So why exactly has it all gone so wrong for Arsenal?

By Tony Attwood

Normally in issues relating to group situations, it is impossible to be definitive as to why things go wrong.  But not with football it seems, for here it appears that the obvious has to be said.

This is perhaps because taking in the information available and drawing conclusions has never been the strength of football journalists, most of whom will try and persuade fans that what is needed is more of the same.

So in another desperate attempt to stop Arsenal stumbling down the same path one more time here is a list of some of the things Arsenal now seem to want to do time and time again, but which simply don’t work.

1: Pushing managers out might not be a good idea 

Arsene Wenger had one season to go on this contract, Unai Emery had six months left and in each case moving the manager on early has cost the club a lot of money and did not ultimately solve the club’s problems.

Arsene Wenger finished his last season with the club in 6th, so he was moved on with a year left to go.  Unai Emery was pushed out with the club in 8th with six months left on the contract.  Freddie Ljungberg was relieved of his post with the club in 11th.  Today we are 15th.  Isn’t there that saying that used to be thrown around about seeing something that fails and then doing it again and again being a sign of madness.  A bit like relieving managers of their post, we all know it doesn’t work, but the club just keeps doing it.

2.  Bringing in a man with no experience of managing might not be a good idea.

Arsene Wenger had a wide range of experience as a manager before taking on Arsenal.  Unai Emery had been manager at PSG for two years.  Both could be an indicator.

3.  Bringing in a man whose prime experience in management is with a club where money is no object and which has been in conflict with the authorities may not be a good idea.

Clearly things are not done at Manchester City as they are at Arsenal.  Arsenal doesn’t have the wealth of an oil nation, nor the rampant disregard of the rules that MC seems to have – remembering they only got off the Uefa charges because Uefa presented its case too slowly.

4.  Ignoring the dominant statistics might not be a good idea

Mr Wenger was criticised throughout his time at Arsenal (you might recall the report during the Unbeaten Season in which fans were quoted as saying this was the worst Arsenal team they’d ever seen) but the one thing he knew was the statistics of playing and that is something that is clearly missing here.  It is clear that the three teams at the top of the league have all adopted a statistically very similar approach to playing which referees seem willing to accept.  We are out on a limb playing in a totally different way.

These figures exclude matches this past weekend – I think we will find the differences even more exaggerated when this weekend’s numbers are added in.

Club Tackles Fouls Tackles per foul Yellow cards Fouls per yellow Penalties for Penalties against Lge pos
Arsenal 132 112 1.18 16 7.00 1 0 15
Chelsea 164 137 1.20 12 11.42 4 0 3
Liverpool 133 112 1.19 9 12.44 4 6 2
Tottenham Hots 161 142 1.13 13 10.92 2 3 1

5.  Responding to the demands of some fans and some media commentators might not be a good idea

The chatter from journalists and fans is always about more and more transfers, and getting rid of certain players, but we have had two summers in which we have spent more on players than ever before, and have sunk further than ever before in the PL era  Bringing in one or two new players in the summer can work, but not a series of expensive players.

6.  Removing a highly talented player from the squad and forcing him to sit out half the season is not a clever idea.

Forcing Ozil to sit out at least half the season is looking increasingly foolish.

7.  Being in conflict with your own supporters is not a good idea

Unfortunately a number of Arsenal fans have felt for some time that it is good to complain through such media as holding up placards, flying planes over the stadium with banners behind, booing Arsenal players, complaining about certain Arsenal players, and going on the radio to demand the removal of the manager.  There is no indication at all that any of these approaches actually improve the club.  And yet some fans do it over and over again.

Likewise we have it on AFTV, with the black scarf movement, with the placard carriers, and now they are all back again, picking on certain players, moaning, complaining… “supporter” seems to have a new meaning.

None of these approaches have worked and yet they are being repeated and repeated.

And that really is the problem.  Taking something that has never worked in the past and doing it over and over again in the vague belief that it might work next time, isn’t very clever.

Why has it gone so wrong?  Because we just take the last set of mistakes and repeat them.




11 Replies to “So why exactly has it all gone so wrong for Arsenal?”

  1. In my opinion we should not replace Mr. Arteta as long as the players believe in him. We need to give him at least one full season to implement whatever plan he has. Replacing him now will put the next coach in this exact position a year from now.

