The Controller and His Joystick – Undecided on Arteta as Arsenal’s Season Goes Down The Plug

The Controller and his joystick


It was the 70th minute yesterday. For the first time this season, I’d lost hope. Actually, that’s not true. There have been others.

I felt without hope because I knew everything that Arsenal were going to do next. Nothing came as a surprise. More importantly, Unai Emery had figured it all out too. His side had just a couple of scary moments but largely nullified everything we tried. I felt a while back that when the last third of the game approached that we, like any football team, would have a Plan B. Not so much ‘bring on the target man’ but simply a different way of playing. What I am discovering however is that we are being controlled. Mikel Arteta isn’t just controlling because he sideline coaches, but he seems to coach them to perfect instruction in literally everything they do pre-game. So, where in the past players would try to make the difference with imagination, this wasn’t going to happen or more likely, be allowed.

Arsenal needed the unexpected. Some flair. Something that wasn’t programmed. Watching Arsenal is becoming more and more like watching an 80’s video game. For those old enough to remember, video games back then were very limited in their possibilities. Everything was expected and robotic. Limited. None of the razzmatazz options in the current world of video games. It’s like Arteta is stuck in 1984, controlling with an old school joystick but limited himself and the players to the options that were available in 1984 rather than the many modern variables.

I think Arsenal fans want Arteta gone for reasons beyond the results.  His controlling style of football is sucking the freedom out of the players and out of the fans joy in watching the team.

I think that subconsciously we are reacting with little patience towards him as we’ve just lived 15 months where our freedoms have been eroded and the last thing we want is to see our team play as if they have lost their freedoms too. 

Football is primarily fun. Fun and hugely unpredictable unlike many sports. Until now perhaps. It’s changing and Arteta embodies the modern coach that seems to want to change it into an ultra controlled coaches game. Players have always been under direction but this is extreme.


I am still undecided on Arteta.

I think I’m undecided because in his time in charge he has changed so much and many of the pieces were needed for the last 15 years. I feel very grateful for that. I also feel that we have seen everything this season, literally everything. We have been awful, largely mediocre and occasionally hugely impressive. I’m suckered into seeing the high points and believing that with the players he wants we will stop the individual errors and he will be able to move us forward quite significantly.

Ultimately, I think it will come down to the players. If they fight for Arteta behind the scenes as they often have in public when hugely praising him, then I think he stays. If they are indifferent, silent or if he’s lost them, he goes.

What a big fat shame. I didn’t see this season going this way.



-There are two teams that affect a result and we often just focus on one. Villareal were very good and made it very difficult for us. If I was a Villareal fan, I’d think we deserved that, and I think they’d be right.

-Pepe is becoming far more reliable in possession. He is more aggressive in protecting the ball and seems to wiggle out of many difficult scenarios. I do wish that he would run at players at full speed though. I’ve always felt that he waits for the defender to bite and the better ones don’t so he’s stuck.



-Leno has been getting much negativity this last week. I thought he was fully focused and very good.



-This is what I wrote after our last game….

“On the other hand I found the game highly frustrating. Frustrating because there were so many things that were better, but the timing for such improvement may be perfect but feels so off. I appreciate yesterday’s performance against Newcastle. I will be infuriated however if we end up taking Newcastle away, whilst in 11th place, more seriously than Villareal at home, though.”

This was in relation to the rather impressive tempo that we discovered in an unimportant game. I think what happened was that Arteta had found some combinations that were able to play with a higher tempo. He then got clever and changed it….. again. Simply too clever.

-Emptying the midfield and leaving Partey largely alone is fine if the players who are higher justify this tactic. The players in front of Partey were not sharp enough in their movements and looked afraid to play outside Arteta’s joystick.

-Auba came off. Why? So that Eddie could come on?



-People are starting to talk about whether Arteta is listening to his other coaches. I’ve said all season that if it doesn’t work out for him at Arsenal, I think it will be lack of humility that was his downfall. I have no concrete proof that he doesn’t listen or receive advise well, just a strong feeling.

