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Explained: Who is to blame for Arsenal’s worst start in 46 years?

With 13 points from 12 matches in the Premier League so far, Arsenal are placed 15th on the table. They have scored just 10 goals and conceded 10. Still early days, but this is their worst start in 46 years.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata | Updated: December 17, 2020 7:34:45 am
arsenal, arsenal arteta, mikel arteta, arteta, football newsArsenal's manager Mikel Arteta touches his face during an English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates stadium in London (Laurence Griffiths/Pool via AP)

Poor performance on the pitch and problems off it, Arsenal are in crisis. At any club, the buck stops with the manager as far as football is concerned. Arsenal’s problems, though, go way beyond Mikel Arteta.

How bad are things on the pitch?

With 13 points from 12 matches in the Premier League so far, Arsenal are placed 15th on the table. They have scored just 10 goals and conceded 10. Still early days, but this is their worst start in 46 years. Also, they have lost their last four home matches.

Is on-pitch discipline an issue?

When Granit Xhaka grabbed Burnley’s Ashley Westwood by the throat and received his marching orders during his team’s 0-1 loss on Sunday, it was the sixth time that an Arsenal player was red-carded in the Premier League since Arteta took charge about a year ago.

Xhaka’s red card came at the time when the Gunners were enjoying a good spell. The incident saw Arsenal surrender the initiative. Arteta publicly criticised Xhaka after the match like he had called Nicolas Pepe’s action “unacceptable” after the latter was sent off for headbutting Ezgjan Alioski of Leeds United last month.

But the damage was done.

What are off-the-pitch issues?

The Mesut Ozil issue remains unresolved. But he is not the only player the manager is reportedly having problems with.

Over the last one month or so, the Arsenal manager’s relationship with some senior players has been strained. According to football.london, Arteta’s public criticism of Pepe after his red card at Elland Road didn’t go down well with the dressing room. The report also claimed that “Arteta’s relationship with David Luiz has soured over the past few weeks”. Luiz, however, has denied it.

There have been reports about training-ground leaks as well.

How bad is the Ozil situation?

Unless there’s a dramatic U-turn, it feels like Arteta’s relationship with the German superstar is beyond repair. Mesut Ozil had been left out of the 25-member Premier League squad and he wasn’t included in the Europa League squad either. Arteta insisted that it was a “football decision”.

“My job is to get the best out of every player, to contribute to the team performance. Here I feel at the moment, today, that I have failed. I want the best possible Mesut for the team. And in some moments I was able to get close to that, and at the moment I have not been able to do it because I have to make the decision to leave him out of the squad,” Arteta told reporters in October. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

Ozil took his protest to social media after being left out of the Premier League squad.

“Upon signing my new contract in 2018, I pledged my loyalty and allegiance to the club that I love, Arsenal, and it saddens me that this has not been reciprocated,” he posted, adding that “loyalty is hard to come by nowadays”.

Following the Burnley loss, pressure is mounting on Arteta to reintegrate Ozil, who, at £350,000 a week, is the team’s highest earner. However, the manager is said to have the full backing of the club chiefs.

Do Arsenal need a rebuild?

According to some Arsenal season ticket holders, decay had set in towards the end of Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign at the club. “… We’re realising just how far Wenger dragged us down by the end of his tenure,” TV presenter and Arsenal fan Piers Morgan tweeted after the Burnley loss.

Wenger’s replacement, Unai Emery, reportedly had lost the dressing room. Now Arteta, who took over in December 2019, needs to tear the house down before rebuilding it.

The likes of Ozil, Luiz, Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi, and Dani Ceballos are expected to leave next summer and a mass clearing-out is on the cards. This is at a time when the club is suffering from the economic fallout of the Covid-19 crisis, and their head of recruitment Francis Cagigao has left after 55 redundancies were announced.

Is Arteta the right man for Arsenal?

As a former Arsenal player, Arteta has credit in the bank. In September, he was promoted to first-team manager from head coach. After replacing Emery, the Spaniard brought in positive vibes and also guided Arsenal to the FA Cup triumph.

Arteta is capable of fulfilling the managerial requirements of a club, thanks to his three-year stint as Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City. At the same time, this is his first job as a manager, at a massive club, and the challenge is huge.

Sir Alex Ferguson has always maintained that it is “very important” for a manager to rise through the ranks, which gives him the required grounding to see through a tough period. Arteta doesn’t have that. The club, though, is backing Arteta.

So Arteta’s job is not under threat?

The Arsenal technical director, Edu, has thrown his weight behind Arteta. “Mikel is doing a great job, he’s doing really well here,” Edu told reporters on Monday.

He added: “If we are not talking about patience with Mikel, it would be very unfair to him because what a year we have faced; three months without football matches, a lot of things changing in the club.”

Arsenal’s next match is against high-flying Southampton on Wednesday, and the public backing for Arteta notwithstanding, another loss would seriously test the board’s resolve.

And do Arsenal need a tactical rejig?

Club legend and former England defender Martin Keown wants Arteta to return to back-five, as according to him, back-four is not working.

“Going into the Aston Villa game last month, Arsenal had the best defensive record and had just won at Old Trafford for the first time in the league since 2006. All with the back five with which they won the FA Cup and Community Shield,” Keown has written in his ‘Daily Mail’ column.

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