What is Wrong With Arsenal? Three Theories.

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I have a few theories why a relatively decent team is unable to find the net from an open play for eight games in a row.

My first theory is the scariest one. I’m afraid Arteta is being sabotaged by his own players. Say whatever you want but David Luiz, Xhaka, Willian and Aubameyang look disinterested in making things better for the club. To make things worse, all four seems to be un-droppable for different reasons. Auba used to press the goalkeepers – he no longer does it. His body language is awful. He picks wrong solutions in the final third so often that it’s unbelievable. And when I say unbelievable, I mean I don’t believe what I see. Willian’s name is mentioned in the Panama Papers. He used to play for Chelsea and Kia Joorabchian was involved in his transfer. Now, there are too many dots that, if connected in a way I have done it, make a really ugly picture, especially if we add his compatriot DL into the equation. David Luiz played for Chelsea. Twice. He was part of three weird transfers (Benfica to Chelsea, Chelsea to PSG, PSG to Chelsea) and each one of those looks suspicious. Xhaka has already sent Wenger to deserved retirement and then he helped Emery going there as well. He looked lively under Arteta but right now he looks lost in every possible way. What he did last night in the moment when we were on top is beyond idiotic. If I were Arteta, Xhaka would have returned home on stretchers. What worries me, it’s almost like Xhaka (v Burnley) and Pepe (v Leeds) had the whole script written about their self-combust. You don’t do that unless you want your gaffer to get sacked. (Now, this is a madman theory, LE GALL!)

The second theory is the most lenient one and slightly resembles to the one of LE GALL. Simply, the players were hoping Mesut Özil, who is still a popular figure among the players, would be restored to the team. Since his name didn’t find the place on the “25” list and he publicly expressed his disappointment, our team has looked like a hopeless bunch of players. I feel players were holding onto their positions with desire and optimism as long as there was hope the cavalierly would arrive. Once they realized the cavalierly wouldn’t come because Arteta decided to go along with Edu’s wishes and shot Mesut’s horse, they have downed their tools and want this season to end as soon as possible.

Finally, there is a third theory that should worry us the most. We are simply not good enough. Arteta is not a good manager even if he is an excellent coach. Aubameyang is a third-rate player who is a first-rate goalscorer and, what is the worst thing, a fifth-rate captain. Lacazette is a second-rate player who is a third-rate goalscorer with a fourth-rate mental strength. Willian is a 32-year-old has-been. Bellerin is a 25-year-old RB who has never learned how to cross the ball with technique and never fully restored his form following an ugly injury. Holding is a £2m central defender with huge potential who went through the series of ugly injuries that reduce the chance of fulfilling the potential. Saka is a teenager who has been overplayed because he is the only one capable of showing creativity week in and out. Pepe is another example why Arsenal Football Club should not be given big money to spend. Leno is an excellent shot-stopper with poor commanding skills. Gabriel is an excellent central defender and Tierney is an excellent left back who would have had immense stats had we had a Giroud as our CF.

I once quoted Ante Mladinić here. He was a great Yugoslavian/Croatian coach. Here is a quote I only recently read. Mladinić once said about his mother-club Hajduk Split: “Hajduk can go through the crisis of performing and the crisis of results but Hajduk must never go through the crisis of management!”

Unfortunately, Arsenal have managed to complete the sh*t hat-trick of crises.

By Admir

21 thoughts on “What is Wrong With Arsenal? Three Theories.

