Have we made real progress? by Konstantin Mitov
It’s been 14 months since we told Unai Emery ‘Good ebening’ for the last time and the man was released after a poor run of results, and no real indication of how we will get back to the top 4 at least. Today, there’s a lot of praise for Arteta and the work he’s done, yet our league position of 10th doesn’t really back that up.
The squad he inherited was bad. I get it. Not quite top 4 material, but we’ve lost 11 games this year. That’s one more than the 10 we’ve won. In his entire spell at the Emirates (which wasn’t great, don’t get me wrong), Emery lost 13, drew 13 and won 25 in 51 games. He was removed because simply neither the results, nor performances had been great.
Today, it doesn’t feel as obvious as back then that the players aren’t playing for the manager, but results-wise the story hasn’t changed much, if anything it’s gotten worse. And I didn’t want to write much in my frustration that we’ve missed the chance to go back to a top 6 challenge, because the league season was wasted long ago.
The thing that really hurts me is the way we lose. It’s extremely simple mistakes that repeat in similar fashion that cost us and we show no character, ambition and desire to turn things around. There’s no shame in losing 1-0 to Man City, but Sterling, probably the shortest player on the pitch, scoring a header in the second minute, after they had a chance 20 seconds earlier? That’s pure ignorance.
We’ve conceded a few times this season in the first minute, just a few games ago the same thing happened at Villa and in the whole game, we barely produced anything to claw ourselves back into contention. Yesterday was the same thing, we had 15 minutes towards the end of the first half and you think “OK, in the second half we’ll push it more”, yet we were timid.
Aubameyang was awful again. He squandered opportunities against Benfica and yesterday his body language was atrocious. His link up play was non-existent with players trying to pass him the ball, and even his control was poor. For a 350k player that’s unacceptable.
The issue here is that there are too many up and down players at Arsenal. They get on form for a few games and then they disappear. I don’t believe if we had Lacazette up top something would’ve changed. Pepe was back to anonymous. The only real danger man I trust in this squad is Saka, a teenage kid! Sure Phil Foden shines for City for example, but there are quite a few senior players also doing the heavy lifting, and at Arsenal I just wonder who that is?
The only real miss we had was Partey, so I can’t buy the injury excuse. Nobody is excusing Liverpool because Van Dijk is missing, you deal with the players you have. City started with no CF against us and won comfortably which is the real issue.
Another problem I have is that we haven’t had a real CB partnership since Koscielny and Mertesacker. What is our best back 4? It rotates every game. Does it include David Luiz? Will he even be here next season? And can he be trusted with the amount of mistakes he’s made already? Is Holding our most solid CB? A player we almost gave out on loan, but kept because of injuries, has suddenly become integral to our defense, yet he couldn’t mark Sterling of all people for a header?
Gabriel started promisingly, but unfortunately we’ve sucked him into the Arsenal mediocrity camp, and Saliba who we paid 27 mills for is once again impressing in France, yet he couldn’t get a cup game here.
The work we’ve done by offloading Mustafi, Ozil, Kolasinac and Sokratis was really good. We slashed our wage bill and removed players who’ve been poor on the pitch or caused problems outside it. That’s all good, but some of the management decisions remain in question and our league position is where the answer should lie.
We’re now all eggs in the Europa league basket and I’m not sure we’ll easily get past Benfica in Athens. And I don’t want to judge a season on a cup competition unless it’s the Champions League, which we likely won’t participate in again next season. I think we’ve made some good deals in Partey, Gabriel and Odegaard (even on loan). I expect more from this squad, and on paper we can do it.
If we crash out of the Europa League, the season is dead and I want the board to come out and say what are our expectations and targets and how we plan to achieve them, because just throwing money at it won’t do it and I don’t even think enough money will be there to throw.
I don’t dislike Arteta, I think he’s a nice guy, but I fail to see how we’ve improved over the past 14 months, and I wonder how many more seasons we can afford to slip further down?