The Arsenal Squad That’s Limping Towards the Finish of This Year’s Prem Season Isn’t Mikel Arteta’s, Nor Will It Be Come Season’s End
The Hall of Fame NFL coach Bill Parcells once lamented his lack of control over personnel by comparing himself to a gourmet chef. “If I’m going to be asked to cook the meal,” he said, “I’d like to be able to pick the groceries.”
Six months into term as Arsenal’s manager, Mikel Arteta understands. Two sloppy defeats after the ten-week Covid-19 break saw a sector of the fan base, so full of praise after Arteta’s quick start, quickly turn on the new man, questioning his judgment and his worthiness to pull the club from their malaise.
Fair or not, it’s clear that Arteta’s primary handicap, injuries aside, is his lack of control over personnel. To borrow Parcells’ metaphor, Mikel Arteta is preparing dishes with ingredients from Unai Emery’s and Arsene Wenger’s cupboards.
A quick perusal of the team’s spine suggests that the meat of next year’s club, the first that will have Arteta’s full stamp of approval, is currently elsewhere. In Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion, Arteta finished with a lineup whose spine bore the names Martinez, Holding, Mustafi, Ceballos, Guendouzi, Saka, and Lacazette.
How many of those do you expect to start down Arsenal’s spine when the ‘20-’21 season begins, never mind be on the team?
The manager has tried to mix midfield ingredients in new and untried combinations. The results do not impress. Yesterday, Bukayo Saka got a start in Mesut Ozil’s role behind the attackers. The youngster carried the ball inside the Brighton defense in the early minutes and rattled a shot off the crossbar, but he spent the rest of the afternoon struggling to find his place. In the 50th minute, he delayed a release pass to Pierre Aubamayang a moment too long, putting the striker inches offside on a run that would have put Arsenal ahead. Saka looked far more comfortable later in the match when he moved back to left-wing.
Such is the reality for Arteta, who is missing Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, and the aforementioned Ozil, who started and remained on Arsenal’s bench. Arteta has gifted the youngsters Saka, Mateo Guendouzi, and Joe Willock heavy minutes, looking for someone to feed his attackers. Aubameyang, most notably, has gone hungry.
So too have the fans, who expected finer football dining and have instead seen cheap, unfilling matches that remind too much of Emery’s spiceless offerings. Their frustration is understandable, but Pablo Mari was the only ingredient Arteta was able to buy in his January shopping trip and Pablo is done for the rest of the year with an injury.
Arteta has eight more dinners to prepare before he gets to write up his own shopping list for Raul Sanhelli and send his boss to the transfer market. After burning his first two post-COVID dishes, will Arsenal fans have the patience, and the stomach, for the improvised recipes he’s fated to serve?