When you are unable to attend matches or meet up with likeminded individuals before or after games and your team is frequently being a disappointment on the pitch, it can be easy to forget the enjoyment that being a football fan can actually bring. Finally, at the eighth attempt, we were given a satisfying reminder of what it feels like to see The Arsenal win in the league again. Chelsea supporters on the other hand, got a taste of what it has been like to watch us play for the best part of this season, with their team’s abysmal performance.
Throughout our bad run of form and when many fans were naively blaming Kroenke for our poor results, I always maintained the belief that we had the players to be getting better results and to be far higher up the table than we currently are. However, there are some supporters who have the mindset that when we lose it is because the players are not good enough and when we win it is all down to Arteta being a master tactician. In my opinion, poor management, and a lack of courage when it comes to team selections on Mikel’s behalf, have been costly factors. That and the much discussed, internal club politics.
One thing Mikel cannot be blamed for though, is the absence of Martinelli through injury. He could be the player who ultimately, saves Mikel’s job. In the games since his return, Martinelli has provided the attacking spark that we have been severely missing nearly all season. There were glimpses of that towards the end of the first half in our Carabao Cup game against Man City too. Unfortunately, it was hugely overshadowed by the horror show involving Runarsson at the other end of the pitch.
Losing to Man City is no disgrace in itself but the manner of our defeat and the number of basic mistakes made during the loss were. My new-born daughter has been subjected to being in the same room as my wife and I, whilst we have been watching Arsenal games since her birth three weeks ago and I dread to think what her first words will eventually be. I just hope that they will not mirror those that were coming from my mouth in relation to a certain Icelandic goalkeeper.
On his debut, Runarsson had very little to do aside from catching a few routine crosses but has looked like an accident waiting to happen ever since. To the point where I feel that any shot on target is likely to result in a goal. It may sound harsh, but I have genuinely seen outfield players perform better than him between the posts, than he did against Dundalk and Man City, when going in goal following the goalkeeper being sent off and their team having used all their substitutions.
If we have any youth goalkeepers who have reached 18 or 19 and they are not better than him, then they probably should not be at the club either as far as I’m concerned. I cannot see one positive attribute that he possesses. He appeared very uncomfortable with the ball at his feet when he eventually faced quality opposition, has no aerial presence, weak wrists, and poor positional sense. I obviously hope he proves me wrong but based on what I have seen of him so far, he is potentially the worst Arsenal goalkeeper I have seen in all my years following the club. Which is quite an accolade.
Many supporters could see that Runarsson wasn’t good enough weeks ago, I even joked on social media that he looked good until the ball went anywhere near him and that he should only be involved in our games as a ball boy, so why did Arteta pick him to face a team like Manchester City? I am not sure what concerns me more, him being named in the starting eleven for cup games and on the bench for our league fixtures or that he was reportedly recommended by the club’s goalkeeping coach, Inaki Cana.
As supporters, we are often patronisingly informed by those who blindly follow any Arsenal manager, that those in professional football employment obviously know more than us but that certainly is not always the case. It is not uncommon for fans to recognise the decline of a player or the readiness of a promising youngster before it is apparently acknowledged by club employees. All you need to do in order to find clear evidence of the catalogue of errors made by past and present members of Arsenal staff, is watch our games from recent seasons and many of them from so far this campaign.
Yes, our player recruitment policy has been poor but so has the management of the team. For some reason, many of our supporters try to defend the latter but I am not sure why, it certainly hasn’t been Kroenke, Wenger, Emery, or the scouting department who have been picking the team, choosing the tactics, making substitutions, needlessly selecting players who we all know, should never be anywhere near an Arsenal starting eleven and failing to get the best out of the players that we have. It has been Arteta and his coaching staff.
For weeks, if not months, I have wanted Mikel to give more youngsters an opportunity in our league games. Although the standard of the opposition has been poor, most of our best performances so far this season have come in the Europa League, when we have had more young players in the team. They play with a smile on their faces and their exuberance is infectious. This rubs off on some of the more senior players and they do not necessarily need to have had a great game themselves in order to influence those around them.
A win against Chelsea is always a nice feeling and gave us the perfect Christmas present but forgive me for being reluctant to herald it as the dawn of a new era. We have been here before after our victory at Old Trafford, only to follow that win up with a truly dreadful run of league results. I cannot confidently say that Arteta has turned the corner in terms of his predictable, unimaginative team selections either. Had Aubameyang been fully fit and Willian available too, I suspect that both may have started the game.
As I have said in some of my previous articles, sometimes managers must make changes in personnel through no choice of their own due to injuries or suspensions. Smith Rowe may or may not prove to be good enough, but he is the type of player, positionally and stylistically, that we have been crying out for and should have been given an opportunity to stake his claim earlier. Aubameyang has barely smiled all season because of his and the team’s dire performances. That is filtered through the team and had a detrimental effect on all the players. When he is happy, the whole side is when he is not, none of the players are. In truth, I don’t yet believe that Arteta is brave enough to drop him unless the decision is taken out of his hands.
For readers who may be wondering why I am still being critical of the manager and some of the players after a victory, it is simple. One game does not change the past or my opinion. I have never called for Arteta’s head, but I have been calling for him to be bolder and at least try something new to arrest our slump. In the coming weeks we will discover if our Boxing Day win came because of default or design in terms of Mikel’s team selection.
Xhaka and Bellerin have both received a lot of criticism from supporters, but the same fans are reluctant to praise them when they do perform on the pitch. No, one game does not erase their previous performances but if they do deliver what is expected of them, I believe it should be acknowledged. Some fans are already saying that we have turned a corner, but it is far too early to say that. That judgment can only be formed over the next few weeks when we will see whether Mikel and the team continue to show improvement.
I want Arteta to do well, like I do all Arsenal employees. I am not expecting us to become a top side overnight, but I do expect to see us taking more forward steps than backwards ones. Sadly, that has not been the case of late….
Passionate Gooner born in 1984. I often get called negative but personally, I prefer the term honest and honesty is something that I pride myself on. I joined the Gunners Town team after penning several ‘Dear Arsene Wenger’ letters on my Facebook profile, several years ago, and sharing them in Arsenal supporter groups. These were met with praise and the encouragement to start writing my own blog, from fellow Arsenal supporters, who felt my words summed up their own feelings perfectly. So here I am…..