  • And this was LeGall’s fine comment earlier today:

    “Now, I’m not blind, and the near future of this club worries me too. I’ve read most of your posts/comments, and I really don’t see what original analysis I could pile on top of them. BK is one of the very, very few spots on the web, where you don’t feel like the lads are standing in front of a rifle squad; not only do I agree with that, but I keep thinking this group of players could be back among the very best in no time.
    I get the feeling our main problem is not technical-tactical, but mental, and as soon as it is properly tackled, we’ll be firing on all cylinders again. For all the high esteem I hold Mick in, I do believe he’ll have to improve that side of his coaching style. Just one example, maybe inspired by my teaching years: the more I think about it, the more convinced I am his original sin might have been taking Mesut out of the 25-man list. Then again, I’m not talking tactics here, but the moment he decided to do that, I think the only thing he achieved was to instill fear into the whole group. All the lads must have thought to themselves, “if he can do that to a £350.00 a week-German world champion-former Real playmaker; at the slightest mistake of mine, what will happen to ME??”. This is the madman theory applied to football, you get some kind of order, of course, but at the cost of killing initiatives, of sucking the life, the fun, out of the group you’re in charge of.
    I could write about the way Laca has been treated, or Ainsley (the lad makes it to the English team, only to be dropped right after that, not even on the bench for the “Wolves” game!! – “madman theory” again), but you’ve got my point. Such a problem is not that hard to fix, though: professional players are intelligent guys, they can see that – just as a fearful young teacher – M.A. just wanted to prove how ruthless he could be, to get a grip on them (it never works, believe me; time is on THEIR side, not yours; sooner or later, they’ll make you pay for trying to frighten them into submission).
    Now, there’s only one way to get out of this (THIS is the hard part, for as proud a boy as I suspect our head-coach might be); you have to talk to the group, admit to your mistakes, and tell them you’ve realized they need to be given some slack, and won’t be axed at after the first step out of line – or something approaching that, well-adapted to the (strong) personalities you’re in charge of.
    You also have to go back to basics: when I read TA’s pre-Burnley post, I agreed with the structure of his lineup; when you’re short of confidence (understatement), you have to run for the cover of what was successful, what made everyone happy, and in our case that’s a back-3 and a 4-man midfield. I wish the Pépé-Laca-Auba trident were given a full 90-minute-opportunity to shine, just for once. All the more so since (and for all the belief I have in them) trusting a bunch of younger lads (you can trust some of them, of course, but not all of them at the same time) with the daunting task of taking a club like The Arsenal out of the dark place it is in at the moment, is much too heavy a burden to put on their young shoulders imo. Emil, Joe, Reiss, Folarin, have had so little PL playing time (or no time at all) so far, that I feel deciding overnight to give them the responsibility to save us would be like throwing their livers to the dogs (the other teams’ experienced PL players, who’ll be too happy to prey on them).
    As always, simplicity’s the key, but it comes at a price for those who achieved it, and Arsène paid for it. Those who wanted him out, took Wengerball (and our results) for granted, because of his 4-2-3-1, and of his changes on the stroke of the hour, as though all The Great Man had to do was to turn up at Colney, get the boys to play five-a-sides, and cash in at the end of the week. But Arsène (just like Graham, as different as our two legends might have been) were great teachers, insofar as they accepted their work to look basic, or even go unnoticed. They were not obsessed with being remembered as Professors Keating (“Dead Poets’ Society”??) of football. I think Mick has to learn that from them too; we won’t get better by making successful a never-seen-before-game-plan, we will get out of this mess by doing very well the very simple things.”

  • Thanks, TA. 🙂

    LE GALL’s comment is the one that I didn’t even read when I started to write my own and before I sent my reply, I had to make amends and I was very glad to do it. 🙂

    The Özil thing seems to be bigger than we (are allowed to) know. Arteta, of all people, should know more about Mesut than Emery and Freddie combined given that he had played with Mesut for three years. I’m not sure Mesut is completely innocent in the whole story – he has a strong PR service behind him – but he is a type of a player we miss even if he may not be the player we miss.

  • Cheers Admir,

    Very well thought through arguments and, as always, very well written.

    Theory 1: is not for me. I dont see our players disinterested but frustrated and down on confidence. You know I disagree with you re Xhaka, other than his conduct yesterday.

