In the embryonic stages of my Arsenal related writing pastime, I chose Gunner Be Honest as my blogging pseudonym because I pride myself on my honesty and felt that many supporters allowed their views to be clouded by their love for their club. Those who know me personally will tell you that I love my club as much as anyone, however, I refuse to let that affect my judgement when providing assessments of all things Arsenal and this article is no different.
As the season progresses, it has become apparent that an ‘Arteta Knows Brigade’ has already formed amongst some sections of our fan base and many Arsenal supporters refuse to acknowledge that although Mikel Arteta has done a very good job to date, like all managers, there are occasions where he is fallible too. He’s now been in the job for 10 months and we can’t keep excusing him for any mistakes he makes, just because he’s ‘new’ to the role.
Having lost 1-0 to Manchester City at the Etihad, I wasn’t a fan of hearing Mikel saying that he was “extremely proud of the players for the performance they put in”. We are The Arsenal and he’s not the manager of some plucky lower league team who narrowly lost in a cup competition. Accepted, it wasn’t the thumping that we’ve all become accustomed to in this fixture but had Arsene Wenger or Unai Emery said the same thing, Arsenal supporters would have slaughtered them for saying it. Instead, Arteta’s words had many fans singing from the same hymn sheet and sharing their pride in defeat. Sorry, actually I’m not, but I didn’t feel proud, particularly considering that we offered little serious attacking threat during the second half.
At this juncture of my article, undoubtedly there will be some readers accusing me of behaving in a fickle manner towards Arteta, so I will categorically state that I am not turning on him or getting on his back and that I retain the belief that he remains the right man to take us forwards. I am also very happy to acknowledge that Mikel deserves a lot of credit for making us far more organised defensively, an approach that ultimately helped him to steer us to last season’s FA Cup success. However, I think it’s fair to start questioning whether his pragmatic approach to games is beginning to have too much of a negative effect on our attacking threat recently.
I said it in one of my recent articles too but I don’t consider us to have played particularly well since the opening day of the season, not over ninety minutes anyway, and whilst we were organised defensively against Manchester City, we weren’t impressive as an attacking force. Mikel’s experiment of playing Willian in a new role didn’t work and if the truth be told, he’s offered very little in general of late. Is the manager or the player to blame for our failure to get the best out of him on a consistent basis so far? The player who often looks the most likely to unlock the oppositions defence, is also the youngest in the team, in the form of Bukayo Saka.
I’m sure some supporters won’t agree but as far as I’m concerned, I’m of the opinion that Arteta is still searching for the right balance in our midfield and attack. I’m optimistic that the addition of Thomas Partey to the squad will assist him greatly with finding a positive solution though. Whilst I’m pleased with his signing, it must be said that the club’s PR department have really overdone it with the frequent ‘Partey’ slogans, talk about putting pressure on a him with all the build up! Mikel was criticised for not starting Partey at the Etihad, but I can understand it to some degree, what with the limited time he’s has to train with his new team mates etc. It did seem strange to leave it so long to bring him on though.
When you are winning games, supporters don’t really care what type of footballing you are playing and the studious types consider all different styles of play to be entertaining. However, I haven’t personally found our style of play to be overly enjoyable recently. It’s probably not an understatement to suggest that any footballing neutral would most likely consider us to currently be one of the least entertaining teams in the league. It is often said that many a true word is spoken in jest and it was not too long ago that, following a good performance against Fulham, I joked that Mohamed Elneny would always shine in our current style of play due to the number of backwards and sideway passes we make during games.
After scoring three goals in our first three league games, Alexandre Lacazette’s omission from the starting eleven was a bizarre decision on Mikel’s behalf, in my opinion. As far as I’m concerned, when you have a striker who is in form and scoring goals, you keep him in the team. I’m not by any means suggesting that he’s the long term answer and understand that he might not fit into Arteta’s future plans but at the same time, he was the only player in the team who was consistently putting the ball in the back of the net when selected at the start of the season. So why drop him, did he want to leave or perhaps Mikel wanted to sell him?
In the eyes of many, we remain short of creativity in midfield, something that can’t be rectified until the transfer window opens again in January, so it’s down to Mikel to get more out of the players that he does have at his disposal. With Mesut Ozil being left out of our Premier League squad list, I’m sure his name will be mentioned in hundreds of articles over the next few days and weeks, so I’ll leave that subject for others to focus on in more depth. However, even with Ozil out of the equation, I believe that the talent is there, in both a playing sense and where Arteta’s tactical nous is concerned, for us to start delivering more as an attacking force.
Thankfully, we don’t have to play Liverpool and Manchester City every week but other sides have recently shown what can be achieved against those teams, if you stop showing them too much respect like we did. I appreciate that freak results can happen in football but the truth is that we have failed to land a glove on either side in our two league games against them so far this campaign.
Undoubtedly, Mikel’s safety first approach worked exceptionally well at the end of last season but I’m of the opinion that in order for him to truly start taking us to the next level, he will need to start removing our attacking shackles in the not too distant future. In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, Willian and Eddie Nketiah, we really should have sufficient firepower and it’s down to Mikel to find the most efficient way for us to load the bullets for them, using the players we have.
I’m sure I’ll be called impatient by supporters who believe that Mikel can do no wrong but I’m not and I fully understand that it will take time for any manager to get us to where we all want us to be. I will also reiterate that I have faith that Arteta is the man who can take us there. I haven’t forgotten the FA Cup win and I’m not disloyal, I’m just a fan who needs more than a narrow to defeat to make me proud of my team.
Having been born in 1984, I’ve experienced Arsenal life before Wenger and therefore, I certainly don’t fear it beyond him. That said, I admire and respect his past achievements at the club. I often get called negative but personally, I prefer the term honest and honesty is something that I pride myself on. I joined Gunners Town after penning several ‘Dear Arsene Wenger’ letters on my Facebook profile and sharing them in Arsenal supporter groups. These were met with praise and the encouragement to start writing my own blog, from fellow Arsenal supporters, who felt my words summed up their own feelings perfectly. So here I am…..