Read Alan Alger's Last Word after Arsenal draw 1-1 with Southampton at the Emirates on Wednesday evening.
With Arsenal trailing 1-0 to Southampton at half-time in Wednesday night’s game, even some very rational and sensible Gooners on social media were suggesting that Mikel Arteta’s time might be up.
The Saints had spent the first half dominating possession and looking far superior to us in all areas of the pitch.
A drawn football game is an interesting phenomenon when it comes to post-match assessment. The spoils are shared with a point each, but the reaction is often dependent on which order the goals came. For instance had Arsenal led at half-time and been pushing for a second goal with Southampton then equalising in the second-half would we feel that small glimmer of optimism this morning?
I say small glimmer as things are that bad these days that a draw is being considered in some circles as stopping the rot, with a cry of onwards and upwards. I don’t think that’s a bad strategy as supporters of the club, but I doubt it would have been the same had we been pegged back rather than the ones levelling it.
Gabriel's sending off
The stupidity of our players reared its head again with Gabriel’s sending off.
The Brazilian had looked uncharacteristically shaky up to that point and would probably concede it was one of his worst games in an Arsenal shirt.
He can be forgiven the odd off day though, as most players can.
It’s hard to excuse the silly nature of his second booking last night, though, which resulted in his dismissal. It was more instinctive than the incidents for other red cards we’ve had this season but still completely avoidable.
Arsenal's 'What If' scenarios
Because of that we are very much looking at the ‘what if’ scenarios.
It’s always very tempting as fans to look at dropped points and elements of luck only to say, if x hadn’t happened we’d have y points.
It would be dangerous ground for Arteta to express this publicly but you’d have to think in private he might be saying to those making decisions on his future that the game at Leeds added to the last two home games at the Emirates could have been nine points rather than one.
A scenario that would have us sixth with Chelsea and not far off his target of top four.
The acceptance of where we are as a club is reflected in allowing those scenarios to even enter our way of thinking rather than plainly saying the return from those matches wasn’t acceptable regardless of the hinderance of the red cards.
We’re also in a situation where we can feel positive about a home draw against Southampton, a team that have mostly rolled over and allowed us three points from those fixtures in the past.
Ralph's Saints in focus
The Premier League is very different these days and our opposition last night showed the kind of organisation and distribution of the ball that modern coaches like Ralph Hasenhüttl want.
They stuck with his philosophy and came out of the other side with a team punching well above their weight and collective ability. It’s really harsh on Arteta to draw this comparison too much though.
Hasenhüttl was not operating under the same pressures when it looked as though his methods were failing last year. Some Southampton fans were clamouring for his departure, but they were the same fans who would have settled for 15th in the table this season rather than the heights where he’s taken them. Expectation is everything.
What next for Arteta?
Arteta has far more on his list in his role, and the tasks are mounting on his desk.
The ironic thing is that the ‘winning trophies’ part that is always top of that pile came relatively easy to him early on.
In a perverse way it also probably hindered his work in other areas.
Winning Premier League matches is a staple to keep him in his job and he hasn’t won enough of them. The solutions to that problem might cause him to lose more matches in the short term. That’s where the backing of the fans and the board comes in.
Most fans were insistent that wholesale changes needed to me made to the squad for last night’s game, but in reality the replacements, including those forced on him by suspensions, were still below the level he needs.
I’ve said it many times before but Arsenal players only tend to improve in the minds of the fans lately when they’re nowhere near the pitch.
Returns to the line-up of Maitland-Niles and Pepe aren’t going to work miracles. We know all about them.
Christmas and New Year schedule
It will be very interesting to see how our squad is managed in terms of game-time in the busy few weeks of Christmas and the New Year, a time that will also include the next rounds of the League Cup and FA Cup.
The run of fixtures will leave no hiding place for any of our squad and we will know far more about them in the 10 games between now and February 1t.
Exits in one of both of the cups and more stuttered league form might tell us more about the manager too. It’s a relentless and suffocating time with no breathing space.
Good luck Mikel.