Arsenal’s meeting with Chelsea could not have come at a worse time for Mikel Arteta. Trips to Stamford Bridge are always ominous, but arriving into west London off the back of a run of three consecutive Premier League defeats is about as bad as it gets for the former Manchester City assistant manager.
Everything was happening like clockwork for Arteta. The Gunners entered the international break in fourth position, having won five of their last six Premier League matches – something has gone drastically wrong terrifyingly fast.
Fourth has become sixth, three games in hand is now one, and with Chelsea, Manchester United, and West Ham United up next, Champions League football could very soon become Europa Conference League. The only positive Arteta and co have been able to take from this sudden collapse in form is the fact that United, Tottenham Hotspur, and West Ham have all failed to really capitalise on their horrendous form.
The Gunners have seven matches to rediscover their best form and hope Tottenham, West Ham, and United also endure end of season crumbles. But when this dramatic season reaches its climax and the transfer window opens, Arteta may have to follow the very lessons and values he pitched to the Arsenal fans in his first ever press conference at the club.
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“You have to be able to transmit it, and people will buy into that. When you do that, then you are a team and everybody’s together and united you’re stronger.” Arsenal asserted themselves as firm top four contenders with their brilliant form before the international break.
They broke down firm blocks, overcame intense opposition attacks, and even showed defensive resilience and character to hold onto slender one goal margins against Aston Villa and Wolves. However, the creativity, the zip, and the grit of those performances has dissipated over the last three games.
Top four teams and title challengers are not always at their very best, yet they still find a way to extract three points, even if their performances were undeserving off the victory. In the same say Guardiola got rid of the likes of Gael Clichy, Edin Dzeko and Joe Hart, Arteta needs to identify possible weaknesses, technical or mental, and either upgrade on those characters in the transfer market, or rid the squad of them entirely.
His handling of Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were fierce statements of the potential consequences of ill-discipline and lack of applications. He may have to start sending some similar statements in the next transfer window.