Mikel Arteta said that he needed to question himself after Arsenal’s latest defeat, but that’s something he should have been doing a long time ago.
Few expected Arsenal to get anything from City and a defeat was always the most likely outcome. As Arsenal fans, we knew that. So the game at City, as it was against Chelsea, was always going to be about the player’s attitude rather than the result.
There is always an excuse, too. No pre-season, the pandemic, injuries, illness, distractions. You know, all the same things that every other manager had to deal with.
For seven minutes Arsenal looked decent against City. As Stephen Bradley highlighted in great detail in his tactics video, Arteta actually had them set up well. Until City applied pressure.
If you fall apart when the slightest bit of pressure is applied, and let’s be honest, it wasn’t even pressure, it was a bog standard cross, then what is the whole thing made of? Yes, Arteta is great if everything is perfect, but he seems to be nothing more than a house of cards – able to stay standing as long as the window is closed and there is no breeze.
He might not be able to do much about Calum Chambers being outjumped by a midfielder, but he picks the players. He opted to send William Saliba on loan. It was Arteta who picked Cedric and not Maitland-Niles. It was Arteta who did nothing for 10 minutes when Granit Xhaka was sent off, paralysed on the touchlines leaving a midfield of Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard to deal with Rodri, Bernardo Silva, and Ilkay Gundogan.
Those who want Arteta to remain often say ‘who would replace him?’ or ‘you can’t sack him without knowing who will replace him’ but that’s as daft as saying you won’t put out your house fire because you haven’t found somewhere else to live yet.
When you have a losing hand, you don’t keep betting on it.
Arsenal now sit at the bottom of the table after three games. It has, of course only ben three games and at most Arsenal fans expected their side to have three points from a possible nine. Arteta won’t lose his job, yet, but it all does have a whiff of the inevitable about it.
As it stands, Arsenal have conceded more goals than they’ve had shots on target.
After almost two years of Mikel Arteta at the helm, something should be better, no matter your feeling about the bad luck he has endured since being given the job.
At the end of 2020, I wrote about Arteta, why he was struggling and why Arsenal were rubbish. I updated it in April and, reading through it yesterday, little, if anything has changed.
“Despite what he says, Mikel Arteta’s default style seems to be evolving as a cautious one, more afraid of losing than anything else and that’s what’s hurting Arsenal,” I started the piece. “Against Manchester City there was nothing to lose. Arsenal fans expected a pasting, a win was highly unlikely and there seemed to be nothing to be gained from losing 1-0 meekly instead of losing 3 or 4-0 while having a real go.
“Even Sky Sports seemed perplexed as to what Arsenal were afraid of.
“On the sidelines, Mikel Arteta was exasperated as another pass went sideways and many spoke about how it isn’t his fault the players were scared on the pitch but that’s wrong.
“Totally and absolutely wrong because it all comes from him.”
That wasn’t about Saturday’s game, it was from last season.
Arteta’s job was on the line and a Christmas miracle against Chelsea seemed to turn his fortunes. Arsenal were good, or so the narrative would have you believe. They actually collected more points in the first half of the season than second.
Arsenal won their last four league games last season, and of their last 20 matches in all competitions, they won 11 (lost 4, drew 5), beating Chelsea, Tottenham, and Leicester.
Compare that to the first 20 of the season and you see stats of P20 W13 D1 L6. Leaving aside the fact different competitions were involved, for the sake of making a point, that means for the first part of the season, when Arsenal were sh*t they picked up 40 points and, for the bit of the season Arsenal were meant to be much, much better, 37.
So where is this progress?
It doesn’t matter if it’s there if you need to dig down into the weeds of Arteta’s tactics to find it. If it can’t be seen by the naked eye and it isn’t translating into improved league form, or, at the very least, better performances, it doesn’t exist.
I’ve spoken long and often about the issues Mikel Arteta has. How his inexperience in man management is costly, how he has already mastered the art of saying lots without saying anything at all in interviews, and how he is so focussed on perfection, the stick up his arse is stifling Arsenal.
You wouldn’t think from all that that I have genuine fondness for Arteta, but I do. I’m no tactics guru like Stephen Bradley, but I also know what my eyes tell me.
They tell me Arsenal aren’t making progress as they should. They tell me that we should be seeing more from what we have, flawed as that is, and they tell me that Arteta’s inexperience is proving to be very costly.
It’s hard to escape the fact that if Mikel Arteta was able to do better with the players at Arsenal, he would be doing better.
Sometimes, when you boil it all down, it really is that simple.
I’m really not sure what we expect him to do in the next month or two that he hasn’t been able to do in the past 20.