Arsenal lost a game so it is time to blame Mikel Arteta, xG and Arsene Wenger…
The Art of a narrative
The Sun‘s Chief Sports Writer Dave Kidd is heavily invested in Mikel Arteta failing at Arsenal, having unleashed several barrels in the direction of both manager and club when he was appointed in December 2019.
‘The appointment of the Spaniard, 37, with no previous managerial experience, represents a shot in the dark almost unprecedented at a major English club,’ was a particularly interesting line as Arteta’s appointment came after those of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard. It might have been a gamble but it was entirely precedented.
Now, it’s clear that Arteta has not entirely delivered with Arsenal, though he has won the FA Cup and has led Arsenal into the quarter-finals of the Europa League, so it clearly is not all bad. They lost 3-0 to the champions with barely a whimper on Sunday but that was their first Premier League defeat since February 21 and they have been roughly the equal of Tottenham in 2021.
But saying they ‘aren’t even a good mid-table team’ is just plain ridiculous when this is an Arsenal side that has beaten Manchester United, Chelsea, Leicester and Tottenham this season. Kidd even compares them unfavourably to Crystal Palace, who are at least ‘well-structured and obdurate’. So obdurate that only four teams have conceded more goals than Palace’s 48, while Arsenal have conceded just 35.
Now Mediawatch is aware that arguing that Arsenal are better than Palace is ludicrous, but considerably less ludicrous than arguing that Arsenal are worse than Palace.
Kidd does at least acknowledge that Arsenal were missing Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe against Liverpool, though writing that they ‘played such a significant role in steering Arsenal clear of a relegation battle’ shows exactly why they were mentioned. He then accuses Arteta of not giving enough game time to ‘more of the club’s gifted youngsters’ as if the combined return of one goal in 21 Premier League appearances should have seen Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli handed starts against Liverpool. And there was literally nobody arguing in January that the answer to Arsenal’s problems was Joe Willock.
‘Instead, Arteta persists with a bunch of expensive ageing misfits, high-profile disappointments and disinterested loanees.’
Pesky fact: One player over the age of 30 featured against Liverpool.
‘If Arsenal fail to win the Europa League, this is likely to be their worst season in 45 years.’
They did of course finish 12th in 1994/95 but apparently that is exempt because they only lost the Cup-Winners’ Cup final in the 120th minute, which is a handy little caveat to have.
Has Arteta been a rip-roaring success? Has he balls.
But he has won a trophy and he may yet win another. And Arsenal are definitely better than Crystal Palace.
Or are they really better than Palace? Stan Collymore takes up the mantle in the Daily Mirror, writing that ‘if there’s a ‘big’ club another side needs to go to for a soapy back rub, a warm welcome, some lovely boys to play against and a nice run-out to get three points, it’s Arsenal’.
They have literally lost two of their last seven Premier League games – to the Premier League champions and the Premier League champions-elect. They have beaten Manchester United, Chelsea, Leicester and Tottenham this season. Again, you cannot paint 10th place as a successful season but they are clearly not a walkover.
‘Saturday’s performance was a manifestation of the fact they have become a club with an over-reliance on a manager who puts data, stats and expected goals ahead of, ‘Can we keep clean sheets today? Can we put our bodies on the line for each other today? Can we work through this together?’
One more question: Are you just making all this up?
He is, of course; it’s all a guess.
The punchline is a surprise, though.
‘The blame for all it lies with Arsene Wenger.’
Oh. Unbeaten season Arsene Wenger? That Arsene Wenger?
‘He had in his hands the perfect recipe for English football with the exceptional brilliance of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, mixed with the technical brilliance and mental strength of a Patrick Vieira, and the mental strength and roll-up-your-sleeves pragmatism of Martin Keown, Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and Co. Instead of building on that, he turned Arsenal into Barca lite, a team that might have won in La Liga but not here.’
Does anybody want to tell him that Arsenal won the title and remained actually unbeaten without any of that ‘mental strength and roll-up-your-sleeves pragmatism of Martin Keown, Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and Co’? And then, while you have his attention, maybe explain about Arsenal’s reduced budget owing to the stadium move? And then, if you have time, explain that subsequent Arsenal managers have since been allowed to bring in players with ‘absolute bottle and desire’; they’re not bound by what Wenger did almost 20 years ago.
Unless, of course, they are obsessed with xG. Which can be a real problem.
Haal or nothing
‘Manchester United choose two new transfer priorities as ‘Erling Haaland interest cools’ is the headline on the Daily Express website. Quote marks mean quotes, of course, and the Express credit The Athletic, who ‘say the Red Devils have cooled their interest with other priorities in mind’.
Except, well, they don’t. They even say ‘it is hard to rule out Manchester United as another potential destination’ and argue that ‘Haaland would pair well with Bruno Fernandes’. Oh and…
‘They are one of the few clubs whose revenue streams haven’t taken too much of a hit in the pandemic with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward focused on ensuring the club has multiple ways of making money. As a result, they should have the requisite funds to invest heavily in the squad.’
Cooled? Are you sure?
And where one leads, others must follow…
‘Manchester United cool Erling Haaland interest and prioritise two other transfers’ – Metro.
…while the Manchester Evening News describe it as ‘the latest twist in the Erling Haaland transfer saga’. The real latest twist is that there really is no twist.