Arsenal’s Europa League Fanbase Needs to Temper their UCL Expectations
By Mac Johnson
The idea for this article was spawned when a Twitter poll started floating around, asking if Arsenal should sack Mikel Arteta if he failed to beat Benfica in Rome. Out of the responses at the time I saw it last, 44% of Arsenal fans voted yes. There have been inexplicable calls to sack Arteta since the day he arrived at the club, nearly all of which are unfounded. This Arsenal fanbase has been spoiled, and there’s no two ways about it. We have our claim to the Invincibles, and to two sterling decades under Arsene Wenger, where Champions League football was almost a guarantee. Now, we’re lucky if we can make top six, because the league is just more competitive, and the club has been in turmoil. We have a UCL fanbase, but a bottom-half budget, due to lack of investment from KSE—something that looks to be improving slightly—and financial stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t have the financial bandwidth to sign superstars, and especially not to pay their wages, and yet fans expect us to shell out £50-60 million on three different players. Sorry, won’t happen. People seem to be conveniently forgetting that we laid off 55 essential workers last year, had the players take a wage cut of up to 20%, removed two entire departments from London Colney, including youth and international scouting, and went through a series of backroom changes so massive that we’ve retained two major executives from eight in the past five years.
In those five years, we’ve gone through four head coaches, and while nobody has been perfect, Unai Emery can certainly be classed as a near-failure, due to his inept tactics, terrible control of the dressing room, and shoddy defensive model. We brought him in to maintain our attacking flair while shoring up the back, and he made both worse. Arteta has fixed that problem, at least somewhat. Arsenal have kept more clean sheets already this season than they did in any of Emery’s complete seasons with the club, and we’re just over halfway through this campaign. And our struggles this season have been marred by individual errors and injuries more than anything else. Xhaka will always be error-prone, David Luiz will always be error-prone, regardless of who manages them. Gabriel and Leno have been among our strongest performers this season, despite individual lapses of judgement that simply cannot be blamed on Arteta. Once the 38-year-old has been given two seasons to build his squad, and create a team capable of competing for top four and the Champions League—I don’t think it’s a big jump to say that this squad is simply not good enough to play UCL football right now—his true abilities will come to the fore. He’s currently operating with a squad half-signed in the last days of Wenger, with the other half recruited to fit Emery’s style of football, with a couple of veteran stragglers recruited by Raul Sanllehi and his army of super-agent friends. But the most important aspect about Arteta’s tenure is that he was hired to run a rebuild. Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho were available and interested in the Arsenal job, and the Gunners chose Arteta as Emery’s successor. If he wasn’t sacked for sitting in fifteenth two months ago, he won’t be sacked if he loses to Benfica. So, Arsenal fans, I don’t care what you think about Arteta, because this is the new normal. We’re no longer a UCL-quality team. We’re not going to be blowing the bank open every summer. And we’re in a long-term rebuild. I’m so happy that so many of you think you could coach this team better than a professional manager, but I’ll casually inform you that you’re incorrect. He’s an excellent manager, and is here to stay.