The concept of time in the world of football is whimsical. As a manager, if you have results to show for, this world of ours is as forgiving as it is revering. But these results must bear with them the impression of growth in the culture of football which includes everything that comes under the giant umbrella of stats and in good faith must exhibit their advancement on this track. Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have some answering to do in the coming weeks if we are to convincingly conclude that they have boarded this train of impending success.
Since he became the manager of the Arsenal Football Club, in the third week of what was a very disheartening December for the fans, growth and style-of-play have pervaded through the Emirates. But that hasn’t necessarily translated into results. With only 3 wins from 9 games that he has been in charge of, it is safe to say that the tides call for more rising.
To be fair to Arteta, there have been visible signs of it as well, but to his anguish, these have lasted for periods of the game where his players simply fail to capitalize on comfortable chances. He has visibly brought more steel to a system which saw its birth under Arsene Wenger, who had famously said that attack is the best form of defence, with passing that has been seen to carry more intent to push the play forward than sideways - which was the case in the finals days of Wenger at Arsenal’s helm.
Comparing it with Unai Emery’s tenure seems rather fatuous as he had failed to establish any concrete style in his team in his 18-month spell with the Gunners, even though their starts are comparable with respect to points earned.
Players who were once deemed to be a success but struggled later on, seem to have found their mojo back. This list does not include Alexandre Lacazette though, who has had difficulties in bringing forth his skills to best use for his team. While his form has been a concern, players like Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka have performed as per their roles and with some vigour, especially Xhaka who has witnessed a rebirth of sorts under Arteta.
On the other hand, their talismanic playmaker Mesut Ozil, who saw his place and status quo in a questionable position under Emery, hasn’t yet been fully convincing with the new belief entrusted upon him by the Spaniard.
The lack of creativity in the squad otherwise hasn’t given him much room to experiment either, though he seems to rate young Joe Willock as someone who can take up the mantle when given the opportunity. The fact that he hasn’t been consistent enough, casts a shadow of doubt on future at the club as a starter.
Two young players, in particular, who have inarguably been the standout performers for Arsenal in the last few weeks are Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka. While Saka has had to play out of position for the majority of this period, Martinelli has had more favourable chances and has delivered very strikingly across the attacking line. The defence, however, continues to disappoint, with Bernd Leno's shot-stopping abilities begging for a more reliable defensive front to support Arteta’s system.
A squad revamp is essential, and the winter transfer window hasn’t brought a great deal of confidence for the supporters. Pablo Mari is a gamble from every angle but it gives Arteta a much-needed option. Little can be said about Cedric Soares as his loan deal has fans more confused than relieved, for spending on a player who is currently nursing an injury.
Playing out from the back requires several attributes which this squad isn’t an embodiment of. It needs to be quick and purposeful while they are it. A fusion of timely distributed long balls has been one of the things which Arteta has brought in into the system, and with runners behind these balls, it promises to bear rich fruits for him.
Jurgen Klopp has garnered much praise for building a monster that is the current Liverpool team, which took him a good amount of time. The last pieces of his puzzle took form as transfer deals settled outside the training ground while he made sure players like Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum reached their full potential with their work behind the scenes.
Arsenal are on a similar ride here, with the deciding tunnel a few good transfer windows away. With that said, Arteta’s time so far has been a casket of ambiguous results as the Gunners have plunged to their worst standing at this stage of a league season since 1913. He hasn’t been the sole architect of it so it goes without saying that his true test lies in the coming weeks, as fans are incessantly asking for more.Published 14 Feb 2020, 16:20 IST