Mikel Arteta used the first Sunday of Lent to tell us that he’d put all of his eggs in the Europa League basket.
A rotated Arsenal side limped to an almost grateful 1-0 thrashing from Manchester City, whose relentless march to the title looks all but sewn up.
Pep Guardiola then had time to help out a mate by saying how difficult the game had been for his side, but it won’t have fooled many supporters who watched the game.
For us it all but confirmed a mid-table finish, coming on a day when the top four sides in the table, including City, all registered victories. On that basis the boss got the team selection right, but he starts an absolutely huge week off the back of a game where we hardly landed a blow.
City’s dominance was such that they even had time to stop and walk around at one point, but the record books show a scoreline of 0-1 and that’s all that matters. Avoiding a demoralising heavy beating before we take on Benfica in a season-defining game is one of few positives.
Arsenal’s chances in the 90 didn’t even amount to half a goal when translated to xG. A total that our opponents surpassed in the first two minutes. While it was good to see Kieran Tierney back in the starting line-up, once again the defensive side of his game was exposed.
The cross into the area shouldn’t have been that easy for the only goal of the game. That said, the pathetic attempt from Hector Bellerin who politely nudged Raheem Sterling to get touch-tight then allowed him to get free was woeful. Not to mention Holding and Mari losing a headed battle in their own six-yard box against a height deficit of nearly a foot!
And overall attitudes also have to be questioned, again. Sterling’s goal was the 12th we have conceded in the Premier League this season within three minutes of either starts or ends of halves.
That’s 39% of the total goals we’ve conceded (12 out of 31) coming in just under 14% of the time allotted in a game.
It’s the third time we’ve conceded in the ‘nothing silly’ area of the 2nd minute this season.
The highest total in the league. We’ve also conceded five goals in the last three minutes of first halves, which speaks of wandering minds and shocking game management.
Drawing the line as to who is responsible in these areas might have the buck hover past the players, but it will always stop with the manager.
I’ve certainly highlighted in the past Arteta’s micro-management of every single situation.
When we’re allowed back in the ground it is well worth watching if you get a chance. Or use one of the ‘no crowd sound’ TV options on our next game to hear him constantly barking instructions.
As I’ve often pointed out, any sensible fan will try and judge all the things that have made up the odd mix for this season with fairness.
Extending that fairness to the boss has been relatively easy with a starting point that maybe things have to get worse at the club before they get better. It’s also fair to question why he needs to constantly advise his players during a game after spending all week on the training ground with them?
If his answer to that question is that they’re not good enough then I will agree with him, to a point.
He still needs to strike a proper balance between encouragement, advice and then just sitting down and allowing the players to get on with it.
Some players were woefully exposed by the quality of City yesterday and it’s worth pointing out that facing sides of that supreme level won’t be a feature of more than five per cent of games in a season, a little higher if we reach the Champions League once more.
But again Arteta’s excuse falls down on the fact that a side like Burnley left the Emirates with the same scoreline just ten weeks ago.
I’m still of the opinion that the biggest and most valid excuse he has is the absolute mess Arsene Wenger left the club in.
Although some Wenger loyalists have decided to ignore the slide he started in his final season – the one where he failed to finish in the top four.
I firmly believe it had the gravitational effect of pushing a car down a steep hill, now Mikel has to somehow at least stop it before dragging it back up to the top.
If he’s not up to it, and some have already decided that, then he’ll depart soon enough.
How soon may well rest on the result against Benfica on Thursday night.
We have to hope to avoid a repeat of the Olympiakos game last season where bad luck and a bit of bad planning left us faltering and losing one of our most important games of that campaign.
After 45 league games as Arsenal manager, Arteta is 15 points behind where Unai Emery was at the same stage. His FA Cup success and a win on Thursday will hopefully allow him more time than his fellow Spaniard had…