  2. My take is your article is Wright on point,transition from one regime to another is not always smooth,and change usually is painful but at times brings out better results,building a strong foundation takes time,and time is a resource that doesn’t meet our demand,in essence the coach has proved himself a winner,so lets be prudent and patient as he tunes his machine to an effective and efficient vehicles that will make winning a tradition..hell at one time sir Alex Ferguson finished 11th before he became a serial winner.

  3. Hi there tony,
    I read your article and on the midfield issue, arteta is now proving to be somewhat of a stubborn personality.
    He pushed out mkhitaryan when it was blatantly clear even in the last year that we were weak in midfield & creative midfield. Further, the forcing out of ozil has again come back to haunt the club which emery tried too but not on the magnitude of arteta. Further, one of our bright performers in the emery regime, guendozi is again pushed out of the club. I know he has attitude issues but thats why managing people is much more difficult than playing FIFA, you have multiple personalities and multiple school of thoughts to deal with as well as multiple attitudes. Not everyone can behave in a similar way.
    The nail in the coffin seems to be the non-interest of players, just like the end of emery era. Its blatantly obvious that he has lost the dressing room for whatever reasons and there maybe a lot of reasons for it.

    From now on looking at the form southampton is in, i know its going to be extremely difficult for us to turn it around in a couple of days so fingers crossed for that game. And good luck to Mikel to turn things around from a seemingly impossible situation.

  4. There are enough so-called Arsenal managers out there with their ‘profound wisdom’ commenting on the ills of the club and where it is all going wrong for me to add anything to that debate. However, further to the observations on UA re referees’ performance, it does now seem that the match officials no longer have overall control of the game but that the VAR officials for the game make actual decisions when seen fit, with the match referee merely confirming the VAR official by casually moving towards the off-field monitor to suggest that he has seen something to help change his original decision. Perhaps there is now a need for a review of VAR and an independent refereeing body appointed (not PGMOL appointed) that can use VAR in the way that it is supposed to be used, with the match official actually appearing to be the final arbiter as to the outcome of the game. Poor decision making prior to VAR implementation was never admitted to by the PGMOL but now I find that little or no information has been emanating from the PGMOL as to why a particular incident leads to a red or yellow card for a particular individual, especially once the match official has made his on-field decision without initially looking at VAR. I am all for fairness but does VAR allow for the notion of pre-meditation? Does it allow for an analysis of the incidents leading up to such decisions? Why does VAR not appear to question so-called rotational fouling, nor what type of violations warrant a yellow card or not? Again, for me there are now too many inconsistencies in the game through VAR intervention. I used to be in agreement with Mr Wenger that there was a need for VAR. Now I feel that its use is being abused once again… by whom? Yep, by the PGMOL.

  5. The intervention of VAR appears to be on a very selective basis. So some clearly and dubious incidents are just completely ignored, whereas others are reviewed.

    There is little doubt that Xhaka’s red card was correct and it could be argued that Elneny was fortunate only to receive a yellow in the later incident.

    However, I wonder why the initial aggressive actions of the Burnley players which prompted both incidents was completely ignored by match officials, VAR and (of course0 the commentators.

  6. @ John L I agree totally with you about VAR being selective.

    Watching football from all over Europe the bottom line seems to be how can VAR give something to one team while denying anything to the other one. It amazes me how many incidents are “missed” by VAR – good example was BAYern against Dortmund last season when Jerome Boateng elbowed the ball out of play- NO vAR intervention. Obviously the VAR crew must have been on a coffee break!. The “pundits” blamed Dortmund for “not making a fuss” – What a joke.

    Every other sport that uses video evidence, in my opinion, uses it to help the officials. These officials normally work as a team during the game. Some thing that appears to lacking in football. The other big thing is fans are normally told why a decision is made. Compare that to football where secrecy is standard practice, in the case of PIGMOB total secrecy is the norm!

    People keep telling me that it is “early days” and that “things will improve” – Well 5 years since the introduction of VAR it is still not being used properly. How long will it take before it is used fairly.

    Another point you raise is that football is the only sport where there is NO action taken against the player who deliberately provokes another player to respond. In fact referees mostly allow gamesmanship (time wasting, niggly fouls, not moving away at free kicks etc etc..) to go on without any penalty. It is extremely rare for them to take action.

