably the most frustrating member of Mikel Arteta’s squad, few doubt the ability the Ivorian possesses but many detractors exist with regards to how capable he is of showing his talent on the field.
The club’s £72m record signing appears to drift in and out of games but has provided that little piece of magic on occasions, particularly in the Europa League this season.
But many fans were angered by his petulance following his sending off at Leeds, and with the Ivory Coast international still yet to have a consistent run of good performances at Arsenal, he may yet prove to be the Gunners’ most expensive mistake.
Nicolas Pepe is one of the most frustrating players given his talent but lack of end product
When he fails to score over the past 12 months, his team have generally failed to score, and with just three Premier League goals this season, Aubameyang’s slump in form is just one of many issues at the club.
Simply brilliant at the back end of last season, especially during their path to FA Cup glory in the summer, the Gabon international’s goals have dried up and his work rate gradually slowed.
His perceived troublemaking attitude at former club Borussia Dortmund created tensions there, but while there is no sign of that as yet his decision not to front up for interviews after defeats has led to questions over whether he is the right man for the armband.
Should he find his goalscoring boots again though, he will become a crux of a side that desperately requires a rebuild.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s poor return this season is symbolic of his club’s current slump
The Frenchman never fails to put the effort in but has missed huge chances which could have swung the game back in the Gunners’ favour on many occasions this season.
Player of the Season in 2018-19, the striker now looks devoid of confidence, and even failed to celebrate levelling the scores with a header against Man City.
He will have just a year left on his contract, and despite the criticism he receives he never appears to hide and could well fight for this team if he rediscovers his shooting boots.
Alexandre Lacazette looks devoid of confidence but few can doubt his work rate every game
Has many admirers among the fanbase and inside the club for his tricky skillset and forward runs, but so far niggling injuries have prevented him from maintaining a run in the side.
Certainly offers a threat in wide areas but the lack of appearances this season – just eight in 2020-21 – means there are still more questions than answers but hope remains he can form part of the future.
Verdict: Jury’s out
Niggling injuries have seen Reiss Nelson miss out on opportunities to nail down a regular spot
The biggest positive for the Gunners during the course of the last week and his first-half performance against City demonstrated everything the forward line currently lacks.
The young Brazilian showed what Arteta has described as his infectious attitude with his lightning quick speed to close the City defenders and goalkeeper down and his end product by crossing for Lacazette’s equaliser.
A post on his Twitter account has allayed fears of the problem he picked up in the first half, and after an impressive first season in north London, the 19-year-old only looks set to build on that.
Gabriel Martinelli showed against Man City what the forward line have been missing
Surprisingly not sent on loan again after being recalled from Leeds last January, Arteta has shown plenty of faith in the England Under-21 striker.
But there appears to be little else to his game except the ability to finish from close-range, and his inability to hold the ball up has resulted in the ball relentlessly coming back to the Gunners defence.
He snatched at a golden chance at Everton to demonstrate his coolness in front of goal needs work, and while the desire to score goals is there, the required talent to follow in Aubameyang’s footsteps may not.
Eddie Nketiah’s limited skillset may seem him fail to make the grade at Arsenal under Arteta
Yet to feature
Third-choice goalkeeper Matt Macey has made just one appearance for Arsenal, which came in the 2017-18 season.
William Saliba meanwhile has failed to make a simple first-team appearance since his £27m move from Saint-Etienne last year.
Therefore, the jury remains out on both players.
Jury’s Out: 6
Matt Macey (left) and William Saliba (right) have not featured for the Gunners this season