Every time we lose, the questions about Arteta bubble up. I bet Mikel longs for the day when a loss isn’t followed by questions about his ability or his inexperience or his approach. I suspect that had we lost 2-0, it would have been almost a positive result – “We fought hard but fell short” – but those two extra goals turned it into another inquiry. It’s been the story of his two-year reign, really: never more than a loss away from a crisis. While jagged and imperfect, there’s lots of positive stuff going on now. But a loss like that reveals many of our faultlines.
We’re still not there with our best XI or formation, though things have been more settled recently. The fact is, we don’t really have the perfect XI – especially not for taking on the best teams. When Lacazette came in there was an uptick, and the team stayed settled for a bit. But I suspect Saturday’s defeat will see another reshuffle, with Tierney, Odegaard and maybe Pepe coming in to shake things up again.
We could get to Christmas with a negative goal difference, which is pretty extraordinary. This dearth of goals is nothing new, but (see point one…) it’s a very pressing issue indeed (no pun intended). Two thrashings have skewed our goals against, so that hasn’t helped, but it’s not really the defence we need to fret about.
Finding the key to more creativity is Arteta’s biggest challenge. Funny that of the six new signings, the one who’s been the least impressive is Odegaard. He was meant to be one of the arrows in our bow of creativity, but it hasn’t really happened for him yet. I’m sure his time will come, but with Partey sub-par, we need more from the middle – and from him.
Why do injuries seem to hit the same part of the pitch? I remember some years ago when all our full-backs got injured, and all our backups too – the ‘Djourou Conundrum’. We’ve been mercifully free of too many injuries, but our central midfield has been worst hit with both Xhaka and Partey out for periods of time. It’s given opportunity to Sambi and Maitland-Niles, but it’s not been ideal.
Saturday football is much nicer. Only 3 of our 12 league games have been on Sunday this season, so we can all thank the stars that we didn’t land up in the Europa Conference League. It’s a personal preference of course, but I just like having the rest of the weekend to come. Either to revel in victory or to lollop in defeat.
Saturday is another crunch game. See point one (again…)