Right now supporters are not quite sure what to make of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal.
Have we turned a corner? Are we progressing? Will any improvements inevitably be offset by our habit of shooting ourselves in the foot at crucial moments?
Well, to shine a light on how we’re really doing I want you to take a journey with me to a dark, dark place: we are going back in time to October, November and December last year. Don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand.
From October 17th to December 19th we played 10 Premier League games and ended up with a devastating stats line of: P10 – W1 – D2 – L7. We scored four goals and conceded 13.
Here are a few comments from a sample of the AA match reports from those fixtures:
October 25th – Arsenal 0-1 Leicester: the headline of our report was, with a degree of prophetic clarity: “Arsenal Lose to Leicester – It Doesn’t Bode Well.” The report referred to a “painful but entirely deserved defeat,” adding: “…we lacked creativity, we were slow to the point of glacial in moving into attack and too many players were below par.”
November 8th – Arsenal 0-3 Aston Villa: “We got outplayed, outfought and out-thought on our own ground…” and “Losing is always disappointing, but it is much harder when you go down without a fight. Last night we collapsed with barely a whimper. In fact, we put the ‘wimp’ in whimper.” In the player ratings Willian was awarded a 2, with this note: “A truly awful performance. Villa’s first goal came from Willian passing to a Villa player while not under any pressure. He gave away possession time after time and had zero impact as an attacking force. Has he been sent by Chelsea as a sleeper agent to help destroy us from within?”
November 22nd – Leeds 0-0 Arsenal: “Any complaints that we left Elland Road with only a point yesterday? I didn’t think so. We were second best for much of the game, we played with 10 men from the 51st minute, Leeds hit the woodwork three times and Leno had to make some outstanding saves.” “We are still striving to find a midfield that works to create chances. Consequently we create very few chances.” In the ratings Willian got 4, Pepe 3 and Aubameyang 5 with this question: “Where is the Auba of last year?”
November 29th – Arsenal 1-2 Wolves: The headline said: “Wolves Rip Gunners Apart,” with the report adding: “A third home-defeat in a row. A 14th place in the EPL. Another game without a goal in open play. Another game without Auba scoring. Another game with toothless attacks and sterile possession.”
December 13th – Arsenal 0-1 Burnley: “Frustration Building Up,” and “…another really tasteless and toothless performance… tonight was worrying on many levels…” Saka and Tierney were our highest rated players with 5 each, while Arteta was given a 2.
December 19th Everton 2-1 Arsenal: From the post game comments: “Whatever Mikel has time to do, he needs creativity! Arsenal have scored just three goals. Rank 20th; Arsenal have had 27 shots on target. Rank 19th; Shooting accuracy 35%. Rank 20th; Shot conversion rate 2.9%. 20th; And our xG is abysmal, so no matter who is in the lineup, if there is no creativity for our front three, it will be useless. From yesterday’s game: 2 shots on target in 94 minutes (the one off the post looked to be deflected).”
It’s a pretty painful march back down memory lane, isn’t it?
And you may be wondering why I have made you join me on that march… apart from pure sadism of course.
It is intended to show that there really is progress at Arsenal: that run was absolutely terrible not just because of the results (which were dire) but because of serious problems with the manner of our play. Our creativity was at rock bottom which meant that we were unable to score goals. We were dreadful to watch.
Opponents were so untroubled by our attacking threat that they could spend the entire game threatening us, usually with fatal results.
Fast forward to today and we are still a team with some problems, but they pale into insignificance when compared with that dreadful run up to Christmas last year.
These days we attack with verve and panache. We have the likes of Odegaard, Saka, Smith Rowe, Pepe and Tierney creating pretty passing moves to carve through opposition defences. Lacazette has found a role that suits him, although Aubameyang still struggles to find consistency.
And yes, our good work is still too often sabotaged by failures in concentration, but the curve is heading in the right direction. The arc of footballing history is bending our way.
I happen to think that one overlooked benefit of that bad run will be what it has done to and for Arteta. El Patron had to look into the abyss as the results kept getting worse: he will have been aware of all the speculation about his future, the calls for his head. Yet he came through it and started to put things right.
I would not underestimate the additional strength that that experience has given him. I think it will have made him harder and more willing to be ruthless if he sees a problem.
It’s too late to salvage much from this season unless we go all the way in the Europa League. That October to December run killed off our chances of a respectable finish in the EPL. But it may just have sown the seeds for something much better in the next campaign.
Alex Ferguson’s woes pre getting it right at Man U comes to mind. A fine post, Sir.