I hope that he goes on to have a top career at Arsenal but I fear that he may never fulfill his coaching potential if his ego keeps tripping him up.

-I think Arsenal will spend big this summer as the Kroenke’s will want/be forced to change the mood. If we don’t get any European football, will players like Bissouma go elsewhere?




I think it’s important to note that preparing to play Arsenal can be tough as Arteta plays so many formations and he makes so many tweaks. If you can figure out how to combat his changes in-game, you will beat Arsenal as Arteta doesn’t seem to allow the players to win the game.

Might be why we don’t see much of Martinelli. He’s a wild card. Might be why we love him too much. He bucks the system and offers us a break from the joystick.

For what it’s worth, I think that this might be the most important thought I’ve had this season.


Please have a listen to my ‘PNH expanded 15 minute podcast here….

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4 Responses to The Controller and His Joystick – Undecided on Arteta as Arsenal’s Season Goes Down The Plug

  1. Nick Smith May 7, 2021 at 9:56 am #

    Excellent summary again Mike. Unfortunately I think time may be up for Arteta which is a shame as I think there is a good manager in there trying to get out. I think he is trying to emulate Pep but without the experience and of course the quality of players Pep has at his disposal.

    There is clearly a lot of clearing out to do and time for Kroenke to put his money where his mouth is, but whether they will trust Arteta to do that is another question. I don’t think they will. The drop off in money with no European football next season will be a lot more important to Kroenke than the quality of the football and that may be the tipping point to try someone else. But who ? We need an experienced manager, who has managed at the highest levels (and won things) and would have the instant respect of the players. They would also ideally have to be out of work at the moment so there is no big compensation to pay. Before Arteta’s appointment I was 100% convinced that we should go for Rafa Benitez and I think that would not be a bad shout now. I’m pretty certain he would get us playing with a bit more freedom and would be a trusted hand in the eye’s of the owners and players.

    Others worthy of mention are Brendan Rodgers, but why would he leave Leicester ? Bielsa – wow we would certainly be entertaining, but probably let in far too many. Flick – would bring some of the German structure to the team.

    I don’t think it’s the right time for the likes of Gerrard or Potter though, but I wouldn’t rule them out of the frame should Arteta go.

  2. Robert May 7, 2021 at 10:11 am #

    Arsenal will find it harder to persuade good players into the club after yesterday’s event. There are very good and proven players in the Premier league clubs

  3. Ronald May 7, 2021 at 10:57 am #

    Hi Mike. Yesterday if I was a betting man I would’ve made quite a lot. During halftime, I was with my mate discussing the game and what to do and I jokingly bet him that I could name the first 3 subs that Arteta would make, though not in order. Would you believe it if I told you that all my 3 predictions were right. I argued the substitutions in a “Rational” way. I think that’s his biggest problem. His big brain. I could visualize the coaches meeting the morning of the game where they came to a conclusion even on the subs to make. Everything about Arsenal is robotic and planned no matter how the game is going. Am I the only person who usually prefers to get a particular style of play and perfect it/get players who can play in this system and only TWEAK on occasions that it isn’t working or if the opponent has a serious flaw.

    With us, if any small thing doesn’t go according to plan, then the whole game becomes hopeless. Yet in this day and age, so many things can affect the “little details”, as Mikel puts it, that will affect a game. We cannot control all variables for crying out loud. I think Arteta is too ice cold for his own good. And for that, I don’t think that even if he was given 2/3 more good players things would turn out different. Hearing him screaming to Bellerin then Holding to return the ball to the keeper was the break glass moment for me. I haven’t checked any social media platforms because of the pain. Can’t wait for the season to end so that I can at least enjoy football without having to think about Arsenal. I still believe the guy who cares the most about Arsenal’s results is Arteta, but as you put it perfectly, he has made it the coaches’ game and not the players’ game.

  4. Jason May 7, 2021 at 8:19 pm #

    Unai Emery deserves a wholehearted apology from us fans because of the way we treated him when things went wrong.

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