For the first time in living memory as an Arsenal fan, I feel like I’m in uncharted waters. The Everton side we faced were in no way impressive, nor were they at full strength, which makes the manner in which we lost all the more disappointing. There was no convenient red card to fall back on this time either, in another game marred by apathy and inability.
For the second game in a row, we were treated to the midfield duo delight of Mohamed Elneny and Dani Ceballos, who once again shirked responsibility to do their jobs whenever possible. Whatever you think of David Luiz (and some of the recent rumours of discourse between him and Arteta), it was impossible to ignore his intent, as well as his frustrations yesterday. Frantically pointing at players to move, make themselves available or to just do something useful, he was invariably forced to progress the ball forward himself.
Both Holding and Luiz have some ability in possession, but with Eddie Nketiah essentially serving as the sole target against the likes of all 6’4″ of Yerry Mina and Michael Keane, it seemed a bit redundant in the end. With the exception of his snatched half volley when he really should’ve taken a touch, it was another ineffective afternoon for him and as time goes by, I do wonder if he’s another player we should be looking to cash in on given the chance.
With Aubameyang’s unexpected absence, it also gave Willian a way to weasel his way back into Arteta’s plans but what I can’t fathom is how he managed to survive 90 minutes – let alone that first 45. I get that options are limited, I get that he’s not the root cause of our problems but the man simply does not give a shit – that is clear as day. Never mind the fact that he also supports Bolsonaro or that he deems it appropriate to fly to Dubai on business in the middle of a Premier League season AND global pandemic – that first 45 minutes was as bad as it gets, and he’s already been redefining bad this season. Against Everton, he had:
- 14 first half touches – fewer than any other player
- 0 shots on target
- 0 successful crosses
- 0 successful take-ons
- 0 successful tackles
- 0 successful duels
Oh, and he has 1 (ONE) shot on target in 15 (FIFTEEN) Premier League and Europa League games this season.
For a player to have metrics as bad as that, for someone of his age, reputation and remuneration is farcical, as is Arteta’s unwavering dedication to him. Ultimately, it seems like a very strange hill for him to potentially die on and I’m yet to see an explanation which holds water with respect to some of Arteta’s early mission statements. Almost a year ago to the day, in reference to his now increasingly infamous non-negotiables, Arteta said “the demands we put on the team, the commitment, the energy we put in, that dominance … we have to play a little bit with that arrogance, that belief“. I struggle to see how any of those have been qualified by Willian in the last 3 months but there we go.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t an issue unique to Willian – time and again, we see the same dysfunctions and time and again we see no changes. No one is under the delusion that this is a squad full of talented, willing and able footballers. Xhaka and Mustafi have had targets on their backs for years, Luiz and Willian are easy targets as Chelsea cast-offs and that’s not including the rest of the Kia clients. We also have one valuable asset playing abroad in Lucas Torreira and one sat at home tweeting in Mesut Ozil. Where it all unravels is that this squad isn’t that bad and for Arteta to so routinely demonstrate an inability to adapt or inspire, there are serious alarm bells. Without the F.A. Cup win, I do wonder whether he would still be in a job at this point, because if you take this season in isolation to Emery’s second season, it’s a no-brainer.
Project is a word that’s been thrown around a lot in the post-Wenger world. It was obvious in its inception because Wenger and the club had become virtually synonymous, to such an extent that many believed he was almost untouchable. That kind of relationship became untenable and his eventual unrooting left a big, old gap (that”big, old gap” is not a descriptive slight against Arsène). In comes Unai and his mad brand of horseshoe, overlap, CALM CALM CALM football and things are rosy-ish for a while as a 22-game unbeaten streak literally defied the xG gods and papered over a few cracks. As is often the case, xG caught up with us and teams cottoned on, culminating in a humbling in Baku against a savvier manager. By his second season, he’d lost the dressing room and he lost his job.
Arteta’s entrance to the project had all the right messages. He stroked the collective ego and we believed him because “he’s Arsenal”. The crowd was split between “he’s unproven” and “he’s Pep’s understudy”. So we went from “gamble our future on a cup coach” to “gamble our future on a complete unknown”. For a time, those “right messages” coincided with on-field results for the most part, which is nice for credentials. Where we now find ourselves is a divergence from the messages and the results and yet where my frustrations really become unbearable is to hear things from the manager which are nothing short of delusional. The emphasis on crosses, the belief that sooner or later our fortunes will change when there is absolutely nothing that suggests we’re due anything of the sort – even his comments after the Everton game point to someone who is plainly out of ideas and unable to see things at face value.
“We are dominating the games but in the small moments, we are losing the games. We lost a game against Burnley without conceding a shot on target and we lost today again, conceding an own goal and a set piece”.
If you didn’t know the details, those comments would have some substance. Unfortunately, we do know the details and it boils down to one game being lost thanks to a pattern of ill-discipline within the team and the second being lost thanks to Willian jogging back 22 minutes into the game and Pépé being inexplicably tasked with marking their biggest aerial threat. That’s not bad luck, that’s routine.