Arsenal’s Villarreal humiliation highlights the desperate need for change at all levels of the club
By Allan Riley
Arsenal’s season slipped out of their hands last Thursday night, as the club was limply eliminated from the Europa League at the semi-final stage, following a 0-0 draw at home to Villarreal. The insipid performance that led to Arsenal’s exit was on par with any of the catastrophic lowlights of a season from hell.
The Yellow Submarine’s sinking of the Gunners was a result that rivalled the likes of the 2019 Europa League final in terms of humiliation. The fact that former manager Unai Emery, a man who was hounded out of his job, was able to return to his old stomping ground and come out unscathed was nothing short of embarrassing.
The game was indicative of a team devoid of leadership and initiative, a club without direction and ultimately, a manager out of ideas- or perhaps too many ideas. Mikel Arteta, who has survived punch after punch this campaign, could have finally received the knockout blow.
The Spaniard’s substitutions and in-game management came straight out of his predecessor’s playbook, with the decision to take Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang off moments after he hit the post particularly perplexing. Arteta's tactics and decisions encapsulated months of questionable line-ups and squad choices, poor signings and unusual systems. Across the two legs, he bafflingly experimented with his formation by playing a false nine in Spain, later playing a one-man midfield anchor in the reverse fixture.
There is a difference between a progressive young head coach with innovative ideas and a managerial novice who needs experience before accepting a job at this level. While Arteta could very well become a world-class manager, he wasn’t ready to take this job. He’s out of his depth, and it shows.
I was opposed to the decision to hire him in the first place but got behind him because he’s the manager. I vehemently backed him throughout the campaign, even writing pieces on why it would be “indescribably moronic” to sack him.
But that semi-final was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It looked like the players weren’t motivated ahead of the game. With time running out, and with Arsenal needing a solitary goal to progress, the ball was being lathargically recycled amongst our deeper players with very little urgency. To suggest that Arsenal were the better team across the two legs against Villareal, as Arteta did, is delusional. It’s almost as if Arteta is trying to convince himself that he is the right man for the job.
It is admittedly easy to blame the manager for the club’s shortcomings, but this disaster is not purely on Arteta. Right now Arsenal Football Club are not what they once were. They are a once-great institution of English football, now rotten to the core. Universal change across the board is needed.
Once again, Edu Gaspar’s role at the club needs to come under question. The signings of Willian (admittedly at Arteta’s request) and Cedric, as well as the non-signing of Houssem Aouar and proper left-back cover are hallmarks of his time at the club so far.
The pressure is on him now to get it right in the upcoming transfer window. Richard Garlick’s arrival should help, but should the former Invincible continue his current trend of squad mismanagement, the pressure currently mounting on him will double.
Even if Arteta was to be sacked tomorrow, there would be no noticeable, long-term change at the club in terms of performances, results and league position if Stan Kroenke does not act in the club’s best interests.
That includes investment – both monetarily and emotionally.
KSE has been lambasted for the former for years, with splashing the cash seemingly being the American’s Kryptonite, despite being worth $8.2 billion and holding the keys to the Walmart empire and its respective fortune. The self-sustaining model Arsenal has been relying on ever since the American purchased a majority share in the club back in 2006 has meant the club has stagnated while its rivals have progressed exponentially.
Kroenke also needs to be more invested in the club. His distant, removed ownership strategy has left many fans feeling unengaged and disenfranchised with how the club is run. Josh Kroenke showing up to Arsenal training wearing a LA Rams top means a hell of a lot, it means they don’t care.
Both of these are not going to change, and it’s for the best that the Kroenke family relinquish their power over Arsenal. Whether Daniel Ek’s well-received consortium of invincibles, the perennially linked Aliko Dangote or another billionaire joining the club, doesn’t matter. A good owner needs to invest in the team and be involved with the club behind the scenes.
Arsenal wanted to compete with Bayern Munich upon