No More Excuses, Mikel.
After a little over 20 months in charge, it does not feel like Arsenal Football Club have progressed much under Mikel Arteta. After two consecutive eighth-place finishes in the Premier League, the team currently sit dead last in the table after three matches. In that first trio of games to start the 2021-22 season, Arsenal scored no goals and conceded nine, including five that came in a supremely undignified defeat away to Manchester City. After so many promises of evolution and much being made of a great rebuild at the club, the Arteta project feels a bit stagnant at the moment.
To be fair, the former-club-captain-turned-manager hasn’t had it easy. When he took the job in December of 2019, he arrived at an Arsenal in disarray. It carried a bloated squad, haphazardly constructed by multiple regimes and filled with overpaid stars past their primes. A lack of adequate supervision of the C-suite by the ownership had led to internal power struggles and opportunism. Revenues were down at a time when the rest of the “Big Six” were increasing in value. Not only has Arteta had to contend with such a monumental challenge in his first managerial job, but he has also had to tackle it during the most devastating pandemic in over a century.
However, he has not made his job any easier. He has fallen out with talented players, employed questionable tactics at critical moments of last season, and led the charge on some rather inadvisable acquisitions. If he had been sacked at any point in the last several months, he really could not have complained. But Arsenal have persisted with him and really committed to giving him time and resources in order to be successful.
Now, after a disappointing end to last season and a practically embarrassing start to the current campaign, Arteta has been backed in the transfer market. Nuno Tavares, Sambi Lokonga, Ben White, Martin Odegaard, Aaron Ramsdale, and Takehiro Tomiyasu have been brought in as further reinforcements to a core of young, high-ceiling players the Spaniard has been tasked with coaching into eventual contenders. The last four are players that Arteta himself pushed for, and very much seem tailor-made for the manager’s preferred style of play.
Additionally, Arteta has been allowed to make other long-term decisions regarding the squad’s makeup. Matteo Guendouzi has been ushered out to Marseille in the form of a loan with an obligation to buy. William Saliba joins his compatriot in the south of France for his third consecutive loan spell since coming to Arsenal. Joe Willock was sold to Newcastle despite having a goal-scoring capacity the team could arguably use at the moment. Dinos Mavropanos will leave north London for Stuttgart through another loan with an obligation to buy.
Previously, Arteta had rejected substantial bids for Hector Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who have since declined massively in importance to the manager. The Arsenal boss also quashed any interest in Eddie Nketiah ahead of the January transfer window despite West Ham being interested, and the club reportedly refused to give the striker to Brighton as part of the White deal. He was heavily involved in convincing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to sign a massive three-year extension, as well as the signings of Willian, Cedric Soares, and Pablo Mari.
Yes, eight of the players in Arteta’s starting XI to face Manchester City two weeks ago had been signed while Arsene Wenger was still in charge. But at this point, after dozens of transactions in both directions, it would be undeservedly generous to say that this is not yet Arteta’s Arsenal. It may not be the final form he has in mind, but he has gone quite some way toward shaping the squad in his image.
Today, Arsenal begin a run of comparatively winnable games in the Premier League. First, they host Norwich before traveling to Burnley, and then are tasked with the first North London Derby of the season. This is followed by fixtures against Brighton, Crystal Palace, and Aston Villa. After three losses, Arsenal need to pick up points quickly, and this will be one of the best times during the season to do so.
Stan and Josh Kroenke likely know by now that the process for rebuilding a team is different in European football than it is in the NFL or the NBA. In the Premier League, no built-in parity exists that allows teams to tank for a couple seasons and then quickly vault to championship contention. Clubs must continue to produce results while restoring themselves to top status. Arteta recently admitted as much, saying that such is the nature of football.
Arteta has been extended a lot of patience by both the Arsenal hierarchy and the club faithful; more than most managers get, honestly. But after all that has gone wrong, with the backdrop of Arsenal’s historic rivals entering a different stratosphere and former midtable teams threatening to bypass them as well, there is only so much that can be tolerated. The rookie manager has been given a Wenger-like level of influence at the club. He has been allowed to make mistakes, even at a time when Arsenal must be near-perfect in order to return to prominence, in the name of the great Arsenal rebuild.
But already, the margin for error has been greatly eroded. Although we are only three matches in, the club are already several points behind their rivals for the top six places. The results must start coming if Arsenal are to compete for European places and continue on their path back to the upper echelon of English football. Arteta needs to repay the immense faith placed in him. He must show that he has what it takes to bring the project to fruition. Otherwise, Arsenal need to find someone else who can thread the needle between long-term aims and immediate production.
The players are back. The hiding places are gone. The time to deliver is now. No more excuses, Mikel.
If you enjoyed this article, follow me on Twitter @dopegooner.