Close your eyes. Imagine. Arsenal have just lost. The starting XI was questionable. Substitutions poor. Style non-existent. You go to share your grievances online. So, what are you met with? ‘Trust the process’.
Never before have three such meaningless words been forced upon so many by a sporting culture. Yet, this is the long and short of Arsenal discourse. Mikel Arteta is being given a mile where his predecessors were given an inch, a pat on the back where they got a kick in the teeth. All this is because of the constant assurances that this suffering is all part of a bigger masterplan. They say an arrow must be pulled back before it is propelled forwards. Except, it’s pretty much all nonsense.
The Problem with Blind Faith
The problem with blind faith is that blind faith is blind. Yes, ‘trust the process’ is just the hair-gelled version of ‘back the manager’. The Mikel Arteta to the Unai Emery if you may. It asks you to disregard any prior wisdom, and to lap up every error and failing as part of the greater good. The question that needs to be asked, is how likely is this greater good to ever materialise?
The reason that this is a sensible qualm is because Arsenal fans have already watched this episode. Unai Emery wrote the song, Mikel Arteta is just remixing it. Arsenal fans watched as the squad was gutted of creative midfielders, as chances dwindled, as the defence fell to pieces. They spent a long time saying that the naysayers were wrong and that this was the change Arsenal needed.
Anyone with a bit of good sense saw the early Emery problems, and many did. The problem is that most chose to ignore them. This is why the idea of blind faith is one of the most dangerous ideas in football.
Blindly backing a manager stops you from remedying a problem before it becomes terminal. It conflates genuine criticism with ‘having an agenda’. This is a very bad thing. Arsenal FC and its fans have made this mistake already, allowing a man with no plan to reshape the team.
Are they about to do it again?
This has been a record-breaking season for Arsenal. Indeed, they have managed to hit new lows of the modern era. This might be giving teams their first win at Arsenal in decades. It may be record low xG. Most recently it’s been for failing to register more than three shots in a game four times (they had only done it once since 2003 before Arteta).
This is the process. It has turned Arsenal into an embarrassment.
The rebuttal to this is predictable. ‘Since Christmas Arsenal have been much better!’. I have several issues with this.
First and foremost, the season doesn’t start at whichever arbitrary date you want it to. There’s no prize for being better from Christmas. It’s a game that two can play at. Based on the last ten Premier League games, Arsenal would be 13th.
Secondly, Mikel Arteta was still in charge before Christmas. We cannot write these games off because they’re inconvenient to remember. Arsenal played a truly horrid three-at-the-back formation and chose not to play (or register!) their most creative midfielder. This happened, and Mikel Arteta is accountable for it.
Finally, the post-Christmas celebration is, in my books, slightly overdone. Arsenal fans have been so starved of serviceable football that they have confused Arteta playing a 4-2-3-1 with watching liquid football. In many of these games they have still struggled to create, and are by no means the team that a lot of people pretend they are watching.
No one should see this as acceptable, yet so many do. See, somewhere along the line fans have convinced themselves that they expected to finish around 10th all along.
The internet is forever. Arsenal fans can tell us that they saw a mid-table finish coming, but this is not what they were saying in August.
Fresh off of winning the FA Cup and signing a number of players, Arsenal fans had genuine and totally fair expectations of finishing in the top 6. This was the mood for a month or so, upon which everyone suddenly decided that this was actually step 2 in a 40-year rebuild and we should all be happy to see the club avoid relegation.
Truthfully, I have no idea what caused this mental shift. Arsenal have a squad that is better than 9th place, I quite frankly don’t care if Monday Night Football tells you otherwise.
Arsenal are joint on points with newly-promoted Leeds. Leeds have a worse squad than Arsenal, they just have a better manager.
Never the Manager’s Fault
I take a deep intake of breath with every criticism of Mikel Arteta because in many circles this is heresy. He is the prodigal son who does no wrong, let down by everyone.
First, we were told the board would let him down. Then they gave him money to spend.
Then, they said he was burdened by the legacy of Arsène Wenger. Uniquely, it’s Arsène’s fault when Arsenal lose, Mikel’s achievement when they win.
Never in my life have I ever seen a manager so immune to criticism as Mikel Arteta.
It seems that every decision is just a masterstroke that us plebs are too dim to understand. It takes a true genius to ostracise a still good Number 10, force him to leave, then start playing an inferior make and model when the season’s half over.
If you want me to feel sorry for Mikel Arteta being let down by ‘individual mistakes’, perhaps he should stop picking the individuals. In breaking news, Dani Ceballos cannot kill possessions when he is sat on the bench. The joke is that individual mistakes seem to occur no matter who is on the pitch. At that point, they are unlikely down to individuals, but the system that they play in.
The Process is Not Working
The only process I can see is a totally rotten one. ‘The Process’ makes the wrong decision at every twist and turn.
‘The Process’ has led to Arsenal holding onto perennially pointless squad players at the expense of young players who may actually do something useful. ‘The Process’ turned down a transfer fee for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, only to loan him half a season later.
When I look at ‘The Process’, all I see are bad decisions. Wasting the best part of the year with a formation in which Arsenal just pump crosses and cutbacks to the ghost in the middle of the box. Binning the good players, rewarding the average.
Arsenal are a Thursday night defeat away from catastrophe. The irony, is that they’re, by the same token, a Thursday night success away from the Champions League. What this means, is that many are keen to hedge their opinion on Mikel Arteta based on the Europa League. I think this is very dangerous.
If Unai Emery had won in Baku, it would not have made him the right man for the job. A one-off success, no matter how great the prize, can never outweigh the evidence that a full league season provides.
Decisions should be made based on the greatest sample size possible. A cup run is not compelling evidence.
Stop comparing every mediocre manager to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool.
- A dramatic turnaround is generally rare
- Klopp took Liverpool into the top 4 in his first full season, this was one of the most competitive top 4 races ever
Bust the Process
Arsenal are not in a good way. It is always easier to avoid the ugly reality that the club may have botched two managerial appointments in a row, than it is to acknowledge that things will not magically get better. Mikel Arteta being a raging success would have been a beautiful story, but that’s all it may ever be. The reality is not quite so flattering.