In any other Arsenal season a one-goal defeat at Goodison Park would be a mild annoyance, but not a complete disaster.
Everton are one of the better mid-table Premier League teams and our last ten away trips there prior to yesterday included three defeats.
However Mikel Arteta does not have the benefit of painting this game as a ‘one off’ in a sea of reasonable results. Our results at the moment are entirely unreasonable.
Just when we think it can’t get any worse it suddenly does.
Stats for our worst ever league start were hovering around the 1980s but keep stretching back further and further with each passing game. We’re breaking new records, wholly unwanted ones.
Despite the media portrayal of the wider extremes of our fanbase I think us Gooners, certainly the ones I meet in everyday life, are a fair bunch.
That nature affords any Arsenal manager a number of options to keep us happy. Winning matches is the most obvious one. Yet Arteta also had the route of wholesale changes and introducing homegrown youngsters to our line-up, eliminating deadwood and even challenging our absent owners.
The latter of those options is a risky one for his job security, but having the fans onside is imperative if he’s to achieve his long term goals. Yesterday’s match was a turning point for many of those fair-minded fans and I noticed real dismay in the way Arteta carried out his job on Merseyside.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was missing with a tight calf, but such is the nature of suspicion and uncertainty around the way our squad is being handled at the moment, fans and pundits alike were looking for an alternative reasoning.
It was a big chance for Eddie Nketiah to lead the line and it was a chance he really didn’t take. His miss when under no pressure in the first half was so far off his Europa League and minor cup form, it possibly illustrated his level.
A lot of heat will be taken off Nketiah’s performance because of the abysmal showing of Willian. The ex-Chelsea man retaining his place in the starting eleven and throwing in what can only be described as a stinker. If a player ever looked like he was just going through the motions then that was it. A signing that becomes more baffling by the day, but it’s in Arteta’s court that he stayed on the pitch for the whole game.
While Pepe can always be relied upon for a decent penalty, aside from that equaliser from the spot he was also poor. Bukayo Saka had one of his worst games for the club, but like Gabriel in midweek I’m happy to defend him in the current circumstances.
He’s possibly the only player from the outfield ten that kicked off the game I’d want to see in an Arsenal shirt 18 months from now. It really is that bad.
Fans are behind the youngsters Maitland-Niles and Tierney, but being brutally honest neither have shown they are of a quality that would touch the squads of any of our supposed competitors at the top of the table.
Arteta’s option to make the first-team squad a meritocracy and support young players was his final lifeline and he seemingly blew that on Saturday night. Unai Emery tried that and the players eventually rebelled against him. But there’s a little more to it than taking a firm hand with your personnel.
There are also fundamental set-up errors we are making in each game that do not show our current boss in the best tactical light. He might not be working with the players he wants to work with, but that could probably be said for at least a dozen other mangers in the league.
You still have to send them on the pitch with basic instructions. Jamie Carragher did not hold back on Sky when he questioned how we were crowding a keeper on an outswinging corner and when we let Everton’s Yerry Mina choose his marker for the winner.
Arteta at least has to be doing the absolute basics right and he isn’t, or the players aren’t listening.
Even the simple mindset of reacting to the state of the game doesn’t seem to be instilled in our squad. Trailing by a goal and the body language, apart from in injury time, is at a default of looking as if we’re 3-0 up and cruising.
Hard to find any optimism at the moment
The games keep coming and we keep saying what we want to see in the next game to produce some kind of optimism, but even now it’s hard to raise even that small request.
I’m not sure what we need to see anymore.
Three more games in the calendar year and we are big outsiders in two of them and narrow favourites in one.
It’s not getting any easier to keep any kind of faith.
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