Hard to go too deep on nothing games at this stage of the season, but downing Sam Allardyce to his first-ever relegation was certainly a little bit of sweetness after 9 months of mostly sour. Watching him take a back seat in the dugout chewing gum like he was Simon Cowell judging a string quartet of feral cats was quite amusing.
Additionally, it was a game of world-class goals. We largely controlled the game, key players stepped up like Smith Rowe and Saka, and there were some surprise star performances… namely from Willian, who created 4 chances and fizzed a stunning freekick in for our third.
There were frustrations with Arteta getting his line-up mostly correct. The biggest one being that Bukayo Saka unsurprisingly delivered a masterclass at left-back. He was a destroyer all game. His defending was sound, but his runs from deep were perfect, and his final balls deserved more than the return he managed. Arteta was pretty pissed after the game when he was asked if he regretted building a galaxy brain plan around Granit Xhaka these past few weeks, his answer was, NO. I’d be shocked if that were the truth behind closed doors, if it is, we have big, big problems.
There was also another sad reality. The midfield of Dani Ceballos and Mo Elneny, for a second week running, was far better than anything we put out against Villareal. You can laugh at that, but the lesson here is that we should have played a normal starting 11 without any LOOK AT ME ideas. Newcastle were totally nullified last week, sure, they’re not great, but they scored 4 past Leicester at the weekend and beat them. Against West Brom, it wasn’t exactly elite, but the basic structure allowed our forwards to be more involved in the game and create genuine chances.
Gabriel Martinelli started as a #9, he wasn’t that great, but you know what, I’ll take that from a player who hasn’t been given a run. We know he’s explosive on his day and I’d prefer to bet on potential than see Lacazette in a game like that.
There are still some oddities out there. Dani Ceballos, whilst not offensive today, is exiting the club at the end of the season. Did we need to see him playing again? I don’t understand why we didn’t use the dead nature of the season to have a go with someone else. Same with the bench. Flo Balogun was signed to be part of the first team next season, what does the guy have to do to get a place on the bench?
It’s also really interesting that Cedric has been moved so far down the pecking order. I have no problem with Cal Chambers, but it’s odd that he takes the place over a real right-back considering how sure Arteta was when we signed him.
Arteta’s press conference was revealing. I have watched every single piece of media of him over the last year, so I know the patterns. Firstly, his abrupt answer on the Xhaka/LB question set the tone for a conference that rapidly declined in mood. His dark eyes indicated a sleepless week. Then he was asked how good it was that ESR ‘scored the first of many Premier League goals,’ his answer was very familiar. He was agitate, he used the question to make a point about our season. He ran with the story about how he needed to be landing 15 goals and 15 assist to hit the top, and that his one goal is an indicator how messed up our squad is. It was an odd answer, made even worse by his praise of Willian who already ‘done it’ at the highest level.
People jumped to his defence because they read the quotes and didn’t hear the tone. It was a typical response where he uses the stick on young players. Arsene would have said ‘I’m happy, this is hopefully the start of many more.’ Arteta has a habit of not demanding the same standards of his senior players in press conferences. It’s a real weakness in his otherwise very honed PR skills. The issue is he doesn’t just talk like that, he manages that way. Gabriel has a bad half of football and he’s dropped for 3 months, other players are allowed to constantly stink out the starting 11.
That leads me to my next point. Mikel Arteta is here to stay, that is how it’s going to happen bar something very curveball. He said in the week he needs to be ruthless this summer. There is going to be a test of that very soon.
This is the big one. The player is a mistake machine. He has been since he joined. On his day, he’s one of the best, but let’s be real, since he arrived, we have cratered as a football club. He has lost his pace, he is now picking up injuries, he wasn’t good enough for Chelsea, he makes mistakes, gives away penalties and has a collection of red cards that make him a hall of famer.
… what will Arteta do?
We know Edu is probably already lining up a new deal because he’s clueless. But in a ruthless high-performance environment, how can there be space for him? William Saliba is the future, he can move at speed, he’s great with the ball at his feet, do we honestly think he’d make more mistakes than a 34-year-old David Luiz who is racking them up for fun?
Ruthless is moving on the past even if there’s a short term bit of pain.
Ruthless is seeing beyond reputation.
Ruthless is doing things the hard way.
