Arteta at Arsenal – what's going wrong?
Words by Dominic Renowden
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As Mikel Arteta chalks up his one-year anniversary as Arsenal head coach, an exasperated Dominic Renowden – EDGAR staffer and Gunners fan – has his say on the current malaise
Arsenal fans can be a fickle bunch, never more than a game or two away from either planning an open-top bus parade or chartering a plane to fly an accusatory banner over the Emirates.
However, even by our standards, the last 12 months have been particularly uneven, lurching from the enthusiasm of Mikel Arteta’s appointment and an FA Cup triumph over rivals Chelsea in August to what is now our worst league start since 1974/75. The morning after another defeat, this time away at Everton, means we have taken just five points from the last ten Premier League matches. Something has to change.
Here are the five things Arteta needs to fix ASAP to get the fans – and the players – believing again.
There’s a fine line between being a principled manager who stands by their players and one who is simply stubborn. Arteta needs to reinstate the meritocracy he was at pains to highlight upon his arrival. Experienced pros like Willian, Hector Bellerin and even Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have been made seemingly untouchable this season, but it’s been painfully obvious for weeks that they need to be dropped. Granit Xhaka, who has a strong claim to be the most immobile, tactically naive and ill-disciplined player in the league, should be sold in January to the first club misguided enough to bid for him.
Even with the caveat of significantly inferior opposition, the difference in quality between Arsenal’s Europa League and domestic campaigns has been jarring. Hale End Academy graduates such as Reiss Nelson, Folarin Balogun, Eddie Nketiah, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock and Emile Smith Rowe have shown they are worthy of an opportunity in the league and Arteta needs to mix things up by trusting the youth. Playing the same senior XI in the same formation every week cannot continue.
To borrow a Wengerism, the team is playing with the handbrake on. After the Burnley defeat, it became 12 hours and 32 minutes without finding the net from open play in the league – a frightening statistic. Aubameyang, a world-class striker, looks starved of service. When Arteta arrived in the dugout a year ago he was a tactical chameleon, picking unpredictable line-ups and formations. Fast-forward to this season and the team looks stale and lifeless, playing the same way every week without any inspiration. The Spaniard needs to be brave by picking players on form, varying the game plan and becoming unpredictable once again.
There’s a clear deficiency in personnel, as Arteta outlined in a brutally honest interview in early December when he said the squad lacks the players in “five or six positions” to play his favoured 4-3-3. The most urgent of these is a creatively-minded player to knit together midfield and attack. Emi Buendia, the Argentine crux of the Norwich team that currently sits at the top of the Championship, would fit the bill – young, affordable and with a Premier League season under his belt.
The club culture at Arsenal has been an issue at the club since the middle of Wenger’s tenure and needs an overhaul. There were signs early in his reign that Arteta had started to get to grips with it, but the current crisis necessitates more urgency, and this should start with the captaincy. Aubameyang is arguably our only top player but has played within himself all season and shows no sign of pulling himself out of his current funk, let alone inspire the players around him. At times like this, you need a captain who leads from the front, through both performance and behaviour. Kieran Tierney is one of the few players to come out of the season so far with any credit, making himself one of the first names on the teamsheet with his commitment and attitude. Arteta should signal a clear break from the past and make the feisty Scot his captain for years to come.
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