Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again. We are in the annual December crisis. Win-less in the last 5 league games, Arsenal sit precariously at 15th, just five points above the relegation zone.
As usual, it will be the manager that gets the bulk of the criticism and the one that will have to take the fall in the end for results. It is incredibly sad, but that is how this game works.
When Mikel Arteta took over Arsenal last season, the club had 1 league win in 2 and a half months. We needed results immediately, so Arteta made certain decisions:
1.He gave everyone a fresh start. Players who had been ostracized like Granit Xhaka, Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis, and Mesut Ozil, among others all managed to get good game time in his first few months in charge.
2. Whilst he did give Eddie Nketiah a chance for a few games, he had a general persistence with Lacazette irrespective of form.
3. He forgave David Luiz irrespective of his mistakes.
The common theme in his first season at Arsenal was to back the senior players, make sure there was harmony in the dressing room, even if it came at the cost of forgiving the unforgivable.
It had its short-term rewards which were needed at the time, with Arsenal going on a great run in the FA Cup and securing European qualification.
This season, Arsenal won 3 out of 4 games before the squad registration saga took place – Mesut Ozil and Sokratis were left out of the squad. The reliable Chris Wheatley reported in his insightful piece, stating that leaving out these senior players without sufficient explanation had an adverse effect on certain sections of the team.
Since then, Arsenal won just 1 out of the next 8 league games.
Whatever you think of Arteta, it is a very bad situation for him to be in. The same players he backed initially are now stabbing him in the back like they did last season with Emery. The test of true leadership is when the going gets tough and at this moment, I struggle to see the experienced players doing anything to diffuse the situation.
David Luiz was a player I appreciated for his leadership and experience last season - he is a fantastic player to have when he is on the manager's side. Chelsea fans did warn me however that when the going gets tough and when there is friction, he is far from an ideal player to have around.
Joe Willock, a 21-year-old who is relatively inexperienced at this level was sent to the presser after the Wolves defeat which further corroborates the spineless leadership at Arsenal.
The ones who come out and apologize at the end of every game are Kieran Tierney and Gabriel Maghalaes, two players who epitomize the type of player Arsenal must strive to bring in. It is easy to forget as well that they’re just 23 and 22 years of age respectively.
Another event said to have had an adverse effect on the team was the pay-cut agreement which was followed by 55 redundancies.
This obviously came from the board and put Mikel in a difficult position, but one he managed to pull off – Arsenal remain the only club in the Premier League that managed to negotiate a pay-cut with their squad.
These off the pitch events certainly haven’t helped Arsenal at all. But this type of drop-off in levels cannot be pinned on that. Remember, Arsenal won the FA Cup and the morale of the squad was high at the start of the season. The main issue has always been sustaining a good level over time.
The senior players have to take more responsibility – ultimately, this is something they have failed to do over the years. Thankfully, with contract expiries and better market conditions in the summer, we should be able to get rid of most of them and find the finances to upgrade.
Arteta spoke about the need to bring in 5-6 players to rebuild Arsenal and have us playing the style he wants: I agree with him here.
Whether Arsenal decides to back Arteta or not, the current cycle for the seniors is more than over. The time has come to freshen things up.