    Theory 2: could have some truth to it. It would not surprise me at all. As said earlier today, I am not sure whether Arteta has much to do with the exclusion of Ozil. The sooner he goes the better though. I dont see any blame on Arteta as he should be able to exclude players who undermine him or do not cooperate with him. Maybe Arteta needs to explain his decision better. However, if this theory has truth to it, it will be hard one to deal with..#

    Theory 3: I don’t believe that. Of course the jury remains out re Arteta who can only be judged at the end of the season at the earliest. The players are good in my opinion but like a good boxer who ends up in the corner groggy, we are looking weak and struggle to regain momentum. And the bell will not ring anytime soon.

  • Good Theories. The one that is intriguing is the Arteta Coach Vs Manager argument. I feel that Arteta’s initiation into managing football team was under Pep who just by the weight of this achievements as a manager could take on players. Arteta seems to have believed that’s the only way to manage football players. His experience is limited to seeing Pep in action which frankly is not the life 95% of football managers will lead. So this one is on the Board and Owner that they hire Arteta and within a matter of six months promote him to be one of the power center’s. I believe this is where we lost Arteta the Coach.

  • Great additional argument, Madhu. Players have a lot of combined power and they represent not just workers but also the club’s investment whose value can drop considerably when they are not used properly or successful. It is very tricky, especially when you don’t have the gravitas of an established manager or the experience/age of a very persuasive manager. I don’t whether Mikel has the latter or not, but early signs have been positive.

  • I honestly think that none of these theories is correct. We have an amazing manager and a pretty good team. The problem are the last few years where we were in constant turmoil and made horrible decisions inside the club. Kicking Wenger out was the first one, appointing Emery the second one. Bad recruitment and people like Sanlehi, Gazidis and so on made everything worse. The result is a team without any confidence, an unbalanced squad (why did we let Ramsey leave) and a team that forget how to play football under Emery. The only thing we can do is support Arteta and the players we have. They will turn this around 100 %. The blame game won’t help anyone, instead it makes everything worse. Just support the team and the manager and we wipp get back to where we belong to. I am so fed up woth all this reactionary and negative bullshit. Everyone with a brain knew that this wilp take time and it will hurt us all big time.

  • Ramsey was extremely injury-prone. We were very lucky to get a big fee for him and he has been a disaster in Italy

  • Thanks TA for posting Le Gall’s comment! 👍😀 That resonates with me more than Admir’s theories (Sorry Admir!). I thought we were just becoming ascendant when Xhaka saw Red. [on a different note, I felt it was rather harsh when taken into context. But no complaints] That to me is not the sign of a disinterested team or a team that has lost faith in the manager. But they do look like they are overthinking on the pitch. Here’s to getting out of this funk soon and go on a 10 game (at least) winning streak! 😀
    On a more tactical note, is it my imagination or is Bellerin slowing attacks on the right flank? I see how Tierney and Saka overlap on the left and just how Tierney is looking to run or pass forward. But with Hector, the first instinct seems to be to stop the ball and pass back.

  • Cheers Admir. There are probably a million theories for why things aren’t working and the recruitment is definitely one that is easiest to dissect. I think our problems are more systemic and start with our ownership, upper management and board.

    1. Ownership – they have no experience running a football club and no vision for what they want the club to be in line with what’s actually possible. Do they want to be a self-sustaining, development factory that churns out top talent and competes for CL and the odd title like Dortmund and Red Bull? Or do they want to be challenging for titles? You can’t have it both ways, especially in the prem, so either you stump up the cash to go all out and remake this broken squad or you go the route of not spending big outlays on prime aged players that have little to no sell on value.

    2. Upper Management – they have no experience running a football club (see the recurring theme?) and also no vision for what they want the club to be, but the ownership is still “trusting” them to figure it out. Vinai was doing our shirt sponsorships only a few years ago and Edu has experience with Corinthians and the Brazil National Team – lol.

    3. Board – it’s been well documented that the board members have no footballing operation minds and are all legacy individuals who have been on the board forever. They pretty much fall into the category of not knowing how to govern footballing decisions and what’s needed to turn things around.

