In Focus: Mikel’s work of Art needs a touch-up to save his job

Matthew Hill
LiveScore
Bookmakers make Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta favourite in the Premier League sack race
Bookmakers make Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta favourite in the Premier League sack race

Arsenal’s 2-0 opening day defeat to Brentford nine days ago was the stuff of nightmares for Mikel Arteta.

After a testing first full season in charge, which saw the Gunners miss out on European football for the first time in 25 years, the Spaniard was keen to hit the ground running in 2021-22.

Instead, daunting Premier League clashes with Chelsea and Manchester City mean his side may struggle to get a point on the board prior to September’s international break.

Ahead of this afternoon’s home clash with Thomas Tuchel’s European champions, we put Arteta’s situation under the microscope.

Favourite for the chop

Mikel Arteta's job is under threat at Arsenal
Mikel Arteta's job is under threat at Arsenal

A year is a long time in football — but for Arteta, it must feel like an eternity.

Twelve months ago, the Spaniard was leading his troops to FA Cup glory, downing today’s opponents Chelsea in a dramatic Wembley final that left Gunners fans singing his name.

Fast forward to today and most bookmakers have him a short-priced favourite to be the first Premier League manager out of a job this term.

For all the promise of that FA Cup win, Arteta’s side simply failed to deliver in 2020-21.

Inconsistent performances saw them flounder in the league while early exits from both domestic cups meant all eggs were quickly placed in the Europa League basket.

But a limp semi-final defeat to eventual winners Villarreal rendered the campaign a write-off, with failing to qualify for Europe proving a further bitter pill to swallow.

Five Premier League wins to end the season grew some cautious optimism among fans but that was quickly crushed at the Brentford Community Stadium — and Arteta’s future is in the spotlight as a result.

Mitigating circumstances

Arsenal pair Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed the Brentford game due to coronavirus
Arsenal pair Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed the Brentford game due to coronavirus

Before drawing any conclusions, it is important to acknowledge Arteta was not able to pick his strongest XI for the trip to Brentford.

Thomas Partey, who was brought in from Atletico Madrid last January as a game-changing addition to the Gunners midfield, is sidelined with an ankle injury picked up in pre-season.

He is three to four weeks away from a return, as is Brazilian defender Gabriel (knee) and young forward Eddie Nketiah (foot).

What is more, those absences were compounded by a coronavirus outbreak in the camp that struck down Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Alex Runarsson and Willian.

Arteta said: “They've had some tough days. Lacazette still hasn't trained as he's not been good. 

"Aubameyang trained Thursday] but they were affected by the virus — they were ill."

Recruitment strategy

The permanent capture of Real Madrid midfielder Martin Odegaard is a big plus for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal
The permanent capture of Real Madrid midfielder Martin Odegaard is a big plus for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal

One positive Arteta can draw on is that reinforcements to his squad continue to arrive as the transfer window enters its final days.

Martin Odegaard, who starred on loan from Real Madrid last term, completed a permanent move on Friday for a fee thought to be around £30million.

Sheffield United stopper Aaron Ramsdale is another new arrival after a well-documented long pursuit of his signature and will hope to make the club’s No1 shirt his own.

The duo join Brighton’s Ben White, Anderlecht youngster Albert Sami Lokonga and Benfica left-back Nuno Tavares as new faces at the Emirates this term — with all of the quintet aged 23 or younger.

This will only enhance a youthful feel to a Gunners side already lit up by the academy duo of breakout Euro 2020 star Bukayo Saka and livewire midfielder Emile Smith Rowe.

With the youngest average squad age in the Premier League, mixed in with the absence of some key senior figures, perhaps a slow start to 2021-22 is inevitable.

Short-term solutions

LiveScore columnist Joleon Lescott believes Arsenal need to bring in more experience this window
LiveScore columnist Joleon Lescott believes Arsenal need to bring in more experience this window

Though a recruitment policy based around future talent is a shrewd one, inexperienced players are renowned for their inconsistency — as last season’s erratic results in North London perfectly displayed.

LiveScore’s Premier League columnist Joleon Lescott believes Arsenal must also add more experience to their ranks before the window slams shut.

Lescott said: “Given what we associate the Gunners with and the club’s past success, I worry for them in their current predicament. 

“I think they are in a transition period but they’re trying to do it without enough senior figures to help the developing stars progress.

“For example, I look at Ben White and see a player who has tremendous potential — but who is he meant to be looking up to in that backline?

“I know Pablo Mari is older but he is still learning his trade at Premier League level, so it is a new experience for them both.

“The squad they are building is one for the future but I am not sure if Mikel Arteta will stick around long enough to reap the benefits.”

Hanging tough

Mikel Arteta (right) needs his players to help him through a challenging period
Mikel Arteta (right) needs his players to help him through a challenging period

Things look bleak for Arsenal and their under-fire boss right now — and things may get worse before they get any better.

Today’s home clash with Chelsea looks a tall order after the Blues brushed aside Crystal Palace in their opening encounter, with a possible start for the returning Romelu Lukaku only adding to the task.

Even if they do grind out a result at home, next week’s trip to the Etihad to face reigning champions Manchester City will be another uphill battle.

But it is important to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Even if Arsenal do enter the international window with a lowly points total, making any knee-jerk reaction over their manager’s future is unlikely to prove beneficial.

Games in September against Norwich and Burnley look an ideal opportunity for the Gunners to find their groove as new signings start to settle and absentees begin to return.

For now, giving fans some sort of encouragement with spirited performances should be enough to see Arteta through his latest rough patch.  

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Premier LeagueArsenalChelseaMikel Arteta
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