In every young person’s journey through management; across any industry, there’s always a moment when things go badly to shit. Your PowerPoint plans get smacked by unforeseen circumstances. Those principles you promised to adhere to are tested by people you expected more of. You start engaging in contradictory behaviour because you believe there to be no other choice, and secretly, it’s easier to let things slide versus confronting people. That time is here with Mikel Arteta. Bad decisions have snowballed and the chickens have come home to roost. He has to take stock, get back to basics, and graft a path forward.
We thought simple answers were sitting in plain sight, those naive ideas were obliterated yesterday, now it feels like we’re entering a death-spiral. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Only the weak succumb to panic and the mob. Arteta needs to show strength and battle his way into the cockpit and take control of the Arsenal plane.
Firstly, let’s talk where the standards are slipping.
Why did Willian start? The club told him not to travel to Dubai and he said, fuck it, I’m going. What message does his inclusion send to the rest of the squad? What would we have said if Ozil did that? Why was Willian included if he broke the rules? If you have non-negotiables, they have to be for everyone, and if they are breached, there has to be consequences. The fact Willian was so bad in the first half he had to be yanked for Reiss Nelson was stunning. He hasn’t had an assist or goal contribution in 7 games now. His free transfer has followed the exact trajectory of nearly every signing we’ve made from a rival. How were Edu and Arteta allowed to do this deal? It is a catastrophically poor use of funds made even worse because there is a very clear history of these deals working out poorly for us.
Another observation. Watching the warm-up, you look around at the coaches and you have two that look like they’re about 23 running drills. I’m game for innovative thinkers, but we’re in a crisis right now and it looks like our ‘manager’ is going down the same path as Arsene Wenger. Surrounding himself with a backroom team he can dominate. It’s a small thing, but what does that say to the players as well? Where are the experienced heads to counterbalance Arteta’s youth? Who is the Villanova to Pep? Where is the guy that’s done it before at the highest level? The biggest weakness of Arteta is years served… he should have those weaknesses catered to by a Technical Director that has the cojones to impose himself on a junior coach and build a team around his weaknesses.
Then we have the game. Nicolas Pepe, darling of a huge chunk of the fanbase for no real reasons, landed a run. It was a big 90 for him. He had a chance to show he has something to offer the Premier League. He was a disaster, again. He was a gift for Leeds down the right. His game has no intensity, his body language is shocking and his creative output doesn’t merit inclusion. What is the difference between him in the side and Mesut Ozil? Bar Mesut can actually create. I wasn’t sure it was possible he could be more useless in the second half, but he dug deep and decided that he’d take an unintense situation and make it pivotal to the game by headbutting a Leeds player unprovoked. It wasn’t ‘heat of the moment.’ It was intentionally destructive. It was the power move of a player that really doesn’t give a fuck about Arsenal or his career. I’ve seen people bemoan Arteta for calling this behaviour ‘unacceptable,’ like he’s being unfairly scapegoated. He literally blew our game plan over nothing. Not sure what else there is to say here.
To be honest, we played better when he exited the field. Reiss wasn’t much better than Willian, but Saka coming on for Joe Willock gave us more balance and attacking threat than Pepe and Willian combined.
… on Joe Willock. How bad was he? I don’t think he could have done a better job proving why he doesn’t start proper games. He couldn’t do the basics right. He got in the way. He ran towards players with the ball, he held on too long, he made bad and slow decisions. A total disaster run out for him.
Auba dropped another 2/10. He looks drunk off his big deal. Nothing stuck through the middle. He lacked sharpness. He dropped too deep. He didn’t connect with anything. Another drossy day out for our most important player.
Think about the basics we’re fucking up. How many more times are we going to see a corner barely make the front post? My ultimate peeve at the moment is watching Hector Bellerin give away possession from throw-ins and worse… foul throw. Who foul throws more than Hector? If you do that in Sunday league, your mates rip you, and pour Fosters in your duffel bag after the game. How has this become a thing? Our setpieces at the moment are toilet break opportunities.
The output of the game was reflective of a very bad two weeks preparation. Things aren’t great at the training ground. There are disciplinary issues that you’re not seeing that are contributing to friction in the camp. The Dani Ceballos vs David Luiz issue wasn’t a case of light handbags. It was a big deal and Ceballos was to blame. His cries of ‘FAKE’ are nonsense. Willian sticking his middle finger up to the culture was shocking considering his seniority, then he gets a start and stinks out the place. That all the troublemakers of the last two weeks started doesn’t exactly speak to new high standards being upheld. But… Dani is an Arteta project. Willian is a reflection of Arteta’s tastes. Caving for your favourites? Not a good look.
