The last two months have been relatively rocky for The Arsenal, the last few weeks have been downright diabolical. The Europa League group stages have been just about the only moment of consistent joy, but it’s in a competition that that is exepected. The Premier League on the other hand has been a sore spot, outside of the win at Old Trafford, causing frustrations and pressure to mount.
Arsenal have been attempting to remedy their attacking impotence and it has gone exceptionally poor. Their goal against Wolves last weekend snapped an 8 hour streak of Premier League play without an open goal — Arsenal would still lose 2-1.
In recent weeks, this pressure and frustration has led Mikel Arteta to take to the media and beg the fanbase for patience. He has asked everyone to acknowledge the project at hand and take stock of the monumental task.
If you want to feel as though you were lulled into the belief that the project wasn’t as gargantuan as many first believed when Arteta led the team to an FA Cup, this recent run should be a sobering reminder that little in professional sport is as simple as many would believe.
Yesterday, that message was sent once more in Arteta’s interview with Spanish outlet DAZN, when he talked about his desire for Arsenal’s future, but confessed his belief that that horizon is further than it appears.
“We want to move to a 4-3-3, but for that, you need a lot of specificity in every position but now in five or six positions we don’t have it” said Arteta.
“The aggressiveness, the effectiveness, the amount of steals we make in opposition half I think we have been very steady against some big clubs”
“I think that what we miss is in the opponent’s area and the last part of the pitch. We have to find the key in the attack, that last decision, that last pass, that last cross to create a goal situation, a goal, a shot, a corner, etc.”
“Long-term being able to compete for every important tournament we play, play on the Champions League consistently. Mid-term to experience an improvement in the way we play, our style and the DNA of the club. Short term to keep competing like we have in every game and improve every phase of the game and thats the minimum we have to sustain now to aspire at the end of the season to be close to the other big clubs.”
It’s an…interesting quote. Likely one that will have frustrated a handful of people. Five or six players needed? Obviously Arteta didn’t go into what positions he is talking about, but five or six seems like too many to be the amount needed for a 4-3-3. I suppose if he is referring to the need for five or six more players to achieve the long-term goal of “competing for every important tournament” that would make sense given the need for impeccable depth.
Two or three to achieve a highly competitive 4-3-3? Seems quite a bit more accurate — or at least realistic. After all, if he is truly in need for five players, half the outfield squad, to be renewed, there should have been a significant amount more effort into moving the handful of players that need to be moved along in January or next summer.
There is an aspect of this message that feels pretty clear — the need for patience. Some people took the message to immediately mean that Arteta was hinting at a major January window — somehow I doubt it.
At most, I can believe this suggests there will be SOME activity in January, given that signing five major names in one summer would be an extremely difficult task, but the idea that the cat is out of the bag and Arsenal are signing three to five major, long-term assets seems a bit farfetched.
What I could believe, is that Arsenal look to bring in one, maybe two, names while getting a significant head start on selling the handful of players that will need to be moved along this summer, in order to gain funds, clear the books, and open the path for the focus to be spent more on summer acquisition than sale.
Regardless of how deep you want to read in between the lines and link them to the January window, the message that resonates deeply is that the man closest to the project has made a pretty stark revelation that it currently isn’t as far along as many would want.
The word patience echoing through his recent appearances will hardly go over well with everyone, but it’s a virtue that Arsenal fans will need to learn if they expect to survive the time it takes for this plan to come to fruition.
If there is one positive to cling to, it is the fact that Arteta has been consistent since he began in his desire to play attacking football in a 4-3-3 formation. The fact that it’s not a reliable option at this moment is disappointing, but seemingly clear from the last three matches.
Whether the return of Thomas Partey enables that to happen could be a different story. He really hasn’t played that much in an Arsenal shirt yet. However, it is worth mentioning that his best outing came within a 3-4-3.
It’s early days in the regard, but it’s becoming rather clear that Arsenal have a lengthy list of long-term projects, issues, obstacles to overcome if they wish to progress through their goals and compete for the silverware they say they want.
The fingers can point at Arteta, the club, the players, the owners, the board — and it’s justifiable— but the fact that seems to become more clear is everything about Arsenal suggests they are a mid-table team. Their results, their scores, their stats, and arguably some of their past and recent decisions over contracts and player purchases. They have spent significantly, but it’s a side that seems more cobbled together than ever over the last seven years and three managers. It’s Arteta’s job to get the best from them, something he is struggling to do at the moment, but the best may not meet supporter’s ambitions.
All we can say is patience, realign yourself, reset some of your goals and expectations for the short term, and patience, patience, patience.