For nearly 15 years, since the halcyon days of Patrick Vieira’s leadership, Arsenal have been labelled as having an underbelly far softer than many of their closest rivals.
That lack of strength and guile has been lambasted as the primary reason for their downward trajectory, but there was great hope that Mikel Arteta’s appointment as Unai Emery’s successor would help return the club to their core values.
Indeed, having a former captain at the helm, who understands the club’s identity and status, was expected to inspire the Gunners to up their game and head back towards the glory days, offering up more intelligence and know how when it comes to grinding out wins.
This season, however, has seen the opposite. Instead, an explosion of ill-discipline has cost Arsenal more points than you dare imagine to leave them a lowly – and frankly embarrassing – 15th in the Premier League table.
The main issue, almost unfathomably, is that Arsenal seem unable to keep 11 men on the field, and it’s not just a problem that has affected them this season.
Since Arteta was appointed in December 2019, the Spaniard has seen seven of his players – yes, seven – sent off, which is four more than Brighton have had in that time, the Gunners’ closest rivals in this rather forgettable category.
To further substantiate just how bad that is, seven Premier League teams didn’t have a single player sent off for the whole of the 2019/20 campaign. Arsenal, from January 2020 onwards alone, had four – David Luiz twice being the guilty party.
So is it any wonder that having added another three dismissals this season, Arsenal are dropping points? Most probably, no. It’s clear and obvious that when you’re a man down in football, your chances of picking up points reduce dramatically, particularly when you’re playing at the highest level.
Arteta’s side, unsurprisingly, are evidence of the damage playing with a man less can have. On those seven occasions where Arsenal have been reduced to ten men, they have failed to win – drawing four times and losing three. Furthermore, each of their red cards during 2020/21 have come when the scores have been level, effectively ending their hopes of pushing on for a winner.
The irony – or something akin to that, anyway – is that Arsenal don’t appear to be learning any lessons, and of late they’ve started up picking up more red cards than they have points. In their last six Premier League outings, they have just two points to their name; but in that time, have seen three players – Nicolas Pepe, Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Magalhaes – dismissed.
It’s almost unusual to now hear of a time when Arsenal haven’t had a man sent off.
To add insult to injury, the nature of the dismissals are simply unforgivable. In November’s 0-0 draw with Leeds, Nicolas Pepe’s ludicrous headbutt in the age of VAR earned him his marching orders from referee Anthony Taylor, before Granit Xhaka inexplicably decided to grab Burnley’s Ashley Westwood by the throat in Arsenal’s 1-0 loss to Burnley.
Arguably, the only player who could be forgiven is Gabriel – but even he should have known better than to haul down Southampton’s Theo Walcott having been booked no fewer than five minutes earlier. Now, he won’t be available against one of the Premier League’s most in-form strikers, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, when Arsenal take on an ever-improving Everton next up.
The question on many people’s lips is a simple one. Why? Why are Arteta’s players not learning and why has the manager not got control of his players temperaments? The answer to that is not yet known, but what we do know is that Arsenal’s miserable campaign has already seen them break a 61-year club record of losing four successive home games.
When Arteta arrived at the Emirates, he was asked to remould, rebuild and reestablish Arsenal’s true identity, making them a team that not only wins in style but shows the grit and determination that Arsene Wenger’s early teams possessed effortlessly.
But as time goes on, there seems to be very little of that change being implemented, and instead a care free, anything goes attitude appears to have come to the fore. Arteta has publicly stated that his players are ‘letting down the team’ and being ‘stupid’ – he must now back those words up in the dressing room and get his house in order, before it’s too late.