It’s been a funny old start for The Arsenal this season. We’ve had the low of those three defeats in a row to kick off the 2021-22 campaign, which were then followed up with a couple of narrow 1-0 victories over lowly Norwich and Burnley. A quite underwhelming start, to say the least.
Then came the North London derby – a crucial tie that we simply had to win for the sake of morale and team stability. And we did, with three very satisfying first half goals proving enough to beat a poor Spurs side.
As is tradition, Arsenal pulled us back to reality after that with two rather lacklustre draws against Brighton and Crystal Palace, before conjuring up a superb performance to bury Aston Villa 3-1 at The Grove last week.
All very up and down so far and, if we’re honest, that’s very much the kind of form you’d expect to see from an upper-midtable side.
So, where does this leave Mikel Arteta and the management? And is this progress? Well, on the back of another 8th place finish, it isn’t really – but that’s not to say there definitely won’t be any come the end of the season.
Like many Gooners, I’ve had various moments of wanting the current management replaced and do still lean towards the notion that it may still be too big of a job for Mikel. That said, we would love nothing more than to be wrong and, despite everything, there are certainly hints of some sunshine on the horizon.
For starters, the club had a surprisingly good summer transfer window, recruiting players that clearly fit the club’s game plan going forward. No more deadwood cast-offs to plug squad holes (cough Willian cough), but instead a series of young and driven players yet to hit their prime.
Martin Odegaard (22), Ben White (24), Sambi Lokonga (22), Takehiro Tomiyasu (22), Nuno Tavares (21) and, of course, Aaron Ramsdale (22). That’s alongside new deals for golden boy Emile Smith-Rowe (21) and Kieran Tierney (24). Throw in a Bukayo Saka (20) for good measure – who also signed a new deal in 2020 – and you can start to build a picture of the 3-5 year plan that management are obviously going for.
I think you’d be hard-pushed to find an Arsenal fan that doesn’t absolutely love the likes of Saka and Smith-Rowe – or hasn’t fallen in love with Aaron Ramsdale. Clearly, there is also a personality profile being sought: young, intelligent and enthusiastic, with an understanding of what it means to play for our club.
Additionally, a few of the experienced heads seem to be hitting a rejuvenated patch too – especially Aubameyang, whose 7 goals in 9 games so far this season is his best start to a campaign in an Arsenal shirt. Pleasing to see after a rather lacklustre showing last year.
So, the blueprint is there, and the first team are now all in place at the will of the management. That just leaves tactics, which will no doubt prove to be either the making or downfall of Mikel Arteta as Arsenal gaffer. The jury is still out on that one, as the lack of consistency has shown.
Personally, I want nothing more than to see him succeed at Arsenal. He’s clearly intelligent, highly thought of and knows the club very well. Plus, what would be better than a former captain coming back and eventually succeeding as manager?
However, we cannot afford that romantic notion to blind us. If the season suddenly takes a turn and the likes of the Europa League become too far out of reach again, then it would probably have to be time to say adios, amigo.
Because with every season that ticks by with Arsenal away from the top tables of Europe, is another year that will see more clubs overtake us. Especially those with serious and dedicated owners.
And, while managerial and tactical issues are real hurdles, the root cause of Arsenal’s mediocrity is and has always been the quiet and hands-off ownership of KSE. Yes, money has gone into the squad in recent years – but that’s after a decade of underfunding and letting the club slip into mediocrity and mismanagement. And let’s not even mention the arrogance of their European Super League “ambitions”.
Would I trust Stan and Josh to make the call on Arteta at the right time? No, they proved that with Emery, who should have walked three months sooner than he did. Would I trust them to replace him well, should he end up canned? Not a chance. The sooner they sell up, the quicker Arsenal Football Club can start to breathe again.
With that in mind, every bit of my Arsenal-supporting soul hopes Mikel makes it and proves everyone wrong. And, whilst I fear it won’t happen, if he and the team can build on a few of the current positives, then you just never know.
By Daniel Todd