When Mikel Arteta was appointed Arsenal Head Coach in December 2019, the club was in a frightful state.
The ill-fated dalliance with Unai Emery had yielded nothing but frustration, and Freddie Ljungberg’s short spell as interim manager had done little to indicate the Invincible was ready for a job of that magnitude.
So, Arteta came in with smoldering determination in his eyes, talking a good game and giving it the big one about returning the club to its former glory. Winning the FA Cup inside eight months seemed to indicate there was substance behind the bluster. However, since then, it has been a tale of almost relentless grief and gnashing of teeth as the Spaniard has come apart at the seams.
Arsenal’s lackluster 2020/21 season looks set to culminate in, at best, a place in the newly-formed UEFA Conference League. Even that prospect has only been bolstered by Wednesday’s ugly win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and it might still not happen anyway.
Even worse, under Arteta, the club has no clear tactical identity, struggles to win (or even control) matches, and is sinking even further – and quickly – in the mire of mediocrity.
Yet, oddly, the Spaniard retains support from a fringe section of the Arsenal fanbase and wider media. To hear them tell it, he is a tortured, misunderstood genius for whom the club should be grateful at every turn, and to whom the keys to Arsenal’s eternal destiny should be handed regardless.
So, let us look through three of the more common excuses that have been put forward for this mess of a season, and try to address the rampant dishonesty that is thwarting the Gunners’ attempt as progress.
Trust The Process
Look, coaches are not magicians. They need time to work with their players on the training pitch, perfecting strategy and drilling their charges in their preferred systems and playing styles. Anyone with half a brain can see this much.
However, by the same token, if a coach is working, it is not difficult to tell right away. The full picture may not be available to the viewing public, but it is possible to see the pieces clicking into place, and it is that process that then elicits trust.
If it is necessary to tell people to trust the process, then the process is itself fraudulent. Besides, can anyone – even Arteta himself – articulate exactly what said “process” is?
The Spaniard has cycled through several different systems and ideas since taking charge at the Emirates, so much so that it has begun to look less like flexibility and more like a drowning man flailing about for solutions.
So, exactly what is it that fans are supposed to trust and get behind?
The Squad Is Not Good Enough
This is a funny one because even a basic knowledge of economics will prove how deeply untrue it is.
Arsenal are fifth for outlay on wages in the Premier League, have a squad that includes players who have been top goal scorers in France, Germany, and England, and have spent the fifth-most in total on transfers since 2010.
By every reasonable metric, the Gunners have no business whatsoever dropping below fifth in the league; if they do, that is clear underperformance.
Arsenal may not have the financial muscle to compete with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City, but they should not need to in order to comfortably make fifth, which is par for the course.
Par, by the way, is what the squad is able to do by itself on sheer quality, regardless of input from a coach, whose job it is to make the team greater than the sum of its parts. And the fifth-best squad in the league should definitely not be finishing in eighth or ninth.
Arteta Needs His Own Players
Never in the history of football has a manager been given everything he would like. That’s just not grounded in reality.
However, let’s even go with the assumption such a thing is possible.
Why did Arsenal fire Emery? It was in the belief that he was not getting the best out of the squad he has at his disposal. As such, his replacement’s first task is to do better with that same squad, before the subject of reinforcements even comes up.
Arteta has, quite clearly, not done that; if the excuse for him is that he needs his own players, why didnt we say that for Emery too?
Also, consider this: when one makes a managerial hire, it is to work within the ambit of available resources.
If I buy a Chevrolet Impala lowrider to navigate Badagry, it does not matter how impressive the car looks or how many stunts I can get it to perform, it still is the wrong car for the job.
If the only way what Arteta is trying to do tactically can work is with different players than the ones Arsenal has, then by definition he is the wrong manager for the job and should be fired.