    Apologies for the long post, but the issues are systemic and start at the top, filtering down into our half-measured recruitment strategy. Without a clear vision of what we want to be as a club, we will set any manager up to fail. Having a vision and hiring people who have upper management experience from those clubs that operate in the way you want to operate would be the first step in solving some of our issues. The answer is so obvious, but I’m not sure #1, 2 or 3 are humble/smart enough to recognize that.

  • Great article, Admir.
    To be honest, I almost like formulating theories and models as much as quality attacking football. No irony here, this is what basically my professional life – at least the part I really love – is all about. It was a joy to read and follow the though-chains.
    I feel some scenarios were merged. If I may I would present the musketeers in a bit different manner – with the important disclaimer that these are neither mutually exclusive alternatives nor binary (true/false) options:

    1. Sabotage (see details in the post #1). The team is capable both technically and mentally but instead of a formal mutiny they would rather have the manager sacked for the lack of results (and poor performance). They love Arteta only in front of a camera, but they don’t stand by him at all. Could apply to the whole team, or only important click(s).

    2. Hype facing reality (see details in the post #3). Our players – at least some of them – are not as good as they, the club and we think of them. They mostly managed superior results in the past as the stadium full of 60k supporters were intimidating the opponents, but individually they aren’t any better (maybe even worse) as West Ham / Southampton players.

    3. Individual defects. A few but critical players perform well below their level. They possess undisputed skills, but they mentally cannot maintain former quality. A few possible (separate, yet not mutually exclusive) examples:
    – Aubameyang played so crazy well in the past seasons to get the best possible deal that he cannot – or will not – live up to his own standards as he is no longer (that) hungry
    – Lacazette did his best, but still couldn’t manage to storm the French Euro squad, and his disappointment broke his focus
    – Xhaka who is one of the top 6 midfielders of the world when playing for the Swiss team can only cope with the cognitive dissonance of how he (has to) play for Arsenal, that he stopped caring

    4. Bad luck. Arsenal is simply unfortunate when it comes to goal attempts and even facing opponents who miraculously manage to visit the Emirates when on top physically and mentally. Our chances are missed due to inspired keepers and unlucky deflections, even the key pass count is only low because our players unfortunately don’t connect with the promising crosses, but the work and the quality is all there.

    5. Motivational crisis due to Coronavirus. Albeit every team had to face the same conditions, Arsenal players took a bigger hit for some reason. Individual (family) tragedies, London-based attitudes or lack of backroom support could be behind it.

    6. Motivational crisis due to solidarity (see details in the post #2). The team – or key players – lost commitment because what happened to their friends or ‘heroes’. Could be Ozil, could be Guendouzi, hell even Torreira or Saliba. Maybe Ramsey… It’s not an intentional coup, only a sad atmosphere that prevent them from performing to their best.

  • Sorry, I couldn’t post it as a single comment. But here are 9 more. I hope WordPress won’t mind posting 2 large comments in quick succession.

    7. The Sanchez-effect. When Alexis were transferred (practically for free) to United, not only his mentality own dropped but their teammates didn’t celebrate his weekly 590k salary either. At Arsenal it is no longer Ozil’s 350, but Auba and Willian both earn astronomical wages, that don’t bode well with the skeleton of the team (who earn 50-90k).

    8. Arteta is a great coach, but a poor/mediocre tactician. While Mikel could become a popular figure in the dressing room for finding the common language/grounds with practically everybody, unlocking the players’ full potential might not be enough if he doesn’t get the matchday game strategy and team formation straight.

    9. Arteta is best with accomplished players. He is being used to work with superstars at City, and while he can encourage/empower youngsters, he cannot guarantee their constant technical development. He is not able to correct the game of senior players either, as he mostly learned under Pep that ‘great work, guys, keep it up’. He might be a likeable & great guy, but that isn’t the equivalent of a good coach.

    10. Arteta is more arrogant than he looks. And worse: more arrogant than to work with. There are countless stories about player-manager differences (Domenech-Anelka, Ferguson-Keane, Mourinho-Pgba) that often led to the end of the player’s tenure at the club or even his career. While Mikel doesn’t seem the ego-guy, he managed to (mis)treat more players in a year than Wenger (!) and Emery combined.

