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Why are Arsenal firing blanks at the moment?

Arsenal

The weather had certainly played its part. Clouds sparsely populated the London sky, but this was a beautiful summer day, that signalled the dawn of a new era for Arsenal Football Club. The man of the moment, Dennis Bergkamp, strode out onto the field sporting an ear to ear grin, flanked by his father and his son. Three generations of the Bergkamp family, held hands while the Arsenal faithful greeted them with rapturous applause.

The non-Flying Dutchman wasn’t the only legend on display. Ian Wright, David Seamen, Patrick Viera, Emmanuel Petit, and Marc Overmars had all donned the Gunners kit one more time, to help mark the occasion for Dennis Bergkamp. On 22 July 2006 Arsenal held a Testimonial Match to celebrate Bergkamp’s eleven years at the club.

But the entirety of the Dutchman’s Gunners career was played at Highbury. Arsenal’s claustrophobic, unwelcoming old stadium. It was a hugely successful period that yielded three Premier League medals and three FA Cups. All six trophies were won under the management of Arsene Wenger.

The opening of the new state of the art Emirates Stadium, to celebrate the occasion, was meant to keep the club financially competitive with Manchester United. But nearly fifteen years later, Arsenal find themselves in a relegation scrap, rather than a championship charge. The demolition of Highbury has since become a metaphor of the club’s subsequent fortunes.

We’ve previously done a piece of the struggles of Manchester United https://sleb.co.za/what-exactly-is-happening-to-manchester-united-at-the-moment/

Now it’s time to ask the long-overdue question. How did English football’s third most successful club end up in this quagmire?

The Emirates Project

During the 1990s, vice-chairman David Dein, and Arsene Wenger felt Arsenal were at a financial disadvantage to Manchester United, simply due to Old Trafford having a larger attendance capacity than Highbury.

Arsenal even played their Champions League fixtures at the old Wembley Stadium, at the turn of the century, to try and maximise profits. The end result was the 60 000 all-seater Emirates, which increased the club’s match day attendance by nearly 22 000. But new stadiums ain’t cheap. Despite a naming rights deal with airline juggernaut, Emirates, that has netted the club over £250 million, loan repayments from the stadium development project have been prioritised over player transfers.

Not only did Arsenal struggle to compete financially with United, but they had to contend with the emergence of the nouveau riche at Chelsea and Manchester City, and a resurgent Liverpool. This has meant Arsenal have slowly regressed over the last fourteen years. You need to only look at the previous transfer window and see how Frank Lampard was backed compared to Mikel Arteta. The Covid19 pandemic has certainly compounded the situation, to the point that Arsenal mascot Gunnersaurus was let go.

Arsenal are expected to finalise their loan repayments later this decade, at which point they’ll begin to fully reap the rewards of a larger stadium. But until then, Arsenal are unlikely to be title challengers. A sobering thought for the Arsenal supporters.

Indiscipline

The numbers speak for themselves. Seven red cards in the last twelve months. Three of which have come in the last five Premiership fixtures. This surely cannot continue.

Mikel Arteta needs to get this situation under control. Premier League football is an unforgiving arena as it is, but Arsenal unnecessarily shooting themselves in the foot just makes it that much more difficult.

Blunt Attack

Again, the numbers reflect poorly on Arsenal. Jokes aside about the Gunners firing blanks, this is a very serious situation. If you cannot create opportunities, you will not score goals. And creating chances is proving to be rather difficult for the North London outfit.

Arsenal are currently ranked 16th in the league for shots and shots on target. And have created fourteen big chances. That’s essentially one big chance a match. As a result, the goals have dried up for star striker and club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Though he did break his duck against Southampton.

The optics don’t look good, as the goal drought has come in the aftermath of a lucrative new contract. It seems if Aubameyang doesn’t score, Arsenal don’t score. Which is a damning verdict on Alexandre Lacazatte.

Brazilian winger Willian registered three assists on the opening day against Fulham but has not provided any since. And the less said about the £72 million man, Nicolas Pepe, the better. It’s hard to believe Arsenal signed Pepe over Wilfred Zaha.

And it gets worse. The only central midfielder who has an assist is Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos, who has a single assist to his name. If only Arsenal had a top-class creative player on their books.

N.B. Stats are for Premier League only

Arsenal Fan TV

In this digital age, footballers have learnt to live with social media criticism from fans. It’s near impossible to avoid. Open up Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, choose any player, and read the comments on one of their posts. Yep.

