Many lessons for Arteta to learn from Villa defeat – but the biggest is his need for a Grealish



What a difference a week can make, from feeling euphoric to embarrassed. One step forward, two steps backwards. My previous article warned Arsenal supporters against getting too carried away after our impressive victory at Old Trafford and unfortunately, that proved to be some shrewd advice.

I’ve also been saying for a while that Mikel Arteta needs to start removing our attacking shackles and following our fourth home league fixture of the season, resulting in a second consecutive goalless home league defeat, this could not be any more evident after we yet again appeared to be set up to play on the counter attack in a performance that has completely nullified the result and feel good factor earned at Old Trafford, only a week prior. When you decide on a counter attacking approach to games, you have to be ruthless when you do attack, unfortunately, we are not. We are far from it.

I originally started writing this article in the immediate aftermath of the final whistle being blown against Aston Villa, however, due to the level of my disappointment at the performance and result, I thought it was best for all concerned to let the dust settle and sleep on it for a while in order to avoid any knee jerk reactions being penned on my part. After all, passion and emotions can often contribute to a victory or defeat being blown out of proportion one way or another by supporters.

Perhaps unsurprisingly where our fan base is concerned, there has been a minority calling for the Manager’s head in the fallout from our deserved defeat against Aston Villa. Sadly, this has become a common theme amongst some of our over-reactionary supporters following a disappointing result of any form. However, there are some of us  – including myself – who at least try to analyse things calmly and from an objective viewpoint where possible.

Whilst I’m certainly not in the Arteta Out camp, I do consider it to be fair game to question some of his tactics, even more so after listening to his post match comments, where Mikel admitted that he “didn’t like it from the first whistle”. In truth none of us did, Mikel, but you were the only one in a position to change things and appeared to do nothing of any note in an attempt to stem the tide. At times you looked completely lost on the side lines. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights some would say.


The disallowed Aston Villa goal should have served as an early warning to Mikel, his coaching staff and our players, who need to have a good look at themselves and their contribution too, yet we continued to play in the same manner that we started, for the rest of the game. If our plan A isn’t working and it appears not to be overly effective for home fixtures, does Mikel have a plan B? If so, we are yet to see it so far this season.

We are now eight games into the current league campaign and we have scored just nine goals. Only five teams have scored less than us, four of which occupy the bottom four positions in the league table and five sides have already scored at least double our present total. Regardless of how well we’ve done defensively, this is a concern. I want to trust the process, as we are often told to do but it’s difficult to have belief in us scoring goals when we are creating so few chances.

We are frequently reminded that Arteta is a managerial novice by those who believe he is beyond criticism and believe me, there are quite a few supporters who appear to be of that mindset. I accept that Mikel will make mistakes, all managers do, particularly whilst they are learning their trade and agree that what’s more important, is that he learns from them. Only time will tell whether he does of course.

What has become increasingly tiresome, is the popular notion on some social media sites, that Arsenal fans should turn a blind eye to some of Mikel’s decision making because of the above. In reality, if every supporter agreed with the manager about everything he does and we all shared the same opinion on any Arsenal related topic, then there would no reason for the existence of supporter opinion groups. Which leads me to ask the question; why do these people join said groups or sites in the first place?

Since Sunday’s game, I have seen many supporters saying that it’s a blessing that no fans have been inside the Emirates stadium for the two recent home league defeats as the team would have been booed off. True but I also think having empty stadiums is a double edged sword in some ways because the players can hear every instruction that Mikel barks from the side lines and perhaps this is contributing factor in our current lack of fluidity and natural creativity. It’s as if our players look almost too rigid playing within the structure currently being implemented.

In Jack Grealish Aston Villa have a creative player who is everything that we don’t have at the moment, in terms of someone who is allowed to express himself by his manager and play his natural game. Even as a rival supporter I couldn’t help but enjoy watching Grealish in action against us. I felt envious too. However, I suspect that if Grealish was playing in our side, he wouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the same level of freedom on the pitch and his game would be stifled somewhat. In truth, he would most likely, quickly become frustrated in the same way that our current attacking players appear to be due to Arteta’s apparent lack of trust in his defenders.

Grealish is undoubtedly a bit of a maverick who offers Villa both the unpredictable and a bit of magic when they need it, perhaps it’s time to give Nicolas Pepe a fair opportunity to do the same for us. No, before you ask, I’m not suggesting that Pepe and Grealish are similar types of players but we are far too predictable at the moment.


Whether you love or hate him, Pepe does offer something different and is a player who can look like he couldn’t kick snow off a rope one minute and then become a match winner with a moment of brilliance the next. I accept that Pepe’s inconsistency can be infuriating at times but whatever your thoughts on him, statistically, he is one of our players who is most likely to score a goal or create one with an assist.

I’m not suggesting that Joe Willock is the answer either or by any means the finished article but he is the only midfield player we have who has been offering a regular goal threat recently. Having impressed in the Europa League, I would have liked to have seen Joe awarded with a place on the bench as he brings a the type of pace and energy that we have lacked in our midfield at times of late.

I acknowledge that there’s a significant difference between the standard of the opposition that Joe has faced in Europe’s second tier competition and would be up against in the Premier League but I also believe in rewarding players for showing good form when given an opportunity.

It’s easy to continue to dismiss Willock as not being good enough for league action, even despite his obvious improvement but how will we ever know if he’s not given a fair chance to prove it? I’m not saying that he should start but what harm could it do to put him on the bench at a time where others are not consistently producing good form. In my opinion, it would also send out a positive message to the other fringe players who are being given opportunities in the Europa League.

Despite my disappointment and my criticism of Arteta in this article, I haven’t changed my opinion about him being the right man for the job. I trust Mikel’s intelligence when it comes to learning from his mistakes through his experience as he gains it as a manager. It’s not all doom and gloom either, we’re top of our Europa League group, we’ve finally won away at Old Trafford in the league again and prior to Sunday, we had looked far better defensively. Gabriel Martinelli is also working his way back towards fitness.

When we play our next fixture against Leeds, we will have had two weeks to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and go again….

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2 Responses to Many lessons for Arteta to learn from Villa defeat – but the biggest is his need for a Grealish

  1. Paul November 10, 2020 at 12:53 pm #

    Very good article Nick. I am actually a Villa fan and thank you for the credit. It was great viewing from my perspective, but trust me i know what it`s like when things are down, literally. What a squad that was, limp at best. Mangers need time. There was some Smith out calls last year which i found astounding. He was brilliant last season to keep that team going and stay up. We have built from that this season with i think some fantastic signings, including Jacks deal. Time will tell with Arteta, but sometimes i always say, be carefull what you wish for. He goes, who`s next? We are all great managers at heart.

    • Nick Birch November 10, 2020 at 4:51 pm #

      Thank you for your comment, I probably didn’t give you guys enough credit for how good you were on Sunday.

      I certainly don’t want Arteta to go, I’m still hopeful that he will prove to be the right man for us.

      Having criticised Wenger a lot towards the end of his reign, I feel that I’m being consistent in my criticism or praise where our managers are concerned and try to offer a balanced viewpoint regardless of who is in charge.

      I wish we’d kept Martinez too!

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