Why it’s time to question Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal project

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal, looks dejected during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Southampton FC at Emirates Stadium on April 21, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal, looks dejected during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Southampton FC at Emirates Stadium on April 21, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) /

Questioning Mikel Arteta has become a dangerous business this season. Raise even the slightest doubt about the sagacity and sanctity of the Arsenal manager’s project, and you’ll find yourself accused of recency bias, failure to see the big picture and a basic misunderstanding of how winning teams are built.

There’s just one problem. Arsenal aren’t a winning team under Arteta. Not after Saturday’s dismal 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest condemned the Gunners to a third-straight season without silverware.

Not lifting a trophy since the 2020 FA Cup is an indictment of Arteta’s project. Especially since he’s been given everything he’s wanted, from authority and autonomy to a transfer kitty large enough to make Arsene Wenger break down and cry and ask ‘Why didn’t I get this much?’

It’s time to question whether Arteta can deliver on all the hype. Those questions should be aimed at the common excuses used to prop up the manager.

Context doesn’t do Arteta any favours

Arteta’s supporters want his critics to take comfort in context. They’ll say Arsenal have improved every year he’s had a full season, going from eighth to fifth, to second.

That looks like progress on paper, but it’s only surface-level. The trajectory ignores other factors, like Arsenal failing to win a Cup since ’20. Like Arteta’s squad collapsing during the run-in of this season’s title race.

Arteta’s team has taken nine points from the last 24 available. That’s a collapse by any definition. More so when you consider seven points were dropped against relegation candidates West Ham United, Southampton (who have since suffered the drop) and Forest.

A bigger concern is this season’s late slump is not an isolated event. It happened at the end of the previous campaign when Arsenal lost six out of 11, including back-to-back defeats against Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, to miss out on fourth place when UEFA Champions League qualification was firmly within Arteta’s grasp.

The similarities between these late-season capitulations are obvious, per Orbinho.

Arteta’s team has faltered with a tangible achievement in sight two seasons running. That’s more of a pattern than bad luck.

Speaking of luck, Arsenal benefited this season from four other members of the Premier League’s top six struggling. Tottenham have been a marginally less horrific disaster than Chelsea, while Manchester United have been wildly inconsistent in England’s top flight. Liverpool were a disaster, but Jurgen Klopp’s team was showing signs of recovery before Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa at Anfield.

Familiar contenders hitting the skids left Arsenal with only one team to beat, but Arteta’s men couldn’t get the job done. And beating Manchester City IS the job.

Beating Manchester City eludes Arteta

Despite his familiarity with City and the tactics used by Pep Guardiola, Arteta hasn’t taken a single point off the Citizens in seven meetings in the league. It’s too easy, not to mention lazy, to excuse this miserable record by pointing out that City are a relentless winning machine propped up by a not-so-small fortune.

Both of those things are true, but finding ways to outdo City is the job facing any manager seriously committed to winning. It was the job when Antonio Conte’s Chelsea finished above Guardiola’s City in 2017, and when Klopp’s Liverpool did the same three years later.

The job was the same when Wenger had to overcome Sir Alex Ferguson’s all-powerful United in the late-90s and early noughties. That task hadn’t changed when Ferguson reinvented his team to get past Jose Mourinho’s dominant, uber-rich Chelsea in 2007.

Arteta’s been given everything he needs to achieve what’s difficult. He got control after being quickly rebranded as “first-team manager,” instead of the gaudy “head coach” title Unai Emery had to suffer.

Arteta has also had a seemingly endless supply of money to build, rebuild and rebuild again. Arsenal’s transfer spending has exceeded the rest of the Premier League at times, a far cry from when Wenger still had to keep one eye on the Emirates Stadium debts.

Fortunes have been invested in signings like Thomas Partey, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko. There’ll be more to follow if you believe those rumours about Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo.

At a certain point, Arteta should be expected to repay Arsenal’s faith. Making that demand is better than letting him live in a protective bubble, where every time Arsenal win the project is deemed ahead of schedule, but every defeat prompts a warning the project needs more time.

Related Story. Declan Rice or Moises Caicedo: Who should Arsenal sign this summer?. light

If trophies are imminent, it will only be thanks to time and money, and Arteta’s already had more than enough of both.