Mikel Arteta looks a dead man walking and we’re one game into the season. His embarrassing carry-on before the game in his press conference wasn’t an off day at the office, it was a window into the mindset of a ‘manager’ that has lost control of whatever he had bottled when he first joined the club. The team performed at 60%, there was no evolution of the football, and we were bodied by a Brentford side with literally zero Premier League games worth of experience.
It was shocking, but I think most people half expected that it was going to happen. There was a slight narrative working against us and we let it consume us. If Chelsea went there, they’d have come away with 3 points, and probably spanked them. They wouldn’t let the ‘plucky upstarts in their new stadium’ get the better of them. We allowed it, and what was most painful is Arteta set the expectation for that result through his behaviour pregame.
I don’t want to keep banging on about this, but as ‘manager’ you set the tone for the club. When you are the defacto leader on the football side, you cannot allow yourself to make things about you and your feelings… unless you’re Jose Mourinho at his peak. Arteta was visibly sulking before the game because he didn’t have the players he wanted. He decided not to set out a lofty ambition for the season. He didn’t pump his players, instead, he chose to flame grill Willian, and he pontificated over whether Auba could get back to his best form. He basically communicated he didn’t have belief in the players he had, and worse, told fans to temper our expectations.
He should have come out and set a lofty ambition, not tell the fans that consistency is what he was looking for. He should have rallied the players, ‘we have the most talented group of young players in the world, they’re going to shock you, and the doubters will see… top 4 is what we’re going to achieve’… what did we get? A spoilt brat sulk and a non-answer about the season.
This was such a miss. If you set big ambitions that are a little crazy, it can do magical things. The talent on the pitch have a north star, so they know what the expectations are. Management has a target and you make them accountable, and you can make sure every decision is filtered through the lens of ‘are we moving towards this mad goal.’ Fans get pumped because someone at the club has standards. If you beat the drum about the vision, people tend to rally and overperform… and even if you miss the target, you’ll be a damn sight closer to it than you would if you set the target as ‘consistency.’ There was no aspirational target set and the players dropped a performance like they’d been told they were shite.
He also couldn’t give us a straight answer on Auba and Lacazette. Why couldn’t he just be straight and tell us what was wrong with the players? Giving an ambiguous answer now has half the fan base wondering if something more nefarious is at play.
The football was pretty much exactly the same as last year. Loads of passing that lacked purpose, lots of aimless crossing to forwards that weren’t present in the box, and no real bang-bang to our game. The players look weighted down by too much information. Nothing really flowed. There’s still no intelligence in our final third play.
Now, what is clear… losing Auba and Lacazette was a big miss for us. Balogun looked like an 18-year-old upfront, it’s his first game, you can forgive that, but he’s clearly a long way off where he needs to be. Martinelli was absolutely anonymous all game, and Pepe was back to his infuriating worse. But here’s what I can’t deal with… how can those names offer so little energy? Why couldn’t Arteta get them to press? How can you have three players like that and not really cause a problem in attack? That’s not a talent issue… that’s a system problem. It’s also a management issue, because they weren’t giving their best. Hardwork can be just as useful as talent, we didn’t seem to have either yesterday.
Arteta has had 6 weeks to address the lack of creation in the system and he hasn’t solved it. Give it to Tierney is not a strategy. Lobbing balls into an empty box is how Steve Round and David Moyes got their P45s at Manchester United. We had 22 attempts at their goal and only hit the target 4 times. They had 3 shots on target and scored two.
Look at the mess in the team as well. Granit Xhaka wanted out at Arsenal a few weeks ago, now he’s the captain. Cal Chambers is a centre back who is now playing right back, he played like that yesterday, dropping two errors in the build-up to their first goal. Bernd Leno is consistently playing like a keeper that wants a new challenge, you can call a foul on their second goal, and yes, I agree… but it is an affront that a professional keeper lets that happen to him. Where is the fight?
So many of the problems we have in the squad are of Arteta’s doing. He was responsible for Pablo Mari, who looks way out of his depth. He was the guy pushing Willian who is now persona non grata. He told us Cedric Soares had special qualities. All of the players on show yesterday have had long enough under-Arteta to understand the system and they should all be well versed in the expectations of what should be delivered on the pitch.
I think the bigger worry about all of this is it seems like the biggest miss in Arteta’s Arsenal is how he treats players. The Willian issue is a prime example. One minute, he’s a fave, the next, he’s in the bin. Same thing happened to Gabriel last season after a poor 60 minutes saw him benched for 10 games. He’s not looked the same since. The social EQ looks to be weak with Arteta. You can have the best coaching ideas, but if people don’t like you, you can’t survive at the highest level. There are quite a lot of Arsenal fans that just don’t like Arteta because of how he behaves and that’s not a good omen. Just look at Thomas Frank, rallying his fans, talking glowingly about the club, the history, and the plan for the season. That should have been Mikel.
Instead of dropping Brentford with a fizzing performance, we limped out like it was the Villareal game. Now we head into the Chelsea game without key senior players and a painful lack of confidence. It’s quite likely we could finish the first three games of the season bottom of the table with 0 points. The nightmare start of last season looks like it could return for round two… and we only have ourselves to blame. We didn’t get our business done fast enough, we didn’t move the football on with what we have, and the players performed like they’d listened to a manager that lacks focus and fire.
The manager spent all his fan capital during that horrible run. There’s no forgiveness in the system for him because we’ve not seen enough good stuff to care. I don’t know what peak-Arteta football looks like, so it’s hard to get excited about what 3 extra players could do for the football. That’s a problem that can only be solved by winning big games. Chelsea is now a cup final and so is the City game. Will the players go to bat for him? Or will they taste blood in the water like they did with Emery?
We did a video and a podcast to verbalise the pain.