Reeling Arsenal can find inspiration in a 2011 hammering
The Gunners have not only lost their first three matches of the Premier League season, they have also failed to score in any of them, which is a first in the famous club’s history
“Yes I do. If not I wouldn't be sitting here,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said when asked if he can turn things around for his reeling side and get the results.
It appears a herculean task after the result at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday–a 5-0 humiliation by champions Manchester City. It was the Gunners’ third defeat in a row to start the season which has left them at the bottom of the table. For the first time in their 128-year-old history, they have started a season by not scoring in the first three matches.
Arsenal were missing new centre-back Ben White and defensive midfielder Thomas Partey, but what stood out the most was the lack of drive among those who played, which also points to a lack of bench strength. Arsenal started brightly against City but ceded ground when Ilkay Gundogan found himself unmarked at the far post to nod in the opener.
Tactics-wise Arsenal started to disintegrate and couldn’t hold their shape thereafter. Whenever City ran at their defence, it felt like a goal was imminent. Arsenal were guilty of not closing down City players and were left chasing the game when skipper Granit Xhaka got a red card for his lunge on Joao Cancelo, reducing them to 10 men before half-time.
Arsenal started with three centre-backs in Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding. Barring Holding the other two were at sea. Only Holding and Xhaka showed some desire when marking while the rest were left ball watching, slow to anticipate and react.
The first three games have shown that Arsenal are in deep trouble. They are playing like a relegation-threatened team than one that can challenge the likes of City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. In a later game, 10-man Chelsea held their shape at Liverpool to come off with a 1-1 draw, showing their prowess of playing according to the situation.
Arsenal have the players. They have the experience of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette upfront, backed by the exuberance of youngsters Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard, the resilience of Xhaka and Partey. The big question though is how Arteta can revive their fortunes.
He will get a fortnight’s international break to get his strategies right. While there are no immediate hints that the Spaniard is in danger of losing his job, the dynamics can quickly change if the listless run of results and displays continues.
It’s not like Arteta hasn’t received strong backing. The London-based club has spent 132 million pounds in the current transfer market so far, almost 78 million pounds have been spent on sprucing up the defence—a traditional weak area for Arsenal—with the arrival of new centre-back White, bought for 50 million pounds from Brighton.
City manager Pep Guardiola backed his former assistant to come good when he has a full strength squad at his disposal.
“The back-five today who played, okay they are good players, but they are not the players they need with Tierney, Ben White and Gabriel and many, many players that he has. Partey is not there. In football, people want result, result, result. Sometimes, you have the squad–look at us, except for (injured) Phil (Foden) and Kevin (de Bruyne), all the other people are ready,” said Guardiola.
He added: “The players make our job good. The moment he has the full squad, everything is going well. I know him perfectly and know the quality he has as a person and as a manager.”
Arsenal’s implosions in Premier League over the last decade aren’t new. They finished eighth last season. On August 28, 2011 Arsenal under Arsene Wenger were drubbed 8-2 by Manchester United at Old Trafford. Arteta’s players can seek inspiration from from how that team bounced back.
Arsenal finished third in the league that season, made it to the last 16 of the Champions League, reached the quarterfinals in the League Cup and made it to the FA Cup fifth round.
That was a season to rebuild as Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clicy had left and Wenger had youngsters like Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin, besides Robin van Persie.
While Arsenal weren’t heavy spenders under Wenger, struggling to compete against the financial muscle of Chelsea, United and City, they always qualified for Champions League, which made it easier for them to attract quality young players. At the moment, Arteta doesn’t have that leverage and the fans will hope that he manages to inspire this squad to bring those European nights back to the Emirates.