The idea that Mikel Arteta could, in his second season, be Arsene Wenger’s equal is silly. Arsene Wenger is a legend of the game and one of the ten best managers to walk a sideline in the last twenty years. That said, the club has gone backwards, though I would not lay blame at Arteta’s doorstep. The Spaniard is not a fraud or poor manager, but he is leading a club that, behind the scenes, is in disarray.
The recruitment department is completely remade, or more accurately, unmade. From Arsene Wenger’s strategic, if not always successful or appreciated approach, the club has swerved from Guru Sven to a committee to sacking the entire department to relying on agents. The club may have landed good targets this summer, but we paid a premium for them.
Arsenal, unless they change their entire approach to running the club, cannot really afford to take an approach to team building by signing large numbers of high-priced players, but they invested a huge amount in the contracts of Willian, Aubameyang, and Partey.
The pundits and others constantly point to Mesut Ozil’s contract as the reason Arsenal cannot sign players. This is utter rubbish. While Ozil is expensive and does make a lot of money Arsenal have more invested in the center back position (Mari, Gabriel, Saliba, Chambers, Holding, Luiz, Mustafi, Mavropanos) than in their supposedly overpriced #10. Most clubs carry four center backs, Arsenal have eight, including their high priced signing from last season that their manager insists is nowhere near ready to play for the team. The transfer fees of these eight, plus their salaries, dwarf the cost of Ozil’s contract.
Player management – Here is where the disintegration of the club is most evident. Look at a series of blunders that are hard to believe, never mind explain.
Aaron Ramsey’s exit was a huge blunder. The contract was agreed, the player was willing to sign, and at the last moment, it was pulled, supposedly on Unai Emery’s orders. That seems unlikely, as Emery seemed to have very little influence on transfers. Ceballos, his purported replacement has played well in stretches, but is inferior to Ramsey in every regard.
The Ozil situation. Under Wenger, Mesut Ozil would still be in the team, still contributing his particular brilliance, and still be critcized for not working hard enough by people too limited to understand what he’s doing right, to understand his real but relatively minor limitations. Emery and Arteta lack the clout and credibility to get the club to stop being a bunch of idiots on this issue.
It is the club who have decided not to play Ozil, and anyone who believes it is for football reasons is an idiot. Arteta has been pushed into defending the club’s stance on Ozil and it could cause the same kind of implosion for him as it did for Emery. Remember, the players in the dressing room know that Ozil is better than the men playing ahead of him, even if they do not say so and even if the manager claims otherwise.
Arteta’s backing of the club’s public stance will work fine so long as the team performs and wins. If the team stumbles and they lose, the same questions internally if not from the media, will be asked – why is one of our best players not playing. Emery lost the dressing room over this and other, similar man-management issues. Arteta, though more suited for the job, could suffer the same fate.
The public criticism leveled at Ozil from the manager and the club has clearly angered the German, and he is determined to make them suffer by staying right where he is, earning all that money, and daily reminding the team of their stupidity. Arsene Wenger himself has pointed out that Ozil should be contributing to the team. He’s not. Arteta showed he understands Ozil’s value last season when he played him continually, trying to save the season. Now he’s fallen in line with the brass and it might cost him dearly.
Let’s look more closely at transfer spending. Unai Emery spent a lot and got little for his cash. Arsenal brought in Partey this window and he looks the real deal. Willian was a smart signing but will not contribute beyond this season (the reason Chelsea was willing to let him go), and Gabriel, though the club is leaning awfully hard on the teenager, looks like a genuine find. Runnarson is impossible to judge, but seems a low-rent buy for a club like Arsenal, while Cedric Soares is a step down from where Arsneal need to be. Pablo Mari looks like he might fit in at some point.
When in the last twelve years of his managerial career did Arsene Wenger ever get the kind of money either Arteta or Emery got? Never. His results were, however, superior in nearly every regard.
The owner’s son has assumed greater responsibility for Arsenal, and while Stan the Man was never a well-liked figure among Gooners, his direction, philosophy, and commitment to a certain model for doing business, was clear and unwavering. His son is less well-understood, as is the limits of his authority and the direction he will take the club. This is leading to uncertainty, decisions not in line with Arsenal traditions, and instability.
Unstable clubs rarely prosper. The lack of stability at Man U since Sir Alex’s retirement has led, despite massive spending, to huge under achievement. The same is happening at Arsenal. How long it lasts and how bad it gets will not be down to Mikel Arteta, but he will be the public face of it; for better or worse.