Evening all. In recent weeks, as Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal team has edged closer and closer towards the precipice of complete disaster, I have decided to resist the urge to write about the subject. It is depressing enough just thinking about the situation, so why would I want to spend a couple of hours writing about it too?
I think the time has finally come to address the elephant in the (mostly empty) stadium. Why now, you ask? Well, Arsenal lost 2-1 away at Everton on Saturday, our fourth defeat in the last five league games. That might sound bad, but the poor run of form in fact goes back much further than that. Since beating Sheffield United on October 4th, we have taken just five points from 10 games, including home defeats against Burnley, Aston Villa and Wolves. It is, make no mistake about it, relegation form (more on that anon). In 25 years supporting Arsenal things have never even got close to being this bad. As much as I would love to, I can no longer ignore the crisis. It is gathering pace like a fat kid on a toboggan.
The problems facing the club and its team are incredibly far-reaching. On the pitch, we have ceased to function as an attacking force. This isn’t down to a lack of talent. Most managers in the Premier League would jump at the chance to work with the likes of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Saka, Willian, Pepe, Ozil and Partey. It is true that many of them are either out of form or in decline, but it is also true that Arteta has simply failed to make a cohesive unit out of them. In possession we look entirely bereft of ideas. The team is crying out for a number 10, someone to connect the midfield with the attack. But while Ozil and Willian are both sufficiently talented and experienced enough to do that job, Arteta has not given them an opportunity in that position for one reason or another. As a result, we have scored just 12 goals in 14 league games. Only Burnley, West Brom and bottom club Fulham have scored fewer.
Off the pitch, the club is quite simply in disarray. Since Arsene Wenger left in 2018, our transfer dealings have been woeful. The signings of Sokratis, Cedric, Mari, Luiz, Ceballos, Willian, Pepe, and the now-departed Torreira and Guendouzi, have all failed to varying degrees. In William Saliba, we spent £28 million on a centre half who is now playing in the reserves after Arteta deemed him not even good enough to make our Premier League squad.
Things on the sell-side are even worse. 51 weeks ago, just a few days after Arteta had taken charge, I wrote that Arsenal should seek “to get rid of and replace Martinez, Mavropanos, Sokratis, Luiz, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Ozil and possibly a few others.” Incredibly, despite two transfer windows and persistent sub-par performances, the last six names on that list are still on our books. Sokratis and £350,000/week Ozil aren’t even involved in the first team but still rock up to London Colney to train with their “colleagues” every morning. Indeed the only player we have sold is Emi Martinez, which, given his stellar performances for Aston Villa this term, looks to have been the wrong decision.
Of course, part of this is down to the disruption caused by the pandemic, but a big part of it is incompetence at executive level. We signed Mari and Cedric in January, before anyone (outside China) had heard of the coronavirus. Technical Director Edu, I’m sad to say, appears completely out of his depth; a loan move for Saliba fell through on Deadline Day after the Invincible failed to submit the required paperwork on time.
After the departures of Gazidis, Sanllehi, Mislintat and others, aside from Edu the only other relevant figure in the football department at Arsenal is Arteta.
The decision to hire the 38-year-old Spaniard looks increasingly misguided. The positive signs were encouraging. He addressed our Swiss-cheese defence and installed a much-needed structure to the team. He was stern and unyielding on his “non-negotiables” of discipline and collective endeavour. We won the FA Cup and notched impressive wins against Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.
But things have unravelled as quickly as they ravelled. In becoming better defensively, we have sacrificed the attacking quality for which Arsenal is known. Arteta’s authoritative totalitarianism has meant that he can no-longer call on the services of Guendouzi or Ozil, while Torreira was shoved out the door without every really being given a chance. Aubameyang’s form has plummeted since signing his new contract in concerningly familiar circumstances. Indiscipline has set in, with three red cards in three successive games. Confidence is at rock bottom and people are talking, not entirely jokingly, about potential relegation.
I want it to work for Arteta, so much. I liked him as a player and, following that FA Cup run, I really thought we had found ourselves an extremely talented coach. But it is getting harder and harder to believe in what he is doing. I don’t think we should sack him – yet – as I am not convinced that a new manager will be able to get any more about of players like Xhaka, Mustafi, Holding and co who have proven over again their ability to fall short of expectations. We have put all our eggs in the Arteta basket and we have to hope the wicker is tightly weaved.
If, however, things have not improved by February, the club will have no choice. For all sorts of reasons – mainly financial – Arsenal need to be in the Premier League. If that standing is in any kind of jeopardy come the halfway point of the season, we will have to roll the dice and accept, sadly, that the Arteta experiment has failed.
Right, I think that’s enough of that. I’m sorry if it was a bit rambly, but there are so many things wrong with Arsenal right now I didn’t quite know where to start.
I’ll be back here with more on Wednesday, so I’ll do all my Christmassy greeting stuff then. Take it easy folks, and stay safe.
—What do you think Arsenal should do with Arteta? Let me know in the comments section below!—