Should Mikel Arteta be under pressure? He’s spent a fortune in the transfer window, they’re performing worse than last season, the attack isn’t scoring and they’re now conceding goals.
Arsenal topped the Premier League table on Christmas Day. Following Liverpool’s 4-2 win over Newcastle United on New Year’s Day, the Gunners find themselves in fourth place, five points behind the Reds.
It has been a festive period to forget for Mikel Arteta’s men. Arsenal have lost the lead in two of their last three Premier League matches – being pegged back at Anfield in a 1-1 draw before losing to Fulham despite taking a fifth-minute lead. Sandwiched between those results was a 2-0 loss, at home, to West Ham United.
Reports claim that Arteta is eager to once again dip into the transfer market to bolster his squad. Dominic Solanke has been linked following his impressive run of form for Bournemouth while both Ollie Watkins and Ivan Toney continue to be of interest to those at the Emirates.
There is also talk that, despite investing heavily in Kai Havertz and Declan Rice this summer, Arsenal are in dire need of midfield upgrades. A narrative being pushed online is that €110 million Rice needs a midfield partner to help him play to his strengths even though he’s generally playing alongside €75m summer signing Havertz and club captain Martin Odegaard.
It goes somewhat under the radar but Arsenal have spent big money since appointing Arteta as manager. The Gunners had a transfer spend of over €230m in the summer and almost €200m last season. Arteta is lauded for his coaching ability and his knack for developing players but there’s a real eagerness on his part to delve into the transfer market whenever things go awry. The comparisons to Pep Guardiola are apt.
It is why, despite spending over €30m on Aaron Ramsdale in 2021, the England shot-stopper is now behind David Raya in the pecking order. It is no doubt why they’re in the market for a centre-forward having only signed Gabriel Jesus for €50m from rivals Manchester City in the summer of 2022. You can also add the acquisition of Jurrien Timber to this. The Ajax man arrived for €40m even though Arteta had spent north of €100m on full-backs during his tenure as Arsenal boss.
He seeks perfection but isn’t necessarily prepared to coach it. That isn’t a dig. If the finances are there, why should he waste his time? He can just bring in better-suited players.
But his tinkering is one of the reasons Arsenal find themselves in a battle for the top four right now as opposed to leading the way in a title race.
For starters, it was Arteta’s decision to add Raya to his ranks. Both the on-loan Brentford keeper and Ramsdale have made errors this term and uncertainty over the goalkeeper hierarchy no doubt played a part in this. They have the best underlying defensive numbers in the league, and this is tied to the system, but issues arrive when individuals in the system let it down. Do as many errors occur if the goalkeepers aren’t being overly scrutinised due to the situation orchestrated by the former Manchester City assistant manager?
Arteta’s gameplan is the reason the Arsenal attack looks as blunt as it does. He has Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli holding the width a lot more due to the inverted full-back system, rather than having them cut inside. The wing pairing have had their threat somewhat limited.
Saka and Martinelli have a combined eight league goals. Add Jesus into this and the total rises to 11. For context, Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah have both scored 14 times in the Premier League this season.
Liverpool and City have players with more goals than Arsenal’s front three as a collective. Furthermore, Salah is just one assist shy of the nine that Saka, Jesus and Martinelli have racked up. No matter how you look at it, this is a coaching issue.
Most managers in this situation would feel a little uncomfortable. Arteta has credit in the bank but if the second half of the campaign ends in disappointment, surely his position as Arsenal manager is looked at. For the money spent, the Gunners should be better.