It is tempting to patronise Arsenal fans in the wake of their 1-0 defeat at home to Burnley on Sunday evening, but history shouldn’t be rewritten. Arsene Wenger was the name on the fingertips of many Arsenal supporters, though, in the immediate aftermath, as they furiously constructed a 280-character thought on Twitter, opining that Gunners supporters were wrong to want his 22-year reign to come to and end now that Mikel Arteta’s struggles are becoming much worse than anything he faced in comparison.
Losing at the Emirates Stadium this weekend took their streak of home defeats to four matches — it has not been this bad since 1959. There were 2,000 fans in attendance for the very first time in the Premier League this season and they booed after Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang, who is courting headlines for his poor form in front of goal, put through his own net and Granit Xhaka was sent off. It didn’t take long for part of the Arsenal Twitter contingent to call for Arteta’s head. This isn’t solely about lagging behind the Champions League chasers — the gap is a whopping 10 points after just 11 games — stats are suggesting that a relegation battle is the more pressing concern.
That is a long way off and it is unthinkable that Arsenal would be dragged into the mire when the pressure reaches its peak in the spring. Equally, though, it is no longer the start of the season and their position paints a very real and alarming picture of their troubles. It is easy to point and laugh at supporters with schadenfreude because of the notion that Wenger was perhaps poorly treated — a vocal portion of the fanbase were incredibly vitriolic and disrespectful to their greatest manager of modern times, who not only won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups, but also maintained their position as a Champions League regular in the aftermath of their expensive stadium move in 2007. But he had begun to outstay his welcome long before he eventually walked away two-and-a-half years ago and he could have left them in a much better state.
Without doubt, the problems at Arsenal became exponentially worse after Wenger left. An incompetent, uncaring board failed to put a solid contingency plan in place; Wenger ran the footballing side of the club from top to bottom for his entire reign, but his replacement, Unai Emery, had his responsibilities streamlined. Despite reaching a Europa League final in his only full season in charge, Emery was never truly taken to by the supporters. Arteta — wanted by many instead of his predecessor — came in and inspired the Gunners to a record 14th FA Cup win. July may have seen a delayed final played out against Chelsea at Wembley due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it still seems a world away now.
Arsenal fans have been ridiculed and abused for a number of years and it is hard to argue that perception and the actions of a minority is the reason why. From the outside, Arsenal must look entitled to have lived through the Wenger years, as his team played some of the best football ever seen in England and enjoyed consistent success to back it up and kicked up a fuss as soon as they were left feeding off a diet of only European football and the odd domestic trophy. There are some for whom that applies but the club has been rotting from the inside for years and only now is the full extent of the damage becoming clear.
Sunday definitely saw a swing in momentum against Arteta. There are questions being asked of his management and ability to stop this slump. Although Arsenal’s issues have been documented for quite some time, the manner of the current crisis is quite unique. When a club is usually in decline, it is often explosive; a disastrous heavy defeat, a major bust-up, negative headlines, a general trail of disaster that can be followed. The most worrying thing about this team right now is how understated the whole episode has been. They don’t look like a big club out of sorts, they look like being beaten by Burnley, Aston Villa and Wolves is just the norm. It shouldn’t be, but right now that is the way it feels, and it is hard to see how sacking Arteta would change anything; the next man would suffer in exactly the same way because things are wrong at the very core.
That is not to say he is blameless; he has played a part in what has happened. Arsenal were looking defensively strong earlier in the season, but in chasing more potency at the other end, Arteta has ended up affecting overall productivity. Should he be bringing more to the club, given that his one-year anniversary is next week? In one sense, the answer is no because he has already added a piece of silverware, but he should also be challenging higher up the table. Doubts aren’t completely unfair, but he deserves the opportunity to show that the current run is nothing but a blip.
He does have good tactical ideas and principles, too; he showed as much last season. There is little doubt Arsenal are in a messy situation, the type they have not seen before, but this is the product of years of mismanagement dating back to the Wenger era and beyond. It will take a while to fix from here.