Arsenal need Arteta to start repaying faith quickly
Arsenal appear to lurch from one crisis to the next and, after just two games of the Premier League season, Mikel Arteta is already starting to come under pressure. A difficult pre-season was followed by a 2-0 defeat at newly-promoted Brentford in the new campaign’s curtain-raiser, with Arsenal then losing at home to Chelsea by the same score.
It is not just the results that will be concerning Arsenal supporters but the manner of the team’s performance in those games. Brentford played Arsenal off the park in what was one of the least surprising ‘shock’ results in recent Premier League history. Chelsea then won easily at the Emirates without needing to get out of second gear, with Romelu Lukaku in unstoppable form.
A weekend trip to champions Manchester City means things will not be getting easier for the Gunners any time soon. But is Arteta the right man for Arsenal in the long-term?
One of the issues facing Arteta is a lack of leadership and character throughout his squad. Arsenal have had a soft underbelly for many years, dating back to the end stages of the Arsene Wenger era, and this was ruthlessly exposed by Lukaku and Thomas Tuchel’s Blues.
There is a sense that when the tough gets going for Arsenal, they just cannot cope with it. Players such as David Luiz undermined their manager with regular mistakes in the past but Pablo Mari was no better against Chelsea, the defender shrugged off by Lukaku for the opener.
Arsenal can be bullied and they simply do not have the mental fortitude to compete in the upper echelons of the Premier League at this time. It says a lot that one of the leaders in the squad, Granit Xhaka, spent much of the summer on the brink of joining Roma, but when that move collapsed was then offered a new contract instead. What message does that send out? If Xhaka was surplus to requirements but is now somehow deemed key, it suggests muddled thinking.
The £50 million summer capture of Brighton and England defender Ben White was designed to improve Arsenal’s defensive weaknesses. But it is asking a lot for a player with one season of Premier League experience to make such a big difference to a flailing squad. White missed the Chelsea defeat after catching Covid, which is hardly the ideal start to his Arsenal career.
Arteta himself does not lack courage in his convictions but he is continuing to ask Arsenal to play in a way they simply cannot. Goalkeeper Bernd Leno has shown time and time again he is not comfortable with the ball at his feet, but Arteta still wants him to play out from the back.
With Leno’s long-term Gunners future now in doubt, Arsenal brought in Aaron Ramsdale from Sheffield United to compete for the jersey. Ramsdale has been relegated two seasons in a row but is regarded as a strong character. Arsenal, though, already had a very solid goalkeeper.
Emiliano Martinez grasped his chance when Leno was injured and starred but was then allowed to leave for Aston Villa for a bargain £20 million. Martinez has since established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League and also won the Copa America with Argentina.
Martinez should have been given the chance to succeed Leno for Arsenal but Arteta instead sold him and is now spending more money on a far worse goalkeeper in Ramsdale. It adds to the confusion.
Sidelining Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is another curious decision from the Spaniard. Most clubs would learn an important lesson from giving Mesut Ozil a fat new contract and watching the former Germany playmaker collect a gigantic wage for years while making little impact.
But Arsenal appear to have done exactly the same with Aubameyang, who signed a new deal that was reported to be worth £60 million in 2020. Last season, he scored 10 Premier League goals, which was fewer than Chris Wood, Callum Wilson and Matheus Pereira among others.
Arteta was initially appointed as head coach by Arsenal, but his job title was changed by the club to manager in September 2020. That indicates he is taking a more active role regarding recruitment and contractual matters, so giving Aubameyang a bumper payday and then apparently deciding he is no longer in Arsenal’s strongest XI rests on his shoulders.
Like selling Martinez, that big contract for Aubameyang was a hugely expensive mistake. Arteta is an inexperienced manager and will make errors as he learns on the job. And Arsenal did end last season very well, recording five straight wins to claw their way up to an eighth-placed finish.
After having Wenger in charge for over two decades, Arsenal will not want to become a club that changes their manager with the seasons. The travails of rivals Manchester United since Alex Ferguson’s retirement have shown it is hugely challenging for the men who follow in the dugout.
Like United with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, another fans’ favourite as a player who is now in the hot seat, Arsenal have gone all-in with Arteta. It is time for him to justify that faith.
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