Oh deary me. What a catastrophe. This is truly going to be a long hard season. And not just for fans. For Mr. Arteta. I fear this was a game that reenforced all the negatives that have been hurled at him. Today we were officially out thought and out tacticed – if there is such a word.
We are also the unluckiest team I know. Faced with a slim chance of getting any points we have Tierney as our referee. The fouls were all called against us and the penalty was not given. Not that we deserved much. But we have no luck. That and COVID. No Ben White. He was missed. Who selected Cedric? Not me. He kept everyone on side for that first goal and was generally crap. Bellerin must surely be headed out (which we know he is) if Cedric is picked ahead of him (maybe Hector was injured – maybe one of his tattoos turned septic). But why not play Maitland-Niles. This is don’t get. I don’t care what AMN wants. He’s out best right back. Play him – we already pay him.
Mari was pretty shit as well. Two games and there’s no real evidence he should be starting. I know we have Gabriel to come back but Mari lacks physicality. I know Lukaku is a beast – a la Drogba – but Mari still thinks he’s playing in a European league where if you flop over the ref will award a free-kick. Mari has been around long enough to know better.
Saka looked way off today. His first touch was not there. And he did not provide Tesco Tierney with any cover. And, of course, like everyone else, this is where we are all wondering why Arteta could not see this imbalance on our left. The majority of these opportunities and both goals came from the imbalance on the left. Yes, positionally Holding and Cedric – and Mari – should have been smarter but James had the freedom of the park on their right. And nothing changed throughout the entire games. Again, this speaks to the claims that Arteta can’t make in game adjustments. It’s hard to argue against that point after todays performance.
We started pretty decently. We pressed – inconsistently – and have a higher energy level than last week. That is, we were marginally better than lifeless and dead. The crowd was behind the team. The opportunity was there. At least for 14 minutes.
It all seemed so predictable. So depressingly familiar. They just played like a coordinated team whereas we were disjointed. There were only a few passages of play where we linked up and applied any pressure. We don’t look like a team. And they did. And we did not last week. Whereas even Brentford did. This, unfortunately, is on Arteta. This is what is so worrying. It’s a long, long season. But the pressure will now mount. And unnecessarily so. It feels like the Arteta that set up the team to beat Chelsea last year and the Arteta that figured out how to win the F. A. Cup has disappeared. The cohesion that he introduced seems to have vanished. We seem to be going backwards. Albeit with better players.
Sambi was, again, excellent. He made a couple of stunning long, cross-field passes. In both cases Saka and Martinelli wasted their chances. Both times their touch let them down. Both of them seem way off their games. Prior to getting injured Martinelli was in-effective as center-forward; only when he went out to the left did he liven up.
Pepe remains an enigma. At times he will be brilliant. Today was not one of those days. He barely defended and did not aggressively close down when we were trying to press. For our most expensive signing he infuriates.
ESR was the only one who seemed focused and determined to take the games to them. His close ball control is excellent. Only when he linked up with Sambi did we generate any momentum. And that usually involved Tierney as well.
We were so exposed to their counter-attack today. Sambi played up field on the right and Xhaka on the left. There was too little cover directly in front of the defense. Maybe if we had Partey it would be different. Maybe if we have Cigarette. Maybe if we had White. But we did not need Ramsdale. Today, Leno was at his shot stopping best. It’s hard to blame him for either goal. But he made one world-class save from Lukaku – who really should have scored. And a number of other saves. Of course, his distribution remained pretty iffy. But, today, he was not our problem.
When they played it out of the back they had Jorghino dropping short and others making themselves available. When we try to play it out it would too often be up to Mari or Holding to play the ball through the lines. That is not how it should work. Also, we have a toothless attack. Martinelli and then Balogun are no Aubameyang or Cigarette. They carried no threat. Even in that first half when Tierny was crossing the ball we were too late at getting into the box.
So, where is the identify of this team? Where were todays tactics? After a display like this – and with Man City next up – the pressure will mount on Arteta. And, to be honest, today was the first time I’ve started to worry about him. Sure, we miss some key players. But I don’t get what he was trying to do and how he could not correct what he was seeing on the pitch. Tierney was so exposed today. He had no help. Saka was not tuned in. Arteta should have made an adjustment. But here we are no points and no goals. The media momentum will just pile on the pressure. Luckily our owners are tone deaf and nothing will happen in the short-term. But once we’re into October and after the NLD, if this team does not demonstrate some identify Arteta will be on a very short leash.
We have a superior squad now. We have White, Sambi and Partey as new additions in the last 12 months. We have a brand spanking new GK. ESR and Saka have come on leaps and bounds. But yet, we seemed to be lost and aimless. You can see the pressure and strain on Arteta. I want him to succeed. He’s intelligent, articulate and passionate about Arsenal. But that’s not enough. Other managers have landed in other clubs and within less than a year have had a positive impact. Arguably that was true of Arteta. But here we are, worried and unsure as to whether we can progress. And, for once, here when I say “we” I mean me. Brentford, for me, was a freak result. The kind of results we’d seen before at Bolton. Stoke and Burnley. We also had lost Aubameyang and Cigarette to COVID. But today, minus White, we were shape-less and clue-less. Much more worrying. Not that I thought we’d beat Chelsea. But the first game at home for a new season, the first game at home with a crowd after 18 months. You’d expect more. We could not create, and we could not defend. There is no balance to this team.
Sure, Chelsea are a good team but we never really tested them. Their goalie had but one or two real saves. Too many of our players underperformed. That was one of the weakest games I’ve seen from Holding. Likewise from Tierney and Saka. And I worry that some of that is down to our shape and tactics. And our lack of ability to adjust intra-game. And that, unfortunately, comes down to Arteta.
I am a patient man. Sometimes. And I’ll remain a supporter of Arteta for a while longer. Let him get all his players back fit and healthy. Let’s see how the next 8 to 10 games play out. By then I think we’ll see whether he has managed to stabilize this team. Whether the progress and gains of last season have been built on – that the trajectory has changed. But, this is an unforgiving league. With unforgiving – and shit – referees. For a manager that has no luck with the health of his players and refs that never gives us any decisions that is a tough spot to be in. And one that, for a young, inexperienced manager, I worry about.
So I’ve not least faith yet. But it’s beginning to crack. And, for that, I’m angry. This should not be where we are. I like the developments on the transfer side. I like the new additions. I’m sure we’ll remove a few redundant players. To be clear, it’s not the lack of points. Or goals. It’s only two games. Rather it’s the aimless and unstructured football that we’re playing. It’s our lack of identity. This is something we had in the early part of Arteta’s reign. I worry that Arteta has lost his mojo. And there’s no mini-me to help him rediscover it.