Mikel Arteta cut a forlorn figure on the touchline at the Etihad following Arsenal’s 5-0 thumping to Manchester City last weekend. It is their worst start to a league campaign in fifty-five years and is the first time in the club’s history that they have lost their opening three games without scoring a goal.
Their start to the season has highlighted their clear lack of a vision. Despite spending the most money in the Premier League on transfers this summer, their team hasn’t been improved.
Signings such as Ben White for £50 million, goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale for nearly £30 million and Martin Ødegaard for £31 million are all players with some kind of potential, but planning for the long-term is redundant if the current squad is lacklustre.
If this transfer window does indeed signal the long-term plan, it’s going to require a lot of patience. The young players which have been brought in, along with the likes of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe who are already at the club, are going to need time to develop into top players.
The crux of the issue is that the club has failed to develop their youngsters in recent years. Youngsters such as Alex Iwobi, Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Eddie Nketiah were all dubbed as stars for the future in North London, but their careers at the club failed to materialise. The club is going to struggle to implement their vision for youth development if they have constantly failed to develop in the past.
Compounded with a seriously misguided transfer policy since Arsene Wenger’s departure, Arsenal seem like a club completely lost without a sense of direction.
Granit Xhaka’s sending off at the weekend encapsulated the lack of composure and discipline running through the heart of the club. At one point he was being sold to Roma, then when that fell through he was given a brand new contract and handed the captain’s armband for the opening two games of the season.
The Xhaka saga follows other ill-advised contract negotiations in the past. Mesut Özil was made the highest-paid player in Arsenal history in 2018, before being frozen out of the Premier League squad last season and eventually moving on to Fenerbahçe. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was given a big-money three-year contract at the age of 31 and Willian was signed from Chelsea, also on a three-year contract and also at the age of 31.
Players have been rewarded for failure at Arsenal with lucrative and long contracts. Hopefully, their forays into the transfer window this summer represent a shift in philosophy, but there is no natural spine to their team. They have been left so far behind the leading pack in the Premier League that just a top-half finish this season would probably be a fair result.
The issues at the club run deeper than just losing their opening games. There has been vocal criticism of owner Stan Kroenke for quite some time. Despite murmurs of the club being bought by either Qatari investors or Spotify founder Daniel Ek, Kroenke’s spending this summer suggests he is here to stay.
It is inevitable that Mikel Arteta is going to come under serious pressure this season. He has been left with a squad that is incapable of competing for European football. The worry is that moving the manager on will not make any difference. It cannot change the dysfunctional and reactionary decision-making which has come from those at the top of the club. Years of institutional failure at Arsenal have left them in such a mess that it is going to take years to rectify the problems.
Arsenal is in the midst of a crisis of identity. Their next game, a clash against 19th placed Norwich, seems to be a gargantuan game for them: a must-win. Whatever the result, however, they are in for an extremely challenging season. A lot of patience and composure is needed by all involved with the club, but when there is a complete absence of a plan or vision, the task becomes a lot more difficult.
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