    Once again my bug bear – time wasting – The only action referees take is to book the goalkeeper in the 93rd minute even though he has taken 30 to 45 seconds for goal kicks since the early minutes of the game.

    The other thing that makes me laugh is when a referee blows for a foul throw. It is strange how he missed all the others in the game.

  7. Hi Tony

    I wonder if you could show all the stats for yellow cards because the comparison you give is between 3 of the top 4 teams and us. I’m sure the analysis is correct but we need to be compared with teams in the bottom quartile. We have similar number of cards – 18 – (I know its not the same thing) as Leeds, Everton and Brighton; Liverpool only have 10, Chelski 15, and Sp*rs 14. We are 12 in the table of yellows (2nd for reds).

    Xhaka’s red was one of the stupidest I’ve ever seen and indefensible. There is always aggression on the football pitch but nothing the Burnley players did was overtly aggressive or warranted a yellow card. Xhaka managed to start a fight in an empty pub and get himself binned for the next 3 games. He should never play for Arsenal again.

    You may be right about Arteta and his experience of moneybags cites, its an interesting angle. But Arsenal have an expensively assembled squad (as you point out) and Arteta had them playing pretty well a month or so ago. The decline is palpable and it is hard to conclude anything other than that they have either lost faith in him or maybe want him gone. Since Chelsea players downed tools to kick out a manager a few seasons ago, all players know that they have the same power. In a pandemic they know the club can hardly threaten to sell them, as no one is buying. They have huge salaries regardless of whether they win, lose or draw.

    Look who was trying hardest yesterday – Tierney, Holding, Gabriel, and Saka. They seem to be bothered – the rest? Not so much.

    You know I don’t agree with you about change and the lessons it might offer. Its not about changing or not changing a manager – its about finding the right manager at the right time. Wenger was just such a find, Mikel may not be. But if we change now we may not stay up anyway, if we don’t change and go down the board will have overseen the first relegation in the club’s history.

    If I sat on the board I know what I’d be thinking…

  8. Tony, there is a lot to agree with, in your post, but there is one aspect on which we diverge.

    I agree that the removal of Wenger was senseless and destructive. It was fueled by fan unrest, but was wrong for many reasons, even if, after 22 years, the time was drawing close for a change.

    The speed of his removal, without any preparation for the successor, was suicidal and has led to the steady decline since. Had Arteta come then, as a coach, and been eased into the post under the guidance of Wenger, he would have been able to adopt his ideas, but in the context of the Arsenal way that Wenger had taken 22 years to bring to the club.

    His removal destroyed that and was exacerbated by the appointment of Emery, clearly the wrong man for the job. The way he went about ruining everything that Wenger had done, it as inevitable that the decline would happen and it was, in my humble view, correct to remove him, although I felt that it should have been done at the beginning of the season not when it was done.

    Freddie was always a temporary stopgap and was never intended to be full time, so you should not use him as one of your statistics.

    We then come to Arteta, who, I am sure all fans, including myself, welcomed with open arms with great hopes for the future.

    However, his micromanaged style, without creativity or variation, has alienated him from the players and many fans and I must say, regrettably, that the time is for him to go, because it is clear as day that the style of football he is seeking to impose on the players, simply does not work in the context of the EPL.

    You cannot blame the senior players, who are in the main all highly experienced internationals, having played in multiple leagues, under many very experienced and respected managers. To expect them to do their best when they are having to do so with both hands tied behind their backs, and blindfolded is naive at the very best.

    Look at yesterday, each and every attack was channelled to the wings for a cross that reached no one.

    You might say that the reasons for that is because we have no one available who can produce the passes needed to thread the ball through the middle and then you would have to ask, whose fault is that?

    The removal of a manager is a drastic and unpleasant step, but sometimes it is necessary. The steady decline into the relegation zone highlights that need now.

  9. He has one of the best players in world football who has the vision and the technique to thread a ball through a crowded penalty area and Mikkel doesn’t play him.

    Ozil’s absence, and his replacement game after game by a series of crosses, makes Mikkel’s team so predictable nobody is threatened, nobody has to think, nobody has to take fast decisions. Every team can luxuriate when playing against this Arsenal team and pick up the points at will.

    Quality defenders cannot be beaten by a team who cannot attack.

  10. Well said, Tony. I came on here to read some sense, and I did. And the fouls per yellow figures show the old referee bias still prevails.

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