“When you start supporting a football club, you don’t support it because of the trophies, or a player, or history, you support it because you found yourself somewhere there; found a place where you belong.” – Dennis Bergkamp

The Dutchman is one of the greatest ever to kick a ball, and he was spot-on with his assessment here. More than the players and the success, fans support a club because it makes them feel at home. He also played for Arsenal, so he was the right man to speak about it.

Let’s talk about Arsenal. One of the biggest clubs in world football, their history is undoubtedly illustrious. They were a force to be reckoned with, winning multiple honours through the years.

The current Arsenal, however, is an unrecognisable team. Their fall from grace has been remarkable even for something everyone saw coming for a long time. Every dominant team goes through rough patches, but this has been the most unbelievable one this side of AC Milan.

A team that once completed an entire league season unbeaten now finds itself mid-table. With its Europa League semi-final defeat to Villareal, it finds itself without European football for the first time in over 25 years. At the helm of all this, perhaps a little too harshly, is Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta.

Europa League failure: Time up for Mikel Arteta at Arsenal | Football –  Gulf News
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta (pictured) is a divisive figure at the club. Source: gulfnews.com

Arteta’s ups and downs

Arteta is a tricky manager to judge. In his first season, he miraculously won Arsenal the FA Cup, beating Manchester City and Chelsea en route glory. He also beat Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool on penalties in the FA Community Shield. During Arteta’s brief tenure, Arsenal won more trophies than bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur had since 2008.

Arsenal fans were convinced he was the one to steady the ship after Unai Emery and the tail-end of Arsene Wenger’s tenure. Yet, his second season has been nothing short of a disaster. The Gunners find themselves ninth in the league at the time of writing, well adrift of UCL and UEL spots.

We all joked about Wenger and fourth place, but Arsenal fans would kill to finish fourth right now.

Statistically, they are doing worse than Emery’s Arsenal. The (bitter) cherry on top of the cake was Emery being the manager of that Villareal team.

One of the biggest gripes Arsenal fans have with Arteta is the lack of a team identity. There was a definite philosophy at the beginning of his tenure – press aggressively and build from the back. However, at various stages in the season, he set the team up to do the opposite, which is sit back and catch teams on the break.

You could say these are tactical setups, but they are only good if they work. Too many times, Arsenal have been outplayed because of repeated changes to tactics and personnel. The 3-0 loss against Liverpool, the 3-0 loss against Aston Villa and the 4-1 loss against City all happened because of tactical blunders.

Most recently, Arteta employed a false-9 formation against Villareal, a setup they have never played in their recent history. That was perhaps the biggest reason why the Gunners looked sluggish against their Spanish opponents.

Arteta also seems to be a fan of rotation, much like his mentor Pep Guardiola. However, Guardiola’s rotation works because he has the squad depth to do it. Arsenal has a lot of bang-average players, and rotating them disrupts the team rhythm.

Nicolas Pepe, Arsenal’s record signing, can never start a string of games no matter how good he plays. A player like Cedric Soares puts in a shift at right-back, only to be replaced the next game by the out-of-form Hector Bellerin. The less said about Gabriel Martinelli, one of their most promising players not getting minutes, the better.

Bigger problems

It perhaps seems a little uncalled for to solely blame Arteta for the situation. The mess he finds himself in is owed to a multitude of reasons. One of them is Stan Kroenke, the owner of the club.

His lackadaisical involvement means Arsenal don’t have the means to compete among the heavyweights of the sport. The lack of world-class players also ensures the squad is not good enough. With Arsenal missing out on Europe as things stand, no top player would realistically make the switch to North London.

There also has been some truly unbelievable forces at play disrupting Arteta’s plans. The most infuriating one has to be the Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang situation. The talismanic striker, who scored goals for fun to win Arteta trophies, has become a shadow of his former self.

As soon as he “signed da ting”, he seems to have regressed beyond an unimaginable level. To put things into perspective, the last Arsenal player who signed a bumper contract to abject failure was Mesut Ozil.

In the end, Mikel Arteta presents something of a conundrum. Perhaps managing such a big club for his first job is a little too much. He had made costly mistakes, but he has also delivered exceptional performances.

The tactical masterclass against Manchester United early in the season comes to mind, as does a revenge 2-1 victory over Jose Mourinho’s Spurs. He has also handed opportunities to youngsters like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe. They are now a key part of the first team.

It is also important to note that said team, Arteta or not, was in need of a serious rebuild for quite a while. The core of the team is a far cry from the one that ran riot at the turn of the millennium. Perhaps that should be more of an issue to Arsenal fans.

Speculation and an important decision

Many of them, however, are on the #ArtetaOut brigade. They don’t trust the process, and you can’t blame them really. This after all is a team which is as inconsistent as Donald Trump’s (now suspended) Twitter account.

AFTV regular DT hit the nail on the head when he said he is never confident for any game. No one knows which Arsenal is going to show up. Will it be the one which bullied Manchester United at Old Trafford? Or will it be the one which folded meekly to Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son?

You only have to look at what happened with the other two inexperienced managers appointed – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard – to understand Arsenal supporters’ concerns.

Manchester United backed Ole despite a shaky start, and are now reaping rewards for it.

Chelsea, meanwhile, sacked Lampard for poor results. The arrival of Thomas Tuchel saw the struggling team reach a Champions League and FA Cup final.

The question is this – how long can you support the current manager when your rivals are all doing better with theirs? There are of course greater problems at Arsenal, and perhaps Arteta is unfairly being made a scapegoat.

But, the aforementioned team core’s nucleus is a great manager. Whether the Spaniard is that manager or not depends on which side of the fence you stand on.

Whatever it is, Arsenal fans should hope the rebuild comes hard and fast. A team like Arsenal should never be stuck in mediocrity remembering the glory days.

If that happens, no one will find themselves at the club. Bergkamp may have spoken those wise words long ago, but today, football is fickle and victory is its currency. If victories don’t start rolling in, Arsenal may permanently be a fallen giant.

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