The predictable unimaginable

For Arsenal to lie in 15th place after 11 games of the season is nothing short of unprecedented. It would also be a fair assumption to say that there’s no singular problem; a good manager can get results with bad players, a good player scores goals when they’re not expected to. For Arsenal to find themselves languishing where they are would suggest disharmony in both, which makes blame easier/harder to attribute depending on which side of the fence you’re on.

While Arteta and his non-negotiables have been talked about to death, I couldn’t help but wonder what the board would consider to be as such. The decision to anoint him as manager was a vote of confidence, something never afforded to Unai Emery, which would suggest they have no intentions of parting ways any time soon. In Emery’s case, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a winless streak against the odds and a string of team selections that lost his last remaining semblance of a spine. With no Europa League victory to fall back on, his redundancy was inevitable after a rudderless spiral and despairing fans. That downfall was exacerbated by a wholly alien brand of football that made even Wenger’s most porous defensive displays look like bedrock. Before even his first full year in management, the growing discontent with some of Arteta’s more worrying tendencies have already begun to confuse and alienate while threatening to mask and consume the good he has done.

I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination to say the club needs an equally unprecedented January transfer window. While there’s still a lot of football to be played between now and January 1st – 5 league games to be exact – there has never been a greater need for such a massive overhaul. You can (and probably should) admonish Arteta for not seeing the wood for the trees; this crossing malarkey isn’t working and it’s not because the players aren’t taking their chances. After the defeats to both Wolves and Spurs, he has essentially said the same thing and it begs the question when he’s going to have his eureka moment. You’d be hard pressed to tell which quote came from which post-match interview:

  • “We got into these positions much more than X did and we lost”
  • “When they had half chances they scored and at the moment we haven’t”

(It was Wolves and Spurs respectively)

The simple answer he should be arriving at, is this kind of rhetoric not only downplays his own ignorance but wrongly undermines what the opposing team has achieved. I don’t know if he’s a victim of hubris or delusion but above all else, even before we return to winning ways, he would do well to steer clear from that kind of language because it’s disingenuous. Son may well have curled one in from 25 yards but the situation only came to be because two Arsenal defenders willfully engineered it. If you don’t close down a world class forward, they’re going to run at you. The same thing happened against Wolves, only Neto isn’t world class. What did they honestly think was going to happen? That’s not a half chance, that’s idiocy. More to the point, where is the accountability? If Nicolas Pépé is an idiot for being sent off, to which Arteta was quick to publicly mention, why is he not saying “Bellerín and Holding are fucking idiots, I wish they wouldn’t keep doing that”?

And in much the same way, a counter-attack with 5 Spurs players bearing down on 2 Arsenal players is not a “half-chance”, it’s a clear goalscoring opportunity. Which they took. Let’s not beat around the bush and act like we’re hard done by. Partey was also culpable and while there’s a strong argument against his involvement in the first place, I’ve no idea why he picked the worst possible option in that instance.

On a more general note, should the manner in which they scored really come as a surprise? The opening stages of the game were close enough, but to be that naïve against a Jose Mourinho side is inexcusable. If you keep telling the players they’re doing the right thing after losing games, there’s only going to be one outcome in the long run.

The fact we were on the fence about appointing the bastard ourselves really rubs salt into the wounds. Spurs are happy with him because they’re not used to winning and if they enjoy having 30% possession, 7 defenders and Harry Kane having more touches in his own box than the opposition’s, that’s their prerogative but it still doesn’t make this result or the last derby any less difficult to swallow.

Arteta’s saving grace, one which he’s only loosely alluded to thus far, is his own acknowledgement of deficiencies in this group of players. Bouncing from one administration to another has left all kinds of unwanted baggage and ultimately, the common denominators are the top of the administration and some repeat offenders in the squad.

These repeat offenders are obvious to the naked eye and how they’ve managed to survive until now is beyond me. At the same time, there are also players that are clearly underperforming which muddies the waters when it comes to selling season. There are also more than a few maybes, some of which will need to make way if we’re to afford the kind of signings we need to make. As urgent as it is, the reality will no doubt be more disappointing owing to the usual limitations of a January transfer window. I’m not sure what would constitute “enough” at this point, or what enough even entails in terms of our goals for the rest of the season. While the table is more compressed than our league standing suggests, our performances and other key metrics would suggest we’re exactly where we deserve to be which leaves another year of putting all of our eggs in the Europa League basket.

At this point, it’s hard to say whether Arteta will continue to double down on what he believes to be the right course of action or if the loss to Spurs will take him back to the drawing board to see what he can do with this group of players. At the very least, I can’t stand to see another minute of Willian in an Arsenal shirt. Perhaps it’s also time for the Squad A and Squad B experiment to come to an end, and instead adopt a strategy of picking players that play like bums against other bums in the Europa League and players that perform when they’re asked in the true first team.

The Match

On this front, I don’t really how to look for positives when our entire gameplan felt like an enabling act for Mourinho to do what he’s always done in big games.

The only players who deserve any credit are Tierney, Gabriel and Saka for their consistency and Lacazette for his effort and approach to a North London derby that demanded considerably more than the rest gave.


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