Mikel Arteta Fate at Arsenal Could Rest on Fixtures Against Brighton & Hove Albion and West Bromwich Albion

Mikel Arteta

Christmas and New Year has always been one of the most important periods of the season in England, simply because of the sheer number of games that are played at this time of the year. While other major European leagues sensibly have a winter break, the Premier League, like the old Division One before it, ploughs on regardless, partly because it is the only major European league still operating during the holidays and therefore can monopolise global footballing eyeballs. But for Arsenal, this Christmas and New Year period could be particularly important, even historic, because if they do not emerge from their current slump, particularly against Brighton & Hove Albion and West Bromwich Albion, they will almost certainly be facing the realistic prospect of relegation from English football’s top flight for the first time in more than a century, and Mikel Arteta will undoubtedly be facing the sack.

Mikel Arteta Arsenal Fate Could Rest on Brighton and West Brom Matches

Beaten Before They Began at Everton?

Arsenal’s latest capitulation in the league under Mikel Arteta came at Everton over the weekend. Goodison Park has traditionally been one of Arsenal’s trickiest away fixtures, with even the great George Graham and early Arsène Wenger teams suffering losses there. However, the difference this time around was that it almost felt as if Arsenal were beaten before the game when it was announced that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had suffered a calf strain and would sit out the match. With him went Arsenal’s best (some would say only) chance of scoring an away goal, and although they did eventually manage to equalise Everton’s opener through a penalty, as soon as Yerry Mina had scored Everton’s second goal just before half-time, it always appeared unlikely than an Auba-less Arsenal would ever score a second leveller. And so it proved.

Thus Arsenal made it a truly un-magnificent seven, with the Everton match their seventh Premier League game in succession without winning. In that time, they have lost five times, including a record-equalling four defeats in a row at home, drawn twice and scored a grand total of three goals. Put simply, that is relegation form and unless Mikel Arteta can somehow find a way to get the team scoring goals and winning again, they will definitely be involved in a relegation battle and he will almost certainly get sacked.

And the Next Match is Not Even in the League

What is particularly frustrating for Arteta and Arsenal fans is that their next game is not even a Premier League game, but a League Cup quarter-final against Manchester City, Arteta’s old employers. In a sense, this is the worst possible match for Arsenal at the moment, because rather than focusing exclusively on the league and the desperate need to gain some points somehow, Arteta must first figure out how to confront a City side that have also stuttered this season but now look as if they might be getting back to somewhere near their best.

Ironically, such has been Arteta’s phenomenal success in cups, both domestic and European, since he took over at Arsenal that he has actually won more cup games in the last year than league games. That includes, of course, winning the FA Cup last summer, when he somehow inspired Arsenal to beat first Manchester City and then Chelsea in the semi-final and final respectively. However, that cup win, welcome as it was, only emphasises how anaemic Arsenal’s league form has been since Arteta took over. And even if Arteta somehow inspires Arsenal to another victory tomorrow night against City, it will do nothing to improve the club’s miserable league form.

To do that, Arsenal have to wait until Boxing day, when they play Chelsea in the Premier League. However, as the perfect illustration of how far Arsenal have fallen under Arteta, it is likely that the attention of most Arsenal fans will not be on the London derby against Chelsea but on the following two league games over the Christmas period, both of which are away, against two of the very few teams that are still below Arsenal in the Premier League table.

Brighton First, Then West Brom – Both Away

First, Arsenal go to Brighton on Tuesday 29th December. Last season, of course, Graham Potter’s team did the double over Arsenal, winning home and away in the league: they beat a Freddie Ljungberg-led side at the Emirates in December; and then, in one of the first matches played after the original lockdown had ended, they beat Arteta’s Arsenal 2-1. That was the game that effectively ended Matteo Guendouzi’s Arsenal career, as Arteta dropped the young Frenchman after he was alleged to have been a ‘Big Match Charlie’ (or perhaps “Big Match Charlemagne”) against Brighton.

It says everything about the current Arsenal team’s generally poor quality that Brighton, who have struggled to win any Premier League matches at all under Graham Potter, should have beaten them twice last season. And although Brighton have so far failed to win at home this season (having drawn 1-1 with ten-man Sheffield United at the Amex Stadium over the weekend), they are likely to be fighting for their own Premier League lives when they face Arsenal. And unlike Arsenal themselves, who cannot have fans at The Emirates because of the latest Coronavirus restrictions in London, they should have at least 2,000 fans to cheer them on.

Allardyce the Real Iceberg for Mikel Arteta

However, the real iceberg lurking on the horizon for Mikel Arteta, his Arsenal team and perhaps his whole managerial career, is the match at West Bromwich Albion under their new manager, Sam Allardyce. The one-time England boss regularly tested and often tormented some of the greatest Arsenal sides of recent decades when he was manager of Bolton Wanderers, most notably when his Trotters side came from two goals down at home against Arsenal in the spring of 2003 to snatch an unlikely draw, a result that effectively prevented Arsenal from retaining the Premier League title. Even allowing for Albion’s generally poor form this season, Allardyce will certainly have them fired up for Arsenal’s arrival. Quite simply, there is nothing that Allardyce likes better than beating Arsenal, and he may be especially fired up this time because there is a chance that defeating Arsenal might just mean the end of Arteta’s management of the club.

That is not too great an exaggeration. If Arsenal were to lose to Chelsea at home (which, given both teams’ current form, is eminently possible), and then fail to win away at Brighton, then the pressure would really be on for their third Premier League game of the Christmas 2020 schedule. And if Big Sam can achieve one of his trademark victories against Arsenal, there is every chance that the Gunners would no longer be just above the relegation zone but actually in it.

Managers (Even Popular Ones) Can’t Keep Losing

If that comes to pass, then Mikel Arteta will surely go. For all the vocal, even voluble, backing he has received from Arsenal’s technical director, Edu (who is himself a novice in his new job, having been recruited by Arsenal from his job with the Brazilian national team rather than from another club), the first rule of football management is that you cannot keep losing games. That is precisely what Arteta has been doing, in stutteringly spectacular style, and unless he can arrest that run of defeats and draws in time for the two relegation six-pointers against Brighton and West Brom, he will surely be gone from the Arsenal dugout and technical area before the start of the FA Cup third round.


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