I won’t dwell on the double standards that got dealt by the Premier League on match postponements yesterday. We know that what happened at the start of the season is now wrong, they know it was wrong, we move on. The hope is just that the Scum’s fixture congestion really piles up on them next season and it makes it all the more difficult for them after the Christmas period.
Instead, let’s focus on what other news is out there, including the fact we got our third round FA Cup away game to Nottingham Forest confirmed and it’ll be Sunday early evening at 5.15pm. My hope – from a selfish point of view – is that because it’s on TV there are a few fans who give it a swerve in terms of away tickets, but we’ll have to see. Suffice to say I’d love to be there in the flesh but it’ll depend on the way the away ticketing credit scheme works.
The tie itself will come at a very busy period and wedged in between the League Cup semi finals if we get beyond Sunderland and I suspect that means some heavy rotation for Arteta during that period. We will have just come off the back of the Christmas craziness from a fixture perspective, as well as losing a host of players for the AFCON and it really does feel like Arteta’s squad is going to be tested to its limits. Which is why I am surprised that he’s torched so many players in terms of them getting game time. Pepe may not be available for us in January because he’ll be with the Ivory Coast, but what level of performance can we expect from a guy who hasn’t had a minute of competitive first team football since we played Crystal Palace on 18th October? Assuming he’ll not get any time at home to Southampton on Saturday, we’re basically getting to two months without football by the time we play West Ham on Wednesday next week.
What is the value in having given him absolutely no minutes at this stage? If he intends to use him during the Christmas period you’ve got a guy coming in with basically no match fitness now. I’ve heard it and I’m sure you have too; there are so many examples of pros and ex-pros telling people that there is no substitute for match fitness and it takes games to get back to that sharpness. If that’s the case, if Arteta is planning on using him in the coming weeks, then he’s hampering his own hand because he’s going to be throwing in a player that is not fit enough. And if he is not planning on using him at all he’s basically weakening the squad by reducing it of a first team player during a period in which our squad is being tested to its limits.
I’m no apologist for Pepe or his form. He has been poor this season and wasn’t very good against Palace. He deserved to be benched after that game and so nobody batted an eyelid when it happened. But there’s benching somebody and then there’s leaving them completely out in the cold, which is what it feels like has happened with him as it stands. And I just don’t get that. I don’t get it because the type of personality that Pepe is feels like he needs an arm around him rather than a boot on his neck. He’s a carrot rather than a stick type player – from what I see – so if this ostracization of him is meant to motivate him for when he does get a chance, then I’m not sure it is going to work. And if it doesn’t work, we’ve lost ourselves a member of the 25-man squad completely. A member who, with all of his faults (and I think we can all agree there are plenty), has still bagged goals and assists for us in his time at the club.
I’m just struggling to see the value in some of Mikel Arteta’s man management decisions at the moment. Hey, if we were winning and all was rosy in the garden then none of us – and especially me – would be questioning the decision making, but it is precisely because we are playing so poorly that this challenging of the managers decisions needs to happen. Footballs highest metric is winning football matches. If you aren’t doing that then the magnifying glass goes on you and so it rightly should. The magnifying glass is well and truly on Arteta at the moment and as a result we are all searching for explanations on some of the decision making which, on the outside, doesn’t make any sense.
If there are issues with him in training then its where a little whisper to a journo in the ear might be of use, because it would get out and the fans would perhaps partially start questioning Pepe. But I certainly haven’t heard anything. But it isn’t just the Pepe decision that is a little baffling. Eddie Nketiah coming on at left wing was random given he’s frozen him out for most of the season is strange. Mo Elneny starting at Old Trafford, having barely featured at all this season is strange, even if at the time I could see why he did it. Keeping Xhaka on for the full 90-minutes on Monday evening was strange. Shunning Sambi after a great performance at home to Newcastle was strange. Giving Ainsley Maitland-Niles the cold shoulder after an impressive display at Watford – he was then not even in the squad against Liverpool I think – was strange. It’s bizarre but it also is interesting that all of these decisions seem to have started to happen in the last few weeks since the last international break. That has also coincided with poor performances. Perhaps the players are as baffled by Arteta as we are? Perhaps Arteta is once again trying to be too clever where as in the good run of form what he was doing was keeping it simple and keeping the team consistent.
Whatever it is, it feels like if he continues to press ahead with some of these baffling decisions, the season is going to tank quickly for us, and with it should come his Arsenal managerial career. A loss or a draw to Southampton on Saturday should be the beginning of the end in my opinion. And the reason I’m saying that is because it all feels very familiar. On 23rd November 2019 Arsenal put in a lacklustre home performance against Southampton and drew 2-2 at home. They then lost at home to Frankfurt in the Europa League and on 29th November Emery was sacked. Arsenal were eight points off the Champions League spots. If we lose on Saturday, or even a draw, I suspect we will be either six points or seven points off West Ham, who will occupy fourth spots. It will also mean a run of four games out of five dropping points. Anything other than a win tomorrow and I really think the club should be considering Arteta’s position.
We don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be here. I want him to turn it around. But he has to go back to what was working two months ago and stop overthinking things.
Catch you all tomorrow for a match preview.