Towards the end of last season I came to the realisation that Arsenal had to make the leap and replace Mikel Arteta before the money was blown again. I really wanted Arteta to succeed. I still do want him to succeed as that means Arsenal would be doing well. Pre-season and Friday has me frightened, quite honestly.
With Arteta staying I was convinced we were at least going to see wholesale change to the squad, the system we play on the pitch, and the style of play. I was certain we’d get back to playing with more than one player up front, we’d move the ball quickly with attacking intent, and that numerous players would be bombed out while players we actually need would come in. How wrong can you be?
In many ways it shouldn’t come as a surprise that what we are seeing is the same turgid, boring, slow, negative football which is totally reliant on any attacking threat coming from two kids and a left-back. The failure to move on the dead wood, and thus free up space in the squad, is not necessarily the fault of Arteta and Arsenal. If people don’t want to sign the likes of Kolasinac, Willian, Elneny, Bellerin, Soares, Nketiah etc that makes life difficult – the fact Arsenal have some of these players on stupid wages in the first place is another story. The signing of a centre-back who we all knew wasn’t the kind of defender we needed, and for an utterly ridiculous transfer fee, is most definitely on Arteta, Edu and co. And the style of play and choice of formation is without doubt the fault of Arteta.
The style of play, if you can call it that, is actually the method employed in the latter years of Wenger when we no longer had a lot of top class footballers. The emphasis was placed upon possession football in the hope that Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla or Mesut Ozil might create something out of nothing. Invariably one of them did for a while. Or at least they did it often enough to keep Arsenal vaguely competitive in terms of competing for a qualifying place for the Champions League. Who was one of Wenger’s key midfield players in the dross years but none other than Mikel Arteta. I actually liked Arteta as a player at Arsenal and he was far better than many will now give him credit for. But he clearly was more than content at times with receiving the ball from Mertesacker and giving it straight back to him or to Koscielny. It all sounds vaguely familiar doesn’t it?
It amazes me that, after what happened in the semi-final at home to Villarreal last year, the Manager has changed nothing. How can he come out after the game last night and lament the lack of players getting in the box when he’s taken off the only two strikers in the side? He also chose to use that soundbite on the day Arsenal sold a goal scoring midfielder to Newcastle. He sounded to me like he was blaming Balogun and Martinelli for the fact Arsenal didn’t get a result last night. His substitutions were as Wenger-like as the football Arsenal played with two junior players taken off even though they were the only ones likely to be able to actually get on the end of something. As per usual the system never did change. The desire to play a forward pass was exclusive to Smith Rowe, Saka and Tierney. And that’s before we get to the comedy defending and goalkeeping that has become a hallmark of Arsenal over the last 15 years or so.
The club just seems to be drifting now. We have one goalkeeper in the squad, and he’s third rate at the very best. We have players stinking the squad out, not the least of which is our official Captain. Arteta flexed his muscles with Ozil, Guendouzi and Saliba, but seems powerless of show genuine leadership and strip Aubameyang of the armband and boot the lazy sod into touch. If him and Lacazette are “ill” then tell us what’s wrong with them rather than “they say they feel unwell” being the quote. I’m a Granit Xhaka advocate, but making him skipper ahead of Tierney, for example, given what has gone on previously and the fact that we spent all Summer waiting for Roma to sign him can only leave everyone confused. Bellerin and Soares are still here. We’ve signed Ben White, the wrong centre-back from Brighton. Lokonga I hope will be a real prospect but largely looked out of it last night – he gets a free pass from me though, but wouldn’t it be nice if we signed a player for once who could hit the ground running?
I wasn’t looking forward to Friday night after the awful pre-season where it had become apparent that nothing had changed about our approach to the game. My fears were sadly well founded. We stand a very real chance of taking no more than 3 points from the first 18 and being out of the League Cup. By then Arteta will have been sacked, but we’ll have spent all our money. It will all be too late. Again. The only thing saving Arsenal from a place in the most dangerous of the lower reaches of the Premier League, as things stand this evening, is the fact the league is full of dross even worse than ours.
Next week a half-empty stadium will greet The Arsenal after more than a year where almost nobody has been to a game. How embarrassing is that going to be. It underlines what some of us have always known about the genuine core Arsenal support, but a 60,000 seat monolith with 40,000 people (maximum) inside it for a big London derby will speak volumes about where the club is. The people from Amazon Prime must be pissing themselves silly that they’ve bought access all areas to this shower and it’s us fans who are going to suffer.