Bit of a provocative title for today’s blog, I know, but let me just explain myself a little with my thinking here. Also, what with it being an Easter weekend, I thought I’d go for a variation on a theme…
Yesterday after I’d written my usual match review on what transpired in the limp 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool, I said on Twitter that it was the first time that I am doubting the ‘project’ under Arteta. A few came back to me flippantly and said “only now??” but truly, up until that defeat on Saturday evening I had never really questioned. I had made excuses for the shocking form in November and October; there were injuries to key players, there were some players who had massively let him down, but there were also mitigating circumstances and I felt like I knew that form would pick up later in the season. It happened on Boxing Day and has continued until recently with the poor Olympiakos second leg, first half at West Ham and then against the Scousers. But i’ve always felt like Arteta is a good coach, the players have been consistent in their praise about him, plus he had the collateral of having already won us silverware. I also acknowledged that this season was always going to be tough because he’s had so many wasters in a team that he could not get rid of and this summer has been feeling like it is the biggest for years as a result of a number of contracts expiring and decisions that need to be made on some players. Added to that the fact the club have been decimated financially as a result of COVID, it means we couldn’t refresh the squad as much as I think would have happened last summer.
There was also things that had gone against us. Red cards that seemed to happen each week, some VAR decisions that were frankly appalling, etc.
What I’ve seen in the big games, how we have competed and how we’ve never been blown away like we used to under Wenger, made me think that he at least has an approach that keeps us competitive. But on Saturday night that just wasn’t there and despite the fact we were missing a load of our form players, that same feeling of me legislating for failure under Arteta just didn’t happen after the game. For the first time I thought “that was unacceptable. That was poor game management. That was on Arteta” and that feeling hasn’t shifted with an additional 24 hours passing. I am still wondering about him longer term and I am starting to think whether or not he is going to turn us in to the side that we all want.
Don’t get me wrong here though, I don’t want him sacked, far from it. The club have to see how this season pans out and then they need to make a decision on how to back him in the summer. I think winning the Europa League is still probably too fine a margin for us to be putting all of our hopes in to a successful season; the league is gone and we will most certainly finish mid table, but winning the Europa – even with the supposedly more favourable draw in the competition we have – still feels like a long shot. And perhaps that is why I am starting to doubt the overall ‘process’ as it is. More and more stats are coming out about Arteta and Emery and how the results are so similar. Emery wasn’t the right man for the job but is Arteta also in the same boat? Arteta himself has said he should be judged on results and based on the results he and Emery are pretty much the same. Unai’s time will be judged as a failure but right now the only difference between the two is that Arteta won his cup final; Unai Emery did not at Arsenal.
That’s probably why he wasn’t given the ol’ tin-tack when results were on the floor in November. But come the end of the season if we have been knocked out in the Europa League and we’ve finished 10th in the Premier League, will we all be reflecting on his time so far as a positive experience? He will have had exactly the same amount of time as Emery and what difference will we have seen? Certainly in terms of a consistency we won’t have seen any different and in fact we have probably gotten worse domestically. We will have won a cup and that was a glorious thing; nobody can take that away from us and it has meant that we have been able to play in Europe this season. That FA Cup win is STILL the reason we have something to play for because of our qualification for the competition as a result of lifting the trophy. But in the summer if I am reflecting on no Europa League trophy and a 10th place finish in the league, the only way I think I’ll continue to ‘trust the process’ will be if there are big changes in the playing staff.
That means about six or seven players need to be shifted out and upgraded on. At least. And ruthless decisions need to be made on some of the players Arteta has relied on. If he makes changes like that in the summer it will be a clear indication that he is saying to us “stay with me guys, look at the dross I was working with” if he shifts a big chunk of the squad. If he continues to maintain faith in some then it will be on him. And that’s when I will start to waver even more, because if we then start the season off poorly I am not going to be wanting to give him any time. He’ll have had enough of it.
I hope it doesn’t come to it though.