- Arsenal visit Manchester United on Sunday in a crucial match for Mikel Arteta
- The Gunners boss has overseen three defeats in his last four league matches
- The north Londoners sit 12th in the Premier League table and need results soon
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not scored a league goal since the opening day
- Arteta still believes his side will be top-four contenders at the end of the season
This was not how it was supposed to be going for Mikel Arteta, was it?
All of a sudden, there was belief. An identity again, the last one long lost to a bygone era. Whispers of outside contenders for the top four.
Yet here we are, Arsenal head to Manchester United today with three defeats in their last four in the Premier League. 12th place. A worse first 26 league games than Unai Emery.
Maybe this time it’s just a product of a crazy season, where the only pattern is that there is none. Or maybe, there is more to it. If you look deeper, there’s signs for concern.
Only Crystal Palace, Newcastle and West Brom with fewer shots per game (check after today). Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang five league games without a goal.
Only three other teams with a higher Passes Per Defensive Action figure, a number which shows how aggressively you press. The lower the number, the fewer passes you allow your opponent before you try to win it back. Not what you would expect from a disciple of Pep Guardiola.
From Arteta’s point of view, this is just another pothole on the long path to rebuilding a club that has not known what it is since its previous creator left, passed through various hands until now. A similar situation to the one faced by the man in the opposing dugout today in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
‘I had to prioritise the things that we had to get right straight away in order to give us the best possible chance to be competitive in every game, and try to have a real fight against any opponent.
‘I think we are doing that and now there are some final things that we have to improve to be more consistent with our results.
‘But the way we are competing in every game is unquestionable, even against the top teams. The game that we lost the other day, in a few months we will win it.’
That game in question was the 1-0 defeat at home to Leicester, Arsenal’s first at home to the Foxes in 47 years. They struggled to break down a Leicester team that Arteta complained had put 11 men behind the ball, only for Jamie Vardy to come off the bench and snatch the win.
‘Those matches will be much better controlled and we will be more of a threat when we are attacking those situations. It takes a little bit of time and you have to respect that time without exposing players.
‘It’s a challenge and that’s that we have to be resolving on a daily basis because we don’t have a six-week pre-season where we can work on anything with all the players. We’re just facing the situations as and when they come, and we’ll get better because we need to improve in certain areas.’
Arsenal are not the only team caught up in the madness. United have endured their own. Hammered 6-1 by Tottenham but have since beat Paris Saint-Germain and stuffed Leipzig in the Champions League. Even Arteta has struggled to make sense of it all.
‘I’ve been watching their games and they are really different games,’ said Arteta. ‘Where they’ve won and lost, it’s the way the game navigated and where the game was in certain moments and how it ended up, it’s confusing.
‘What I can say about them is that they have the ability to turn any match into a win with the ability they have up front, with the options that they have to change formations and the threat that they have in attacking positions.’
Arteta believes this tumultuous season will settle down. At the minute Everton are title contenders and Aston Villa are in the top four.
Come the end, it will be the usual suspects and Arteta thinks Arsenal will be one of them.
‘I expect that everything will start to be more natural and more stable,’ he said. ‘The start of the season depends a lot on your fixtures.
‘Don’t forget as well that this season we have already played three times against Liverpool, we played against Manchester City away from home and we’ve had some tough games without any preparation.
‘We will see where we are in May.’