But one fan channel has stood out above the rest. And not for good reasons. Arsenal Fan TV. Their colourful opinions of their team’s performance is highly entertaining, and usually draws hundreds of thousands of views per post on YouTube.

Whilst players for other clubs rarely comment or react to the opinions of their fans, Hector Bellerin has felt the need to speak out against the popular forum. Even Gary Neville feels Arsenal Fan TV is a distraction the club can do without.

As for regular Gunners supporters, they seem to be split, with some who feel as though Arsenal Fan TV is an embarrassment to their club. But blaming fans for a team’s poor performance is beyond ridiculous. Whatever your thoughts are, fan channels on social media are here to stay.

Mesut Ozil

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has stated that playmaker Mesut Ozil has been dropped for football reasons. But I’m not sure I buy that statement. For football reasons? What does that even mean?

Previous Manager Unai Emery made it clear that Ozil wasn’t suited to a high pressing game. Even going as far as questioning the players work ethic. It didn’t help Ozil’s cause that he only had two assists for the entire 2019/20 season.

There have been off-field issues too, that may or may not have contributed to the current situation. Ozil’s criticism of the Chinese government for the persecution of the Uighur Muslim population, led to inevitable pushback from China. Arsenal’s match against Manchester City was removed from Chinese television. Ozil’s jersey became unavailable for purchase in China. And Arsenal released a statement distancing themselves from Ozil’s comments.

Further damaging his relationship with the Arsenal hierarchy, Ozil refused to take a pay cut of his £350 000 per week salary during the pandemic shutdown. He claimed he wasn’t the only player to turn down a pay cut, but his refusal was the only one made public.

And then, of course, Ozil offered to pay the wages of Gunnersaurus, after the mascot was made redundant. Which proved to be an embarrassing episode for the club.

Whether Ozil is done at the club, we’ll have to wait and see. He is not part of Arsenal’s 25 man squad, therefore he is unavailable for selection despite the club’s creativity struggles. But Arteta can register Ozil in January. If not, the Germans time at The Emirates will surely be over.

Mikel Arteta

Every time the music stops, the Manager is the one left without a chair. If matters don’t improve, the blame will fall squarely on the Manager. Of course, there are others who should share in the responsibility. Majority shareholder Stan Kroenke seems to be indifferent to the situation, or at least that’s the way it appears, as he hardly says anything. The American mogul isn’t going to sack himself, is he?

Graduating from the Pep Guardiola school of football, Arteta has Arsenal playing a possession-based brand of football. But instead of Kevin de Bruyne, he has Granit Xhaka. Just kidding, though Gunners fans are probably short on a sense of humour at the moment.

As I’ve mentioned already, creating chances is a very big problem. Arsenal have completed 6 798 passes this season. And have attempted 133 shots. That’s an average of 51 passes per shot. With the pace of Aubameyang and Lacazette, Arteta needs to have his team playing more direct football. That’s easier said than done.

The key is to find a consistent playmaker, just like United did with Bruno Fernandes. Ozil has been frozen out. Ceballos is not a long term option, as he’ll probably return to Los Merengues at the end of the season. Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny are not good enough for Arsenal. Thomas Partey is struggling with injuries.

Olympique Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar has been widely linked with a move to the Emirates. But can Arsenal afford the French maestro? Or maybe Arteta needs to give more game time to the young guns. Saka is the best of the bunch. Nketiah, Willock, Martinelli, Salaba are all big prospects.

From the outside, Arteta doesn’t seem like much of a disciplinarian. But he needs to get a grip on the spate of red cards, and quickly. It’s a point worth repeating.

Is firing Arteta the solution? Or will another Manager face the same issues? I mean could Massimiliano Allegri get more out of the likes of Xhaka and Willian? I can’t see it.

Whatever solution Arteta can find, it needs to happen sooner or later. For his sake, it has to be sooner.

Let us know what your thoughts are in the comments section.

Sizwe Luthayi

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Bergkamp?wprov=sfti1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emirates_Stadium?wprov=sfti1

https://www.premierleague.com/clubs/1/Arsenal/stats?se=363

https://www.goal.com/en-us/news/why-isnt-mesut-ozil-playing-for-arsenal/d4c7quxeut9o1p0euqbg70y3x

 

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