Now, of course, the bigger question is whether Vinai is going to go down the route of letting Edu decide the summer again. These decisions about the future of Arsenal should be made by someone who is going to be here for 5 years, I have my doubts Edu is that guy. Arteta shouldn’t have choice on Luiz, Edu should be the one making the big calls, but he was demoted.
That means Vinai needs to step up to the plate. We know he’s not been able to muster the courage to stop a lot of bad things happening to Arsenal over the past year. He made 50+ people redundant before signing Willian to a 3 year deal on £250k a week (double the amount he could get anywhere else). An exec that has lived through the Ozil debacle jumped right into another one without asking a single question. He then moved on the Gunnersaurus… breaching the biggest rule on redundancies, do them in one sweep so as not to appear cruel.
He needs to find some courage this summer and get his reputation back on track.
The biggest question that needs to be answered is this: What is the truth of the failings?
He cannot get to that by asking Edu and Arteta. He needs to do the hard work. Those two are in the gutter with regards to their efforts this season. The next 6 months are crucial, what is totally clear from a CEO perspective is that we need an intervention because the current track has tanked.
Some areas to ponder.
Is the management style of Arteta improving team spirit or cratering it?
The squad looked petrified against a bang average side last Thursday. Last year, we beat City and Chelsea to win the FA Cup. What happened to the fighting spirit? Things tend to get better as ideas settle, they have declined here. There must be a cause. What is it? Are we sharing that information with Arteta? I know not everything can be compared to corporate America, but generally, new leaders come with bad ideas of what leadership should be, why? Because no one is a natural. Everyone needs to work on it. People don’t know they are doing things wrong unless they are told. Football coaching is no different.
What value is the coaching staff delivering to the squad?
That question should be answered by speaking to the players, the analysts, the manager and the technical director. Because there is not a world where they are all hitting the mark, otherwise we’d be in better shape. Bernd Leno has been terrible, why? If he wants out, what can we do to change that? Who is challenging terrible ideas? Or worse, fully endorsing them. It’s important information because the only way rookie appointments work is if the teams around them counter the weaknesses. RB Leipzig know how to do that, we do not.
What could Arsenal be doing better?
We have seen some pretty horrendous ideas implemented at Arsenal that you and I could have stopped with just 5 years of watching Arsenal as our qualification. There is usually a reason bad ideas go to market. Vinai needs to find out why this keeps happening. He should be speaking to everyone at the club to find out what could be done better and see if there are consistent patterns. There ALWAYS are. Identify them, communicate them, implement better ways of working so the organisation improves.
What does the self-assessment reveal?
I would ask Arteta and Edu where it went wrong and what they think they need to be better at their jobs. Maybe it has happened, but I wouldn’t bet on it though, I’ve watched Arsenal leadership let failing staff decline in performance with zero intervention for years. It’s part of the KSE leadership training course, rule number one: Question nothing, never intervene, let talent see out their ideas until the death. It’s quite staggering how little action happens when things are going badly off the rails.
The reason we are failing, 100%, is not just a money issue. Better players always improve outcomes, but we have seen some really iffy stuff this season. Vinai should find out how aware the two most important football staff are of their failings and then decide if a bigger intervention is needed… because Arsenal simply cannot sanction a big summer without assurances on what went wrong and what needs to change to avoid a 3 months like the one Emery oversaw in year 2.
A football operation is a machine. There are things that make the machine tick. But like all machines, things break down and it impacts output. Arsenal is notorious at letting the machine fail. Vinai needs to be a more active CEO, a mechanic if you will, he needs to be nosier about what is going on, he needs to crack the spanner.
- Find your 99 problems.
- Distil them down to the 3-5 big themes. The truth of this season if you will.
- Design ways out of the problems.
- Implement them.
- Check the ways are working
The idea that we’re going to roll into the summer and treat the devastation of the last 9 months as a blip is not wild assumption from me, it’s how we’ve operated for a decade. It needs to change. If heads aren’t going to roll, then truth needs to be found, rough edges need sanding, and a new way of working needs to happen right away. If it doesn’t, we’ll be well on our way to replicating the last managerial exit and we’ll be welcoming Roberto Martinez and his ‘experience’ to the carpet.
Let’s hope change is coming, it’s needed.
P.S. Listen to my damn podcast with Johnny.