Reading LA Lewis’s recent piece about Unai Emery got me wondering why so many Arsenal fans, myself included, have been so much more patient with Mikel Arteta than we were with the other Spaniard.
A quick glance at the Premier League table tells us that we
are objectively worse than we were at this point last season, and, whilst the chorus of dissenting voices is getting louder with every humiliating defeat, the general consensus still seems to be that Arteta should be given more time.
Of course, there are certain obvious explanations we can point to (aside from the fact that he’s a Lego man and everyone loves Lego).
One might be the that, by the time of his demise, Emery had already had a full season in charge, one which ended with our form having been flushed down the toilet and spat on on the way down, then thoroughly flogged upon its arrival at the sewage treatment plant. Arteta has yet to preside over a full season.
Another obvious explanation is that, against all the odds, he delivered the FA Cup while the ink was practically still drying on his contract.
There is a caveat here, which is that it wasn’t the first
time in recent memory Arsenal have dispatched of City in the semi and Chelsea in the final, but, still, given the circumstances (how little time he had been in charge, the state of the side he inherited and, you know, the whole Covid thing), it was a mightily impressive achievement.
But I think there’s another, far more opaque reason why the knives haven’t yet come out for Mikel and it’s to do with his personality and the image he projects.
For my part, when his appointment was announced, I wasn’t quite ready to jump on the bandwagon, but I did kind of jog along beside it, just in case.
Others were far more enthusiastic. Perhaps it was his
association with Pep Guardiola, perhaps it was the way he made the phrase ‘non-negotiables’ sound somehow sexy, or perhaps he is a reptile from another planet with the ability to hypnotise people, but, somehow Arteta was able to create a buzz around himself and win the PR battle before it had even started.
I think it comes down his ability to exude more confidence
and, with it, a greater sense of being in control. Call it charisma, call it charm, call it whatever you want - whatever it is, he has it.
At this point I should probably confess that I started writing this before we played Burnley, and I was going to illustrate that last point by commenting on how Arteta had handled Granit Xhaka with a kind of deftness that his predecessor could only dream of.
Then … well … turns out, Granit Xhaka is a berk. Is that Arteta’s fault? No, but a year ago he fought tooth and nail to keep the player, even though, at the time, the Swiss midfielder’s stock with the fans couldn’t have fallen any lower had he announced that he was actually a lifelong Spurs fan.
And yet, for some reason, I feel like Arteta should be given more of a crack of the whip than Emery was.
I think, ultimately, for all the numerous issues, there is, at least, a semblance of a suggestion of a hint of a whiff of a direction about Arteta’s Arsenal.
Spanking four hundred and eight crosses into the box for players who can’t head isn’t a very effective plan, but at least it’s a plan, and it’s clear that it’s a plan because he has been going around saying that it is a plan.
It’s the plan, in fact. Unless the plan was always to be shambolic defensively, concede several big chances in the first half, ride our luck, then nick a few lucky breakaway goals late in the game, I could never work out what it was we were trying to do under Emery, even when we were winning, and he never seemed to be able to articulate whatever it was we were failing to do.
That made it difficult to back him when things turned sour.
Of course, every defeat chips away at Arteta’s authority, and if we get sucked into a relegation battle, he will have to go.
For now, though, his hypnotic, reptilian stare is enough to convince me that it is not quite time to give up on him.