Being a leader is lonely. Upholding standards does not win you popularity contests. It is stressful. But that is the job. Arteta seems to be losing sight of that part of his role, for someone that talks about culture as much as he does, that is a really big worry. Replacing bad eggs with your own bad eggs won’t move Arsenal forward. Simply put, you cannot be a proponent of high-performance culture and not hold yourself and your team accountable to the principles that make it so. I hear one of the coaches is a disaster. A real bad egg. Everyone loved who he replaced, not so much the new guy. It’s a small thing, but why are we keeping people at the ground that aren’t good for the environment? Small bad decisions grow under pressure like cancer, and at the moment, it looks like our new ‘manager’ is paying the price of lots of small bad decisions that are now teetering on the edge of terminal.
Arteta’s ruthless and precision approach to discipline at the start has softened. He’s caving on his non-negotiables for players he’s personally invested in. He cut off his nose to spite his face with Mesut Ozil. You can only make big dick decisions if there’s a plan. His plan was to replace Mesut’s creative output with two players that seem to have the same zero fucks attitude without the same quality. Now he’s paying the price for that and he didn’t give himself an insurance policy (by keeping Ozil in the squad), preferring to give the squad place to someone like Saed Kolasinac we all know is not good enough. The argument of ‘preserving the culture’ falls flat when you look at what is going on right now.
Now, the good news is none of this is fatal, yet. Elite leadership talent doesn’t cave to bad moments. Football clubs have ups and downs. The best people find a way through the bad times. Make no mistake, we just entered a serious RedZone for Mikel Arteta. Some brutal decisions need to be made and he needs to get the car back on the road.
First thing he needs to address is discipline. If you don’t hit the standards for Arsenal, you have to pay a price. Nicolas Pepe should not be seen for a while. He lacks discipline off the pitch and he’s a disaster on it. We just have to accept he’s the worst signing in Arsenal’s history and no amount or rewatching his Youtube videos will change that. Get him out of the club and move on. I have not idea what we’re going to do about Willian bar pin his picture on the wall at London Colney and promise never to give someone over the age of 30 a longterm deal ever again. Let’s go Dennis Bergkamp on this problem and stop believing players are going to give you what you need. That decision is on Arteta and it was a shocking one that we all knew would end badly.
Secondly, he needs to work out a way of getting us firing again. People on Le Grove are calling Arsenal notagonists and it’s true. We were shite going forward again. We looked interesting when Saka came on and we went to 10 men. Whatever purist idea Arteta has in his head about attack is not working. We are really fucking slow-moving the ball. We need to add 30% to the pace. We need to stop looking so mechanical. We need to find some unpredictability in our attacking play.
Thirdly, all this needs to have happened yesterday.
We didn’t lose against Leeds. We look like an Emery team going forward, but we’re pretty difficult to break down. Leeds only managed two more shots on target than us yesterday. Problem is, we’re clueless in attack. No open play goals in 7.5 hours of football is fucking dreadful. That will get solved though. Arteta will coach his way out of this because his future depends on it.
We have two really big games coming up. If we take 6 points against Spurs and Wolves, we’re right back in the mix.
Can we also just take a moment to celebrate what stars Kieran Tierney, Gabriel, and Bernd Leno were yesterday. The German made some outrageous saves. He was electric, what a clean sheet. Tierney is just a warrior. A proper player. A nightmare to play against. I LOVED that he had to be dragged away after catching Xhaka chumming it up with Alioski after the game. That’s the spirit you want at Arsenal, blowing up after the game, when it doesn’t affect your team. I’m so glad he’s maintained fitness. A true warrior. I also love what Gabriel brings to our defence. He’s settled so fast. What a player we have there.
Back to the situation. The Premier League this season is about top 4 qualification. The job of Arteta is to be within 6 points of top 4 come February. If we are in our current position by then, we’re on target to treat every game heading into the finish line like a cup final.
Football clubs go through rough patches. We are in a patch that has been ploughed with salt and arsenic, but we’ll come out the other side and things will start to go for us. We have Thomas Partey returning to midfield. We’ll start Saka next week and lean on his creativity. We’ll stop wasting time on Nicolas Pepe, we’ll put Willian on the bench, and we might take a chance on some young players that cannot possibly do any worse.
The season feels like it’s over, but it’s not. You’ll spend all week complaining about where we are, you’ll be angry at work tomorrow… that is your right fam. Things will improve though. It really doesn’t take much in this league to go from FRAUD watch to something more hopeful. Fingers crossed Arteta can find the path forward.
See you in the comments. x