Mikel Arteta is now discovering what it is really like to be Arsenal manager. Just like Unai Emery and Arsene Wenger before him, the Spaniard must ready himself for another winter of discontent at the Emirates after a 2-1 defeat at home to Wolves. The Gunners currently sit in 14th position in the table, having made their worst start to a Premier League season.
Arsenal haven’t started any season this poorly since 1981-82, and they hadn’t lost on home turf against Wolves since 1979. Star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who started centrally against Wolves, is still waiting for his first goal at the Emirates since last season, too, so there really aren’t many silver linings on the clouds that are hovering above the club right now.
And just to compound Arsenal’s misery, they must travel to face bitter rivals Tottenham next Sunday with Jose Mourinho’s team sitting pretty at the top of the table following their 0-0 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier in the day.
“We need more goals to win football matches,” Arteta said. “We need to keep supporting the players. We’re creating chances but struggling to score goals. That’s the difference between winning and losing.
“When you lose matches, the confidence goes down because they believe things can happen again.
“You need to win after a defeat. We’ve been doing this in my time here, but this is the first time since we’ve been here [that Arsenal have had a losing run].”
There was always a danger that winning the FA Cup and Community Shield in the first year of Arteta’s reign in charge would turn out to be too much too soon for a club that has lost its way as a Premier League force. That is now proving to be the case.
Optimism grew with those Wembley successes, against Chelsea and Liverpool, and they probably played a big role in persuading Aubameyang to end the uncertainty over his future by signing a new three-year contract at the club in September. But Aubameyang has scored just one league goal since putting pen to paper on his deal, and Arteta’s progress has also stalled. The trophies papered over cracks that have not gone away.
That Arsenal have gone off the rails at the same time that Aubameyang has stopped scoring is hardly a coincidence. With Arteta attempting to solve the team’s long-standing defensive issues by making the Gunners more organised, there was always the risk that the plan would fall to pieces if Aubameyang lost his goal touch.
Arsenal have had 95 efforts at goal in 10 league games so far this season — only four teams have had fewer — and scored from just 10 of them. They are scoring at a rate of one goal per game, so whenever their defence comes up short — as it did against Wolves — they are in trouble. How starved have Arsenal been for goals? Centre-back Gabriel’s header in the 30th minute on Sunday is the club’s only goal from open play in six Premier League games!
And the problems run deeper at the Emirates, where Arsenal have now failed to keep a clean sheet in eight successive home league games. When you are struggling to score at home, you really need to be tight defensively, but Arsenal were all over the place against Wolves, just as they were in the last game at the Emirates when they lost 3-0 to Aston Villa.
Wolves, who lost Mexican forward Raul Jimenez to a scary head injury following a clash of heads with David Luiz on five minutes, dominated this game and could have scored more than the two they netted through Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence in the first half.
Adama Traore was unfortunate to be booked for diving on 54 minutes when replays suggested the Wolves winger had been caught in the penalty area by Gabriel, the Arsenal goal scorer. Wolves should have been awarded a penalty.
In Arsenal’s defence, Wolves are a strong, impressive side under Nuno Espirito Santo, and they will take points off many other leading teams this season. They were smarter and better organised, with centre-half and captain Conor Coady leading vocally from the back.
Arsenal desperately need a figure such as Coady at the heart of their defence — a defender who can marshal a back four and take charge without guidance from the sideline.
In contrast, Luiz and Gabriel seemed to barely know what the other was doing. Luiz has always been a maverick defender, one who can create more problems than he solves, but he was handed a new contract during the summer, so Arteta must have some belief in him.
The absence of the injured Thomas Partey in midfield did not help Arsenal, with Dani Ceballos taking the Luiz approach by causing problems for his team with needless fouls and arguments with the officials. But this is the Arsenal that Arteta has been in charge of for a year now, and the same old issues keep resurfacing.
He has made a big decision about Mesut Ozil and chosen not to consider the German midfielder and, with inconsistency a major issue with the former Real Madrid playmaker, Arteta cannot be blamed for that call. That said, he desperately needs somebody in his team who can offer similar levels of creativity as Ozil, with greater work ethic, to make Arsenal a more potent attacking outfit and one which can get the most out of Aubameyang.
As it stands, Aubameyang is marooned up front, starved of service and growing increasingly frustrated. Opponents have started to figure out that cutting off the supply line to Aubameyang pretty much nullifies Arsenal’s threat.
Arteta has plenty of problems to solve, but finding a solution to that should be the priority because all the other tweaks will mean nothing if Arsenal can’t score.