I chose my words to the title for today’s musings quite carefully here. I know there are people that are convinced that Arteta is, from a tactical perspective, a man who knows his onions and he has shown that at times this season. I also know that there are a proportion – a small one I believe based on the Arsenal fans I interact with – that feel that he is not as astute as we are led to believe. They believe him to be somewhat of an egomaniac, a man who torches players too quickly, who puts faith in others far too much, who is flawed and probably shouldn’t be manager of the club for much longer. As always with these extremes the truth is somewhere in the middle, but this morning as I went for my early morning run, I found myself listening to yet another Brighton game post mortem podcast talking about what he got wrong in that game and how essential it is that the club arrest the downward momentum we appear to have after two really shocking performances from the team and the manager in his decision making.

As I was running I found myself becoming more and more fearful of a Southampton side that have just been tonked by Chelski on their own ground. I found myself getting more and more worried about how on earth we were going to pick up the three points that we so desperately need to arrest the current funk brought about by the last two games. Then I found myself repeatedly thinking about Mikel and his decisions to a) play Xhaka at left back and then b) to play Alexandre Lacazette at all.

I found myself with genuine fear that out of some kind of misplaced stubbornness in his own approach and belief, we’d see those two players playing in the same way for the weekend coming. I’ve listened to a lot of stuff this week, I’ve read a few pieces from Arsenal fans, I’ve observed some of the fallout with my own eyes and almost to a man/woman/child I’ve heard and read Arsenal fans pointing to exactly what the problem was at the weekend. We can all see it. We all know there is at least some remedial action that could be taken, if not the ‘silver bullet’ that we’d all hope for, but at least something that will ensure we improve on what has been two really bad performances. Yet despite all of that, I have the fear that Mikel Arteta will persist with his ideology of how we should play taking in to account the injuries, all because of his overwhelming self belief that what he is doing is right.

The ‘fear’ comes from last season. There it began to grow during that funk we had in the first half of 2020/21, as Arteta persisted with Willian week-after-week, as he called on the experienced players week-after-week as they let him down week-after-week. Then, when it really did feel like we were reaching ‘end game’, he threw a proverbial Hail Mary Pass in the hope that something would change and it came off  in that Chelski game at home. Then from there he flipped his approach and we started to see the benefit. My ‘fear’ is that he won’t deviate from his recent decisions until we get to the point of him needing to throw another ‘Hail Mary Pass’ because things have started to get really desperate.

But what constitutes ‘really desperate’ I wonder? As I’ve already said I think Top Four is already done. We have harder games, we need to win six of our next eight, that just isn’t happening in my mind, so Top Four is 90% beyond us I believe. But what if we spiral so bad that a Europa League spot starts to look beyond us? What if the only time Arteta has to throw his ‘Hail Mary Pass’ is when we’re staring down the barrel of Europa Conference football, or no football at all in Europe?

Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic. We’ve played really well for large chunks of this season and some of those good performances should not be overlooked; thrown in to the archives as meaningless all because we appear to be stuttering right at the crunch time in the season. Perhaps I need to have a little more perspective and perhaps these last two games are just like the terrible performances against Everton and Man United at the end of last year, before we started to pick up and go on a bit of a good run. But I just have this nagging feeling that perhaps we are about to see Arteta not coping very well under stress and reverting to the guy who persisted for far too long last season which saw us sliding down the table in November and December last season.

That is my big fear. My fear is that he is afraid to switch it up enough.

How does he alleviate that? Well, it’s all about results really, because even if we win our next four games 1-0 and they are all terrible to watch, it doesn’t matter. But if we play in the same style and approach as we did against Brighton and Crystal Palace, with the same tactical approach and square pegs in round holes, then the chances of getting those wins feels more and more remote. Get Xhaka in the middle of the park again. Get Nuno Tavares in at left back and hey, guess what, try something like White at right back and Holding in at centre half. That would feel more like the Tomiyasu style of right back we need, with Tavares given licence to drive forward more because we have Gabriel slotting in behind him. Give Sambi some support by playing Xhaka next to him. And for the love of god, prove that you are working in a true meritocracy by telling Laczette to keep his tracksuit on come 3pm. He is out of form, he doesn’t deserve to start, so try something new.

Maybe that all works on paper and not on the pitch, but trying it the other way hasn’t worked on the pitch in the last couple of games, so try a mini ‘Hail Mary Pass’ now, whilst there still could be time to turn the season into something great.

Catch you lovely folks tomorrow.