A tough read but a worthy one 🙂 Clearly the team was not clicking from October to December, that Q4 2020 really set the tone for an average to mediocre season. Our only hope for glory is the EL and this is not the easiest competition to win but maybe we can pull it off like we did with the FA Cup last year. If we win the EL, no one will remember that rough Q4 2020…
Arteta has been in charge for 15 months and we do expect the team to do better especially in the EPL. We have quite a talented squad:
Gabs, Tierney, Partey, Odegarrd, Saka, Martinelli, Auba are not bad players and neither are Holding, Pepe and Laca to name a few…
We should definitely be in the top 6.
Good point Mike – Sir Alex was facing the chop and was saved by winning the FA Cup, if I recall. The rest is history.
I think that the woeful period described above was uncharacteristic of our where we really are and has contributed to us currently wallowing in the table at a lower position than our ability merits (although ‘the table doesn’t lie’ etc etc).
In general I feel pretty positive that we’ll have a good year next year.
A traumatic read almost as bad as actually experiencing it, Rocky.
The yoof have turned it round (and some of the experienced have decided they better earn their ridiculous salaries!)
Continue to build around Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Partey, Saka, Smith-Rowe, Martinelli and if possible BOdegaard. Give Saliba and the newly capped Mavrapanos a chance to prove their worth. Hang on to Balogun and Azeez and make 2021-2 a rebirth or as was once famously said ” let’s rise like a pheasant from the ashes!”
Nottinghamshire’s Derek Randall, for any non-cricketing fanatics on this sunny spring day.
Quite a character.
The Leicester game that you start with Rocky was part of an early run which was a bit up and down but still included the Utd win even after that game.
That run saw us take 16.7% of all possible points, but I think it is more poignant to look slightly later at the 7 games beginning with Villa on the 1st November until Christmas. This run went as follows:
No offence to any team on that list (except the 4th one, where full offence is intended) but that is hardly the most challenging run of games. However, we contrived to take 2 from 21 points on offer or 9.5% if you prefer. That’s where the damage was done in the EPL, although we were winning our EL games.
I partially agree with LBG that youth have made a difference but it wasn’t the key factor at that time that made the difference. Many of those players, like Saka and Tierney had been featuring regularly anyway.
ESR did make a difference as he was introduced but it was the formation change that was key. Mikel had been playing with a back 3 in a 3-4-3 formation. However this system loses you a creative CM at the expense of that extra CD.
There was a lot of media noise about lacking creativity and needing to buy a creative CM, but we weren’t playing the system that allowed for that player anyway.
If MA had stuck with that same formation then ESR would have not played in his strongest position. However MA changed the formation to a 4-3-3 on the same game he introduced ESR and it was this that made a massive difference. That extra creative CM to sit in front of the 2 deeper CM’s.
The other factor was of course switching to the inverted wing forwards in the front 3, which particularly released Saka.
Before this he was one if our better performers but was more playing a wide role that saw him deliver a multitude of outswinging crosses from the left flank. On the right he can also cut in to dangerous positions in the box on his favoured left foot.
There is work still to be done but now we are balanced with the formation and with many quality young players, some still to come through we can look forward with greater hope.
@Rocky – as I was saying earlier…Edu and Arteta seriously considering options at RB, including Emerson ;-P
Only partially? To coin a well worn phrase….bolleaux.
Remember when ‘The Horseshoe’ was all the rage?
It didn’t turn out to be lucky for us, that’s for sure.
Horseshoe was NEVER all the rage with me.
LBG 😄 well more than partially. I believe our youth hold the key moving forwards but the turnaround for me was a bit of both just more loaded towards the formation change.
The horseshoe served us well at the end of last season against superior opposition. It’s a good containment and swift counterattack system against a side you will undoubtedly cede possession and territorial advantage to.
This season it was used for far too long and against sides who dont fit the above description. I think Arteta delayed too long but has learned something valuable from it in his managerial development.
Liam (the Man Utd fan) posted this comment:
To all the people who read the article ‘ My Fever Pitch’ and were kind enough to post their appreciation a sincere and heartfelt thanks. I got as much pleasure from the comments as I did writing the article. Thanks again, and good luck in the Europa. Remember it could be us v youz in which case Rocky( joe) and Me are going to have to do it all over again and were not getting any younger you know. LIAM
” a swift counterattack system” 😯😯😯😯…except when you have Granit Xhaka and Daviiiiid Luiz,cousins of the tortoise, at its heart.
Deadwood out at Christmas, yoof convinced of their quality, and now creativity in Martin O. The futures bright.
God bless Liam and Manure……well Liam!