Five months ago, Mikel Arteta took his Arsenal side to the Tottenham Hotspur stadium for a North London derby. Back in that July game, the Gunners took the lead in front of no fans, but went on to lose. However, despite the defeat, manager Mikel Arteta looked to be moving in the right direction in his seventh month.
The defeat hardly mattered much, and Arteta looked to even be better stead than his opposite number, Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho. That same month, the Gunners would beat Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final, then beat Chelsea in the final, to end the season with silverware. Things looked on the up.
Yet, by the time another derby came and went, this December, with another Arsenal defeat, things look different. Arsenal have taken a turn for the worse under Arteta, and look in stark contrast to rivals Spurs, who are top of the league.
Mikel Arteta’s Insipid Arsenal Need to Improve Fast
Arsenal’s Woes So Far
It wasn’t just that Arsenal lost to Spurs. Sometimes, there’s no shame in that, asides the rivalry bit, of course. It was that Spurs knew exactly how this would play out. Mourinho and his side served up what looked like a masterclass, partly because of their opponents. Spurs had one shot after the break, which was offside anyway, but that didn’t matter anymore.
That was because they were more than happy to sit back and watch as Arsenal crossed haplessly into the box. Conceding from devastating counter-attacks is one thing. Having most of the ball and time to rectify that, but offering nothing is another. For umpteenth game, captain and striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looked isolated and lost, even though he had a chance or two. No supply, no means of creating. Just pedestrian possession.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal Blueprint
Arteta may be a former coaching underling of Pep Guardiola, but his style feels more pragmatic and conservative than the Manchester City manager. Even in Arsenal’s finest moments under the young Spanish manager – including against City – it has been a case of coordinated attacks than sustained ones. Arsenal learned to pick their moments then strike with efficiency, and well-thought-out plans.
Arteta’s side are defensively solid first. Even with possession, it’s intended to ensure security at the back. This shows in the numbers – only five teams have conceded less than their 14 in the league, and five of those have come against champions Liverpool, Manchester City, and Spurs. This also shows in the fact that Arsenal don’t lose games in which they dominate by concede sloppily through a defensive mishap, something that happened quite occasionally in the past.
Deficiencies of Arteta’s Arsenal Blueprint
However, the attacking side of their play hasn’t worked out well. In the early part of Arteta’s tenure, they had an attacking plan. It all depended on drawing out the opposition, then quickly getting the ball out wide and inside a defender. It worked, and then it’s stopped working. Teams looked to have figured out Arteta’s attacking gameplan, and Arsenal’s stark lack of improvisation upfront is a massive hindrance.
The lack of creative individuals also doesn’t help when collective coordination doesn’t work. Arsenal have scored ten league goals this season – only the bottom three have scored less – and until the previous weekend’s defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers, went on a spell without league goals from open play. No team has created fewer chances than the Gunners (65) and only two teams have had fewer shots on target.
As for no longer losing games when they play well, Arsenal have hardly been playing well. They struggled against Wolves, hung on for dear life against Leeds United, lost comprehensively to Aston Villa, and needed a penalty to beat a similarly tepid Manchester United side.
The Need for a Change in Fortune
Next up for Arsenal are games at Dundalk and at home to Burnley. On one hand, those are games against lower-quality opposition, and look winnable. On the other, those are games in which they’re expected to be enterprising and creative, where they’ve been lacking so far.
But Arsenal need victories, particularly in those two games, as they followed by games against well-drilled Southampton and Everton, then a trip to Brighton, with a League Cup tie against Chelsea in between. Alarm bells are not quite ringing so far for Arsenal, but fans are getting antsy and there have been meetings. With the return of supporters imminent, the need for an upturn in fortunes cannot be over-emphasised.