FUTUBOL with Tai Emeka Obasi.

Arsenal: Is Arteta the answer?

Arsenal Football Club is one of the greatest football clubs in Europe. Located in London with The Emirates Stadium as its home turf, the team that plies its trade in the English Premiership League,  EPL is massively followed.
The entity might not be classified as European giants, regarding the categories of the silverware in its trophy cabinet but the limited European successes wouldn’t really be ascribed to lack of quality or lack of trying.
It might have played in just one UCL final in 2006, won just two European honours: the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1970 and the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994… but it remained a constant and formidable opposition to many great sides in the elite club competition in the universe. And in consistency, only Real Madrid has consecutively qualified more times than the Gunners with an English record of 19 consecutive appearances in the Champions League (Between 1998–99 and 2016–17 seasons). Great feat!
Until recently…
In 2017 precisely, Arsenal ended the season in fifth place, just a point below Liverpool, and with it not qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years. Next season, Arsene Wenger, the man who led the club through her best years,  tried to bring them back to that elite cadre, failed and threw in the towel.
A personality like the man nicknamed Le Prof would not have left the club he gave everything for 22 years of his prime in such low clouds but many club supporters believed the then French sexogenarian was past his bedtime at the London Colney.
Enter Unai Emery. The Spaniard had the reputation of guiding his home country’s Sevilla to three consecutive Europa Cup successes, a feat that earned him the hot seat at Paris Saint Germain, PSG. The two years he spent in the French capital didn’t deliver the expected UCL holy grail and Emery was soon scurrying in the labour market. But not for long.
The Arsenal board was looking for a man that fitted his credentials to try to step into the big shoes left by Wenger. Emery came with promises, tried to overhaul the playing staff, beat some teams,  got beaten but fluffed two very achievable routes of Champions League qualification.
Emery’s Arsenal needed just one win in three last home games against bottom half teams to make top four. He could only manage a point, same single point Tottenham had over them to take fourth spot.
While Arsenal fans swallowed that bitter pill of disappointment,  Emery and his wards had another window – Europa League final. Against Chelsea in Baku, Arsenal returned from a goalless first half to surrender so pathetically to an equally average Chelsea side – 1 – 4!
So nearly on both fronts but the manner of melt down were plainly amateurish. In West London where a certain Russian billionaire holds all aces, the Spanish tactician would have instantly gone back to the labour market. But Arsenal is nothing if not patience from the board, through the playing staff and down to the fans. But patience or not, the jury was out. And the gavel dropped just halfway into his second season as the Gunners were fast degenerating from mid to low grades.
In came Mikel Arteta, another Spaniard, whose only credential was having played for and captained Arsenal, plus of course, having under studied the mercurial Pep Guardiola at Manchester City for two and half years. In football circles, it was a huge gamble. But in the situation the club was in,  there was little choice.
Somehow, the ex-Arsenal captain arrived with some grace. He didn’t and still doesn’t say much but pleasingly, he usually said the right things. The results didn’t significantly improve but you could  see his vision, his impacts.
Then Coronavirus pandemic arrived to force football off the calendar. Funny enough, Arteta was the first person infected in the EPL that forced the English FA to shut down.
When football resumed four months later, nothing would ever be the same again. Clubs were winning and losing by cricket scores, which was bizarre enough. The king of crazy moments was that everyone was beating anybody at any turf.
Arteta’s Arsenal were no exception. They also beat Liverpool in the League as well as lost to bottom teams BVA and Aston Villa.
However, the FA Cup became Arteta’s window to escape proper scrutiny. Winning all six matches within normal time with only one of them(against Leeds) taking place at home turf and equally the then only non-EPL opposition,  the Spaniard won admirers along the way. The football world, including critics, reasoned that no coach that beat Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea within a space of three weeks could be considered not good enough. Arteta won the FA Cup and with it,  a spot in Europe.
At this point he was an untouchable. Even Roman Abramovich would have greened with envy.
He was given express license, albeit with a very lean transfer purse, to juggle his team as he deemed fit.
Facing such a summer of COVID-19 uncertainties, Arteta could have wished for anything but such an arduous begging. And it clearly showed.
He ended up having too many players in his hands that the likes of Mesut Ozil, Scoratis and William Saliba couldn’t find space to be registered in either the domestic or European competitions.
In all performances in his first season so far, the kindergarten coach has not done enough to be rated above average. He may have beaten the likes of Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Brendan Rogers, Ole Gunnar Solskajaer, David Moyes, Frank Lampard, Marcelo Bielsa within barely one year as a football manager but the rate of loses against bottom teams still confines him among the inconsistency toga.
Standing 11th on the League table and with the Europa route to Europe a very long shot yet,  this could end as The Gunners’ worst season in decades.
If real appraisal should be made, even without the season ending, Arteta hasn’t really inspired to deserve complete reliance. He hasn’t yet learnt how and when to make changes. His attachment to the players he brought to the club and fielding them, irrespective of form, is a serious weakness. His overall team selection when most players are fit is still suspect.
The Spaniard should know that the honeymoon is over. Patience may be the second name of Arsenal but in the likely scenario that Arsenal misses Europe completely next season, he’d certainly be on his own. Arsenal fans know how to celebrate goals and they also know how to shout in unison that any non-performaning coach should be fired.
Tai Emeka Obasi is a football and political analyst, an author and scriptwiter with so many titles to his name.

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