Are we moving in the right direction?
Today I am going to take a look at Mikel Arteta from a couple of different perspectives, one is his first 13 matches of his seasons with the addition of the first 13 matches of his Arsenal start in December 2019. Why 13 matches? Because it is almost exactly 1/3 of a season and we are at 13 matches now.
The other perspective is his players. I will look at this first.
Tierney Saliba Gabriel Cedric
Smith Rowe Elneny Nelson
Saka Nketiah Martinelli
Was Raya the right option?
Hands up those who can say what is unique about the above line-up? It is not so easy to guess but 9 of those are there since Mikel Arteta took over in December 2019. I added Raya and Gabriel as first choice from the current line-up to make an 11. Some are bit players, some are first choice, some get on in many matches, and Tierney is out on loan. Despite the belief that Arteta has changed everything around you can see that there are many players still available for him to select. We can assume that these are all players he gets on with as he seems to have difficulties with certain players, particularly big stars who were there before him. There are now no such.
Can he cope with a big star with a big ego?
That does indicate a weakness in Mikel, as what will happen if any player starts to act the big star and tries on an Aubameyang by not adhering to the rules? One presumes they would be out the door but we can’t easily do without Saka, Martinelli, Odegaard, Saliba, Gabriel, and Rice to name players that must be worth huge money. Or a big name player comes in (Mbappe has been mentioned)and does an Aubameyang after becoming a fan favourite? Can he now deal with them without them having to leave? Can he now get them to accept that it is his way or the highway? That is one tester he must answer. Of course if he wins big trophies it makes all that easier.
Declan Rice looks like a great buy
That is definitely not a given. There are now many big teams eager for the same, all with established managers. Arsenal fans are notoriously fickle and entitled. I reckon that the bare minimum for Arteta is qualification for Champions League, pushing for the Premier league and getting close to a final. If, after two seasons of not achieving those targets, he may well find the fans turning on him, the big players wanting to leave, and a great difficulty in keeping control.
Are his targets too difficult?
I feel we have now created an expectation that he must achieve those targets but if he does, then the next prospect is to win the league or Champions League. What if he doesn’t? Do we allow him to forever do a Pochettino with the Spuds and get top four but nothing else? A bad run, such as Pochettino got could see him out the door and that was at the Spuds who have never had such a sustained time near the top in my football lifetime. We see ourselves in a different category to the Spuds and, of course, they have a worse attitude to ditching managers than we have. But I still reckon that top four will not be enough to save Arteta forever. Am I right?
Edu, Arteta and Timber - I feel this one is right too
Can the team be consistent?
And so to the next connected part, the 13 matches test.
12 points first season from Bournemouth to Chelsea from December 2019 when he started.
14 points 20/21
23 points 21/22
34 points 22/23
30 points 23/24
There is progress, yes, although a drop from last season which I believe is due to the higher standard this year at the top of the league. The bottom seems to be much worse this year and that will mean, if it continues, that the big teams will hoover up many points from them, meaning Arsenal must do the same. We are top of the league but it will be a real challenge to stay there. A loss next week against Wolves could see us slip to 4th. And I have to say that I am worried about our weak finishes under Arteta as shown here. We only had 12 points from our last 10 matches last season and it cost us the league. Arteta has, so far, never managed a strong finish to a season. That must change.
Partey has not really been missed
This will be his fifth season in charge and that is an achievement considering the difficult start he had. It was ameliorated by winning the FA Cup and Charity Shield but the above figures show he did struggle. Unai Emery got fired in Arteta’s first season despite getting 18 points out of the first 13, much better than Arteta achieved with the same players.
A new hope?
What gives us hope? Many things. There is a real togetherness in the team although the goalkeeper situation has not worked out for either player. The rest seem very happy together and partnerships are developing all the time. Declan Rice looks like an inspired buy and even Havertz must be doing lots of good stuff that fans can’t easily see as he gets on every time. The defence looks as solid as any in the league and that always gives you hope. Great teams have great defences.
The backroom team seems to work very well. We are very good at scoring from set-pieces. We are good at keeping our shape and we have got much better at buying than before. Raya (if we buy him), Rice and Havertz have all impressed Arteta, and Timber looked amazing until he got injured. It would be great if we got back to the old Wenger days when most players bought were good and most players sold were past their best.
We give everyone chances
We are getting points when we haven’t really been all that great in matches this season, in fact, even Burnley, the easiest I can remember so far, had a couple of good chances. And Newcastle should never have been a loss. My only comment on that though is that players must always play to the whistle and that is something that can be drilled into them. Excuses will not win you titles.
The fans are so important
We do seem to be moving in the right direction. Consistency will be the key. We seem to have good players to come in. Thomas Partey has not been badly missed, long regarded as key. Our young players are getting older and more matchwise. We have a settled group. Togetherness from staff of all kinds and fans will be a great help. We need to be united and I guess that’s where the name came from in so many teams.
If we stop the petty cards for arguing, slow play at corners and throw-ins and kicking the ball away which can easily be coached out of them, it will help. Losing players at wrong times is a weakness, a margin that can be corrected. I include Arteta in this. All he has to say is he didn’t agree with whatever decision he is arguing about. No other comment.
Let’s work with the refs
And players, managers, coaches, and fans need to realise one thing, and that is that we now need teams of referees for matches and there is a worldwide shortage. We badly need to stop harassing refs. We also badly need to set up academies to encourage refs of both sexes to join up and, crucially, train them to the highest standards from a very young age. It should be a clear career path that is seen as desirable from school age.
It would be amazing if they were all like Pierluigi Collina
We are not a dirty team at all. We are petulant and have become time wasters. These traits are trainable. Let’s get back to being Arsenal, the fair team and in a right refereeing world we would have an advantage.
Arteta, being so young still, may even outlast Wenger. I have outlined some areas that need to improve, but the fans will play a crucial role. They must support even through bad spells. Arteta can get things right, if given a chance. I say, give him that chance even if things go wrong and our expectations go in a yoyo direction.
ps. RIP Terry Venables. He has got quite a few mentions in this blog and he was supposed to become our manager when George Graham got the job. He was at all the major London clubs except us. Check out his book, They used to play on Grass, it is a great read. A gentleman, a scholar of football, and like our own Arsene Wenger, all his players loved him. And he turned Barcelona into a major team.