Assessing Arsenal’s Start to the Season

is season so far, with moments of brilliance as well as humbling defeats. They lie twelfth in the table after eight games and still with a negative goal difference. Having lost the first three matches deservingly, form did pick up with three wins in a row before failing to win against Brighton and then Crystal Palace. This is reflective of the inconsistency that the team is showing, and manager Mikel Arteta is coming under scrutiny as a result. Goal scoring has been a particular problem, with only seven up till now, along with finding an attacking structure that suits the players. Fans are wondering what Arteta’s plan is for this side, and rightly so with the recent performances.

It should firstly be noted that Arsenal had a solid summer transfer window. The club invested around 150 million into six signings, all of which have performed well. Nuno Tavares has provided able cover at left back to Tierney; Sambi Lokonga looks like a gem from Anderlecht; Ben White has kept three clean sheets in the league in five games; Odegaard has shown great potential; Ramsdale has taken over from Leno as the leading goalkeeper well; and Tomiyasu has been a suitable replacement for Hector Bellerin. This means that Arteta has plenty of talent to use, and this is now his team. The performances, however, are yet to showcase this talent.

Defensively, the team still makes mistakes but the main issue is in attack. The team struggles to create and score despite at times having Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Saka and Aubameyang all on the pitch together. Seven goals in eight games is concerning, and Arteta cannot rely on the defence and narrow wins throughout the season.

The first three games, losses to Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City, were bound to be tough given absences of key players due to injuries and Covid. Gabriel, signed from Lille last summer, has shown in the next four games his significance in the centre of the defence. His partnership with Ben White looks promising, and he was badly missed in the opening matches. Thomas Partey was also a big loss, who is the engine room for the midfield. However, the performances were unacceptable for any Arsenal team, especially against Manchester City with a humiliating 5-0 defeat. Since then they have picked up somewhat, but the underlying problems are still there. Arguably, Arteta has been helped by a change in personnel, rather than by his system and tactics.

Arteta has now had two years and four transfer windows but the team is yet to show real progress. His first half season ended well by winning the FA Cup, something which the club was supposed to build on. However, last season showed stagnation instead. Bar a few glimpses and five wins from the last five games, the team struggled, finishing eighth again and getting knocked out of the Europa League to Villareal in the semi finals after a woeful two legs. The struggles were especially indicated by the run in the lead up to Christmas. It has to be one of the worst in recent memory for Arsenal, winless for seven games and with notably abject performances against Aston Villa, Burnley and Everton. And, at one stage the club slipped to fifteenth. The team picked up in the second half of the season following the introduction of Smith Rowe but the damage was already done. Arteta has since had more money, and the team is yet to be convincing.

The team needed a fortunate goal mouth tap in to defeat Norwich, widely tipped to be relegated, and Burnley was a lucky win, as Odegaard’s free kick did just about enough. Ramsdale was instrumental again in the 0-0 draw at Brighton, before Crystal Palace at home was lacklustre after going ahead early on. Players are back now unlike the first three games, and overall it has been disappointing. The first half against Tottenham has been the only period in eight games with the team being in total control. There is no European football this season as well. Two games a week can sometimes be an explanation for underwhelming performances, as with last season, but Arteta cannot use that anymore. The aim should be top six with the squad he has, and anything less than that with one game a week will be poor, as well as a decent run in one of the domestic cups. To do this something has to give soon with regards to the system and the plan, otherwise his position will have to be considered.

All in all, this is a crucial period for Arsenal. This season the club has to try and qualify for European football again, and at the moment it looks uncertain as to whether they will. Arteta has had enough time now, and the team has been upgraded, but on the pitch they are not showing much progression. He came into the job with no prior managerial experience and on a few occasions has looked out of his depth. As shown by the first half of last season, you cannot afford to slip early on or else the possibility of European football might disappear soon. The key task is to establish a formation that can bring goals in attack, and hopefully the defence can keep providing a solid foundation. This will bring consistency, something which fans are desperate for after the first eight games.

I ran a Twitter poll which received 335 votes from Arsenal fans on what they think about Arteta’s position as manager and the results were not positive : only 13% think he is the right man for the job, 42% are unsure and think he needs more time, whilst 45% want him sacked now. This indicates that results have to pick up in the near future.

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