    11. Arsenal became predictable. Even though Arteta used several formations, the style of game didn’t change a bit. Opponents managed to prepare for it, and with the proper defense our ball possession superiority is no longer a threat. Even our substitutions are late and almost always predictable.

    12. Arteta is to cautious. This yielded 2 different, yet both negative results. On one hand he played with too senior squads in the EL group games and the early rounds of the domestic cups, thus failing to nurture the secondary squad (B team) that is essential around December to provide alternatives and proper rotation. On the other hand he tie the hands of the player limiting their decision making freedom, making our play more static and predictable.

    13. Arteta’s skills are unbalanced. He demonstrated his coaching style as well as tactics last season, but he has no experience whatsoever in problem solving and correcting the errors at team level. He is making the same formation/tactical mistakes at an alarming rate as if he doesn’t know what led to our repeated defeats.

    14. Non-financial unfairness. Unjust treatment can demotivate people, and besides uneven salaries the other recurring theme is when there is a huge gap between performance and pecking order (team selection). When certain people are un-droppable then the “the players in the best form start, everyone has equal chance” bullshit really hurts.

    15. The Chinese-effect. Accepting that we will not know the real Ozil-dropping, my money (along with The Guardian and BBC) are on Arsenal bowing to the “blackmail” of China. This double standard is especially demotivating as while the club embraces (correctly) the Black Lives Matter movement, they condemn Ozil’s solidarity to the Uighurs as involvement in politics. That alone could have a serious impact on players’ motivation as well as their view on the board – both support and ethics-wise.

  • Well, if HH apologized for his long comment, than I don’t really have a choice, either. 🙂

    Nevertheless problems of the top/board level surely contribute to the whole extent of our current crisis, but the root-cause must be football-related as unfavorable shirt sponsorship deals or inconsistent vision don’t score 2 goals in the Emirates. 😉

  • PB, there is only so much you can do within the context of those ahead of you that limits a Manager. If Arteta came to them and said get rid of all these x players and buy me these x players, do you honestly think the ownership team would stomach that loss last summer and have backed him in that way?

    That’s essentially what we needed, a complete clear out and rebuild, but we never got it and have players no playing, but training, and still influencing the rest of the team. We have very few sellable assets to start the rebuild we need too, which lends itself to having no vision for what we want the club to be.

  • Thanks Admir!
    The first of your theories seem straight from a John le Carré storyline (with a sincere homage to that master of his class with his passing). Though not nearly as crazy as an incompetent and criminal sitting POTUS trying to effect a bloodless coup by surrounding himself with dimwits and grifters who screw up every aspect of the charade. But I digress. Yours is a conspiracy worthy of its own descriptor– QAnarsenal! 🤩

    Tim Howard made a point yesterday in-studio post-match on NBC. That Arteta’s pedigree and experience are sufficient for him to lead this club. What he doesn’t seem to have is a mentor at hand. Someone inside the club who has been here– in this spot– with regard to handling the internal issues with the players. Someone who might be able to say ‘here’s what you do’ or ‘consider this or this’. Where I’m certain AW (or even Pep) would be a phone call away? They can only speak to experience with their clubs or players. Neither are inside the dressing room or with the players day in, day out. Mikel finds himself in the one predicament where his experience/pedigree don’t relate.

    Unfortunately? Arsenal are about to hit a run of matches where they’d better be ready. Soton, Everton, and Chelsea. With at EFL match vs City in the midst. All are in decent to good form right now.

    The one advantage Arteta does have is a large team. Most of the players are interchangeable. Losing Xhaka, whether for three matches– or for good in January– makes very little difference.

    I had hoped we’d see an evolution in the squad over the course of the season. A changing of the guard toward season’s end. But circumstances change. The veterans are not getting it done. We really need to see a couple of the youngsters step in and step up. Now– would be good.

    AMN needs to be in the first XI. Where he plays? Is wherever he’s needed. I’d suggest RB. Nelson on the right wing. ESR in the hole where Lacazette was yesterday. Maybe not all in the same XI. But they need to play PL matches. The time for these changes– is now.

    “Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”
    ~ Elon Musk


  • Hi StHenry

    I think you are right with your comparison of Bellerin and Tierney. The former likes to cut inside or pass backwards and the combos with the likes of Willian or Pepe are hard work most of the time. Soares should get a run now, or AMN.

  • Admir, a really well written post. I hope none of your theories are fully correct, but I’m sure there’s a little truth in all of them. Those organizational issues are behind everything. The big red flag for me was when Sven left. That made everything seem in disarray, and turned out to be true. Do we even use human scouts anymore? I’ll never believe stats or data can completely replace human observation. Having inexperienced Edu running so much sounds like the kind of money saving move that can end up disastrous.

    I wrote a long comment yesterday that went against the grain, explaining how I was encouraged, not by the results of course, but by how we played Burnley.

    Of course still some negatives in the game. Still too much crossing, and very little played through the middle. That still needs to be addressed, like many of us have suggested to try assigning different players there to be the creator through the middle. Also some ideas to shake it up, maybe Saka on the right or central? He has no finishing impact from the left, as good as he is with the ball.

    Starting both Lacazette and Aubameyang cuts down our midfielder options. Neither is good enough to play the false 9, though Laca has tried his best. It’s just not his skill set. We have to let a midfielder try it. We’ve had many suggestions here.. Willian, Pepe, Ceballos, Smith Rowe….. its not the answer to all our troubles, but it may be key, also opens more minutes for Nelson on the wing.

    Also starting Xhaka and Elneny only works if you’re trying to shut down a tough attacking side. Letting Elneny sprint forward helps a tiny bit, but it’s still a flawed setup.

    As badly as it ended up, I think its the best we’ve played all season in the league. Came out firing with energy and maintained it all game, even down a man. We did create a few chances. We cut down the useless crossing a little but still need to cut them more. I’d prefer us shooting from long range even.

    Hector needs to be rested. Ainsley should start either there or in midfield. Cedric maybe can be introduced to see if he’s up to league starts. He does have a lot of premier league experience if I remember correctly.

    I think Arteta trying to transition from the super tight defensive strategy that got our best early results….. to a little more expansive football has gone very badly. It was harder than anyone thought, but we knew the midfield problem existed, and Mikel handled it pretty badly. We let 2 midfielders go, and the great replacement not available hurts.

    We showed a glimmer yesterday, but it’s too late to make the top 4 run we wanted when we won the fa cup and community shield. If we have a great turnaround, maybe Europa? Not likely. But not relegation battle, and after yesterday, I don’t want to fire the coach. I am a consistent critic though. He deserves to add at leadt 2 more new players. I hope he gets at least that in the next 2 windows. To ask for much more is unrealistic from these owners, and we do have some talent to work with already.

  • If we’re just looking at it from a tactical standpoint, Arteta’s insistence on keeping faith in several out-of-form senior players is the most worrying thing for me. Willian, Auba, Xhaka, Bellerin etc. have all continued to struggle in the league, yet he continues to start them week after week.

    I can only believe that we lack the quality in the squad once he gives others a chance and they fail. ESR, Balogun, AMN, Nelson etc. have all not had fair runs out in the league so far despite promising performances in EL. Yes, the level of competition is way higher in the PL, but we’re already losing with the senior players, so why not lose and see what you have some of the youth blended in!

  • I think Arsenal team is still having the Ozil effect, as he was one of the most popular figure amongst the team mates. Dropping one of the highest paid player on the bench and later omitted from the squad was a tricky and risky business. The other big players might have thought their fate could be similar to Ozil if the manager did’nt like them or was not satisfied by their performances in the field. They wanted to make a statement to the manager that if you don’t play our friend then we will not perform.

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