Normally after a loss to a team like Burnley and an endlessly-irritating manager like Dyche, I’d be feeling annoyed and leap to a few petty excuses to try and rationalise what used to be a rare occurrence. Maybe even rue a dodgy VAR decision or a Mike Dean special. These days, it just feels despondent and I don’t really know how to quantify the “big picture” when it’s not only more of the same but actually somehow getting worse.
It was another game with the wrong kind of records being broken: first win for Dyche against Arsenal on his 11th attempt, equalled our worst home run in the league since 1959, lowest goals tally after 12 games since the ’81/82 season, and most damagingly of all to Arteta, we’ve received twice as many red cards as any other team since he was appointed.
In this instance, Arteta’s trust and judgement (or lack thereof) was the rod for his own back because Granit Xhaka is a player who has time and again demonstrated a tendency to do stupid things. Sometimes that’s verbally berating 60,000 people for daring to voice their opinion instead of rising above it, sometimes that’s losing your cool on the pitch and sometimes it’s because he’s switched off entirely and cost us a cheap goal. None of those paint a particularly good picture of a player who has somehow convinced several managers that he’s also virtually undroppable. Stranger still is the fact that his only real absence from Arsenal’s starting XI came when the fans essentially superseded Unai Emery and gave him a free pass to relieve Xhaka of his duties.
In the tattered shreds of Xhaka’s defense, he wasn’t the only player out there to be visibly frustrated and yet, he was once again the only one actually punished. It might have been the rearing head of a bad run of personal and collective form that sent him over the edge, but in the context of this particular dismissal, it’s probably the most embarrassing for him and maddening for the rest of us.
While the first half wasn’t exactly easy viewing, I noticed a few slithers of improvement but you could just as easily chalk that up to Burnley being Burnley. Lacazette could have done better with the toe poke and completely mishit another chance, Holding and Gabriel both came close, Saka was denied with a last-ditch tackle. We came out in the second half with better tempo and created a few good chances in the first 10 minutes and then… he goes and does that. To a player not even involved. Because he’s a short-fused, hot-headed idiot.
It’s one thing for Nicolas Pépé to be sent off for a silly red card – the first of his career – but when a player with a history like Xhaka does it, the blame isn’t quite so isolated. That’s not to suggest Arteta shouldn’t pick players solely because they have a patchy disciplinary record but when Xhaka has been as ineffective as he has been in the last 3 months, it just feels so avoidable and ultimately leaves the manager without a leg to stand on. It seems strange to reference such a short stint, but I couldn’t help but notice the dichotomy between Freddie and Arteta as managers. Even with his threadbare team and non-existent preparation, Freddie wasn’t afraid to try something different. We played on the front foot against teams we should be beating and while certain results escaped us, like Maupay’s unjust winner for Brighton or the slump against Norwich, we at least played like we had nothing to lose and opportunities with given to players that deserved it – regardless of their age. In his final game in charge against Everton, our starting lineup included Smith-Rowe, Saka, Martinelli, Nelson and Maitland-Niles; even if he knew the jig was up and had nothing to lose, I still struggle to envisage Arteta doing the same.
It’s all well and good vesting some trust in experienced players who have quantifiable traits = at this point, it’s genuinely the only explanation why players like Willian and Xhaka are still included – but I would also argue it’s a real contributing factor to our predictability. The right wing is as blunt as it’s ever been because defenders know Willian isn’t going to do anything special (and he was still favoured to Pépé even before the suspension) but yet again, nothing is done to address the glaring problem. We don’t even have any Europa League group stage games left as an excuse for protecting the “B” squad, so why on Earth are other players not being given opportunities?
At this point, I don’t really know what to say. Even Emery made our affairs easier to talk about because he was such an alienating pacifist in interviews and that did my head in. Arteta seems to have reached a point where he says one thing and does another and in a world already full to the brim of broken promises and misinformation, it’s difficult to draw any positives. That’s also not helped by our upcoming fixtures, which could well leave us in the relegation zone by Christmas. The writing has been on the wall for quite a few weeks now but now is the time for Arteta to remove Pep’s silver spoon, throw out any ideas he had about committing to ideas that clearly aren’t working and just throw the kitchen sink at it.
Play the kids. Pick players that actually have a future at the club. Bin the rest and let them know why they’re binned. Those that want to stay will fight their way back into the team and those that don’t should be out the door in January. That obviously requires those around and above Arteta to do their jobs for a change which is a tall ask, but that is where we’re at. The post F.A. Cup clamouring now feels like a lifetime ago and given some of Unai’s at-the-time-less-obvious warnings, it’s clear as day that our issues run far deeper than Arteta simply picking two washed-up, walking frames like Xhaka and Willian:
But some players had a mentality that says one day ‘yes’, one day ‘no’, when in football it has to be ‘yes’, ‘yes’, ‘yes’ every day.Emery on our defeat in Baku
Arteta might not be the man to change that either, and if results continue to slide, his credentials will only be scrutinised further but at this point, our problems feel worryingly intrinsic with no obvious solution in sight.