Arsenal ‘problem players’ would have been handled properly by Ten Hag instead of Arteta dallying
Roy Keane named three “problem players” at Arsenal two and a half years ago but Mikel Arteta is no Erik ten Hag so a couple of them remain at the Emirates.
Even with an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League by late March, there is still huge stock in pretending Arsenal are underpinned by a sort of organisational incompetence.
This is the same old club which cannot operate smoothly in the transfer market, make ruthless but necessary decisions or avoid inexplicably shooting itself in the foot. Those views are yet to be updated by many critics despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
And that is how we get to the Daily Mirror website publishing a story which states that ‘Mikel Arteta still has two “problem players” at Arsenal after damning Roy Keane blast’.
It is the sort of headline which leaves absolutely no room for manoeuvre. Arteta’s ineptitude has saddled Arsenal with a couple of – and the quote marks are key here, denoting something someone actually said, as they do – “problem players”. It’s a wonder that they’re odds-on favourites to win the Premier League title.
Chuck in a little bit of Roy Keane and you have yourself a potential click goldmine at the end of a sleepy international break.
In fact, let’s head straight to Keane, whose words are indeed the ones being echoed. And this is what he said all the way back in September 2020, after a 3-1 Arsenal defeat to Liverpool at Anfield:
“[Arteta’s] hands are tied which is a big problem because he still needs a couple more players in. We saw again tonight that defensively – I still think David Luiz, Kieran Tierney and Rob Holding, there’s big question marks over them. Luiz still has that mistake in him.”
And immediately, upon the slightest hint of scrutiny, the entire basis of the story completely collapses. Keane never utters the phrase “problem players”. In fact, the only “problem” he refers to is that which Arteta faced at the time: of needing to sign more defenders. Which he did. Arsenal bought Benjamin White and Takehiro Tomiyasu the following summer, while Gabriel – who had only just joined – did not feature in that Liverpool loss.
Funny as it is to think of Kieran Tierney and Rob Holding ever being described as “problem players”, it’s just utter nonsense. Neither have felt particularly problematic to Arsenal while helping solve squad-based problems throughout the season. Neither are first-team starters when everyone is available. And David Luiz left long ago.
Aside from that, it’s pretty much spot on.
Taking the Mik
There is a similar theme in the Manchester Evening News, of all places.
‘Erik ten Hag has already taken the Manchester United decisions it took Mikel Arteta years to make,’ they shout from the rooftops, again intending to paint Arteta in a fairly unkind light. Their man is far better by comparison.
‘Arteta has been the figurehead of a transformation in the Gunners squad but there have been some hard decisions to make during his three years at the Emirates, most notably the decision to get rid of Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang,’ writes Tyrone Marshall.
A couple of paragraphs later: ‘A similar transformation is happening at Manchester United under Erik ten Hag. The Dutchman is making such decisions even quicker than Arteta, who initially brought Ozil back into the fold and persisted with Aubayemang for as long as possible.’
Ozil played 12 games under Arteta. The German was already firmly in the fold towards the end of Unai Emery’s reign and during the interim run of Freddie Ljungberg. Arteta specifically removed him from that fold within a few months of his December 2019 appointment. Ozil played his last game for Arsenal in March 2020.
As for ‘Aubayemang’, it would have been awful weird if Arteta had got rid of him instantly. The striker scored 29 goals in 2019/20, with his closest teammate getting 12. As that landscape changed and Aubameyang became increasingly unreliable while other suitable options emerged, Arteta gradually phased the captain out. It was excellent management of a difficult situation and saying ‘it took years to make’ the decision to move on from Aubameyang is a misrepresentation.
But there is an apparent need to ignore the context and denigrate the current Premier League leader to make Ten Hag’s wonderful job so far sound even more impressive.
He ousted Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo far quicker, you see? Although by the same token, it should probably be pointed out that Pogba had pretty much already confirmed his departure by the time Ten Hag came in, and Ronaldo essentially made the Dutchman’s decision for him by acting like a prat, refusing to come on as a substitute and instigating That Interview.
Turns out it’s easier to push superstar players who make it patently clear they want to jump first. Silly Arteta for inheriting a more difficult squad under greater restrictions in mid-season. Ten Hag would have got those “problem players” out in a month.
Sheikh it all about
Sticking with Man Utd, there is one burning question to answer this week.
‘How Prem’s new ownership rule will affect Man Utd bidders including Sheikh Jassim’ – The Sun website.
By the fourth paragraph: ‘The Saudi ownership of Newcastle or Qatari Sheikh Jassim’s potential takeover of Manchester United, are not affected.’
But that is nothing on the Daily Mirror website (‘What Premier League ownership changes mean for Sheikh Jassim’s world record Man Utd bid’), who open their explainer with this:
‘Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani’s bid for Manchester United will be unaffected by the Premier League’s new rules surrounding ownership.’
The story’s remaining 495 words suddenly feel rather redundant.
Magpie in the sky
Ian Ladyman is concerned for Eddie Howe. He needs to take Newcastle to Champions League qualification this season and specifically this season because ‘Manchester City and Arsenal are unlikely to regress. Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea can be expected to improve’ and ‘Tottenham? Well, they could go either way.’
Newcastle, of course, will stand still. Especially if they do not reach Europe’s premier competition, because it would stop them attracting the right calibre of player. As Ladyman stresses in the Daily Mail:
‘The club – Saudi-owned – is fabulously wealthy but under the same Financial Fair Play restrictions as anybody else.
‘So the tens of millions of pounds available to Champions League clubs – drawn from prize money, ticket sales and TV income – will form part of Newcastle’s summer spending if they can qualify.
‘And that’s before we even start to talk about the magnet that Champions League football represents for European players looking to move club.
‘Newcastle is a superb city but not fashionable in terms of elite footballers. It falls a good way behind London and a distance behind Manchester. That makes it harder to sell to players. Money helps. But so does Europe.’
A reminder that Newcastle were 18th when they signed Bruno Guimaraes. Nick Pope, Kieran Trippier, Sven Botman and Alexander Isak have been among their most important players in an excellent season and they joined with European qualification a very distant thought at the time. They will probably be alright.
‘Eyebrows were raised during the international break when Rashford was pictured enjoying a break in New York after pulling out of the Three Lions squad’ – Neil Custis, The Sun.
Yes. By absolute kn*bs.
‘Manager Gareth Southgate defended the player claiming that once he was not fit enough to join the squad it was his decision how he spent his time.’
That sentence still works if you remove the first eight words. In fact, it’s an improvement.