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Football Reporting


Mikel Arteta needs to stop taking blame for Arsenal flops – it’s time they repaid loyalty – John Cross

Here is a little trick.

Put “Arteta and my fault” into a Google search and see what comes up.

A lot of familiar and similar headlines.

“Liverpool deserved to win by bigger margin. It’s my fault’ – Arteta, April 2021

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“Totally my fault” – Arteta takes blame for Aston Villa defeat in November 2020

“Brighton defeat all my fault” – Arteta, June 2020

Then a little variation….

“It’s my fault” Arteta takes responsibility for Eddie Nketiah’s lack of game time, March 4, 2021

“It’s my fault” Arteta takes responsibility for Gabriel Martinelli lack of game time, March 17, 2021

Now, as a manager you probably can’t win.

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Mikel Arteta’s catchphrase has become “it’s my fault”

If you blame the players too often, as Jose Mourinho has been doing, then everyone says the Tottenham boss is all wrong, he should shoulder some blame and he gets stick for trying to shift it onto the players.

But if, like Arteta, the manager always admits it is his fault then sooner or later the club will ask: how many more times can he keep getting it wrong?

Fair play to Arteta, he is trying to be gracious, trying to take the blame on his shoulders… but some of them are not repaying his loyalty with performances on the pitch.

Arteta is a young manager who was shaped by working under two managerial greats in Arsene Wenger who often shouldered the blame for his players’ failings and Pep Guardiola who, again, is very clever when it comes to criticism. He sucks it up, moves it away from his players.

Then there is David Moyes who should be in the Manager of the Year conversation for the job he is doing at West Ham. Arteta credits Moyes with being a huge influence on his career from when he played under him at Everton.

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Arsenal found life tough earlier this season
Arsenal’s players have underachieved but not suffered any public criticism from their manager

Moyes has conjured up a remarkable spirit at West Ham, the players look as if they are ready to run through brick walls for him in their pursuit of a European place.

What can you say about this group of Arsenal players? Sky pundit Gary Neville put it succinctly on Monday night that there appears to be a “little mafia” of players and questioned whether they are still playing for the manager.

If you look at the results and the season overall, it is a very fair question. Arsenal are stuck in mid-table and have been for much of the season.

This is Arsenal, we are talking about. Mid-table would have been unacceptable under Wenger or Unai Emery, so it seems strange that there seems to be a mood of apathy around Arteta.

Maybe Arsenal fans have become more forgiving and patient, maybe it is down to the crippling impact of the pandemic or maybe a sorry malaise has crept in and even the supporters no longer view themselves as a big club.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta during a training session at London Colney on March 20, 2021 in St Albans, England.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta knows his side have been underperforming

It is bizarre.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has looked below-par for much of the season. Alexandre Lacazette’s form has been patchy. Willian has been underwhelming. Record £72m signing Nicolas Pepe has shown flashes but not much else.

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Week in and week out, Bukayo Saka has saved the team, Kieran Tierney has shown passion and Rob Holding looks proud to wear the shirt.

But there have been so many other players who have just not performed. Arsenal can still save their season by winning the Europa League and they know their path to the final as they have Slavia Prague in the quarter final and then potentially Emery’s Villarreal if they get through.

Can you imagine the thought of Emery winning at the Emirates, knocking Arteta out and Arsenal’s season imploding?

Unai Emery could come back to haunt Arsenal in the Europa League

No doubt Arteta would take the blame again.

It was always going to be a gamble to appoint Arteta, people say he is an outstanding coach and, clearly, the young players enjoy working with him.

They are the ones who seem to respond to his methods as Saka is blossoming, Emile Smith-Rowe has broken through and he is ready to give them a chance.

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But there does appear to be a worry about whether he can manage older, more senior players. Arteta had to exert some authority on Aubameyang by dropping him for turning up late for the North London derby. Those things do not seem too big when the team wins. But they add up.

Neville was right on Sky, it does look like there is a “disconnect” between Arteta and some of the players. They are not responding to him.

It was always going to be a long term project. Arteta needs time. You cannot even begin to think about changing the manager. But he also needs to show signs of progress otherwise the fans will lose faith and the players will switch off.

You cannot just blindly carry on thinking it will get better next season when Arteta gets his own players in place.

Because who will he blame then? The excuses will be wearing thin. They need to start showing up and playing for the manager.

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