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January 2021
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What can Arsenal realistically expect from Arteta’s first season?

By Tony Attwood

Changing the manager rarely works at Arsenal

Nothing is ever certain in football, and there certainly is no way to guarantee success, but it does appear that having an expectation of an immediate upturn in form following the appointment of a new manager (at Arsenal or any other club), is generally going to lead to disappointment.

For changing the manager, although an approach often demanded by fans when things go wrong, is more likely to cause an immediate downturn than it is to cause an initial improvement in results.  But the big problem is that the expectation that a new manager will improve the club’s position, continues to hold sway no matter how often it is proven to be false.

For Arsenal, since the second world war, only three managers have seriously improved the club’s position in their first season.  Tom Whittaker was the first in 1947/8, taking Arsenal to the championship in his first season after a very mediocre mid table performance the year before.

But of those that followed (Jack Crayston, George Swindin, Billy Wright, Terry Neill, Don Howe) none of these gave the club success in their first season.  George Graham was the next exception, giving the club the League Cup in 1987 at the end of his first campaign, but Bruce Rioch returned to form, with no trophies in his one year at Arsenal.

Likewise Arsenal Wenger failed in his first season, but he did at least improve on the club’s position in the league that year, and his main transfers in 1996/7 (Patrick Vieira and Nic Anelka) were both low profile but showed an immediate promise and proved to be amazing value for the small amount paid for them in each case.

Even later big buying rarely works

It is interesting how many journalists seem to feel that buying top name players is the way to turn a struggling team around.  And indeed some managers do go for this approach.  But it is obvious how and why this can go wrong.  A big name player introduced to a team that is not doing so well, has a problem and causes a problem.  The rest of the squad feel their own positions are under threat, and they resent the attention given to the newcomer.  All clubs have cliques, and the new man is an outsider – it is not an ideal situation.

Introducing lower cost and lower profile players into the team in order to achieve gradual reform is often a much better approach – and indeed this is what Arsene Wenger did with the introduction of Patrick Vieira into the team while the manager was still working in Japan.  Mr Wenger’s other purchase in his first season, Nic Anelka, was totally unknown and was given time to fit into the side.  Given the lowness of his transfer fee little was expected of him, so every positive performance was a bonus.

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3.  Angry fans

Because expectations with a new manager or a new high profile player are, at the start, generally unrealistically high, they are not normally met.  Tom Whittaker avoided this by succeeding George Allison as manager in 1947/8 after Allison (who had previously won two league titles and the FA Cup as Arsenal manager), but he came in after the club had had an awful season in 1946/7.

4.  Negative media

Fans often believe that a new manager should be an immediate improvement, and will often give the new man little time to generate an improvement, not least because they have been told by the media that anyone would be better than the last man.

What makes it worse is that, as we’ve shown before, Arsenal get a far more negative press than other Premier League clubs, no matter what they do.  From  “Arsene who?” upon the appointment of Mr Wenger, to the Times suggesting that a third of the way through the unbeaten season Arsenal fans were saying that this was the worst Arsenal side they’d ever seen, Arsenal are singled out by the media for negative commentaries.

The problem we now have is that Arsenal have had three managers in three seasons, have bought players at high cost who have been expected to deliver from the off, have some fans who seem to be angry all the time, and are ceaselessly being taunted by a negative media, and we have a relentlessly negative media.

What we need for success is a period of managerial stability, no more buying of new players but instead a period of allowing existing players to grow into the team, playing in front of a positive fan base alongside a deliberate policy within the club and among the fans of treating the media with the contempt they deserve.

We might get the managerial stability, and it is possible that despite over 110 players already being linked with the club for transfer this summer, the club could ignore every one of them, and continue with the squad we have got.

There certainly is, it seems, a growing willingness to ignore the media, even if they are not treated with contempt, which just leaves the need for a positive fan base.  But that, I fear, is going to be the hardest to achieve, for there do seem to be many Arsenal fans whose main knowledge of Arsenal is a period of 10 major trophies in 20 years under Arsene Wenger, who feel that the “ten in 20 years” is a base level from which we should grow (rather than the best run ever) and that complaining and moaning is their role in life.

As long as that continues we are likely to be in trouble.

8 comments to What can Arsenal realistically expect from Arteta’s first season?

  • Mandy Dodd

    Arteta has a tough job. Would be great to have stability with the players, but the contract situation, and the clubs financial situation might make that difficult.
    What may help the manager, if was someone at the club with the clout, knowledge, and just the care to take on the PGMOL or whoever it is that thinks it is acceptable for us to get Martin Atkinson in the pitch for a quarter of our games so far, when he screws us over in anyway possible and presents a clear threat to the health and safety of our players.
    Personally, I have no real expectations for this season, Arteta has a inherited a horrendous injury record, players coming out of contract, possible issues off the field, wage cuts, the pandemic, on yesterday’s evidence, an unbalanced squad, and a lot of very talented kids seemingly not quite ready yet, but hopefully soon will be
    This manager needs time, have great hopes for him if he is given it, and the club Finally find the balls to take on the PGMOL or whoever pulls Riley’s strings

  • Timothy Ademakinwa

    I think for the club we all dearly love to move forward the board, manager and all concern with daily running of this club must ignore the negative press and focus on moving the club forward on affordable budget, unearthing and nurturing new talents and follow the sustainable financial template that had achieved result for us in the past. We’re blessed with a young dynamic manager who is yearning carve a niche for himself in football management and equally a young squad, therefore, we should not allow the negative press war derail our objective. Surely there is light at the end of this present tunnel if we can collectively (board, manager, players and true fans) persevere.

  • mick shelley

    When Football London starts to notice Arsenal are getting treated poorly by the PGMOL we can be sure something is amiss……
    Their headline….
    ‘VAR fails Arsenal again as Rob Holding proves worth to Mikel Arteta’s backline’
    https://www.football.london/arsenal-fc/fixtures-results/talking-points-var-leno-holding-18460165

  • Steve Vallins

    @ Mick Shelley
    I read that piece by Football London and thought it was strange not knocking Arsenal , maybe they’ve been reading Untold .
    Mandy I know you’ve been saying Arsenal should confront Riley’s secret organisation for a long time and I agreed but this must be a dangerous situation because of the possible consequences to Arsenal
    The so called people in charge at Arsenal must see what’s going on how we are treated , they are not stupid

  • Mandy Dodd

    Agree Steve they must see it, and it may be dangerous, I remember Wenger speaking out on refs, only for Riley to send Dean Taylor and Atkinson in successive matches to do us, and Wenger had a higher profile than anyone in the club today. Funny how often those three refs feature when we are done over .
    but how much worse can it get if they take this on, looks to me like the powers that be through the PGMOL are trying to put us mid table at best, and keep us there. That affects Stans investment, attracting players, fans experience, the clubs and all manner of issues. And worst of all, these refs are putting our players in danger. Brighton became visibly emboldened when they saw what they could get away with, Soton our next opponents no doubt know this but will have watched that carefully.
    The club execs should be duty bound to act , silence is proving increasingly costly

  • Laos Gooner

    Was it not Atkinson who booked Laca for minor contact on the keeper where he tried to win the ball on the ground and saw nothing wrong with Maupay jumping with his head down at Leno who had the ball in both hands? I am sure an Arsenal player would have seen red for not attempting to play the ball in the challenge, such as David Luiz in the previous match, so again we are confronted with a lack of consistency from the supposed officials. Having to play by different rules to other teams in the same sport is the major handicap we face. Until we are rid of the Pigmob No other changes will be of much assistance.

  • Mikey

    @ Laos Gooner

    Laca did not go in directly on the keeper with his studs up but made a legitimate attempt at a ball that was available to be won. However, it was very noticeable that just a couple minutes later a Brighton player challenged one of our players and went at him with studs up and connected. Atkinson did nothing.

  • Comparisons between the way Atkinson referees Liverpool and Arsenal games go a long way towards explaining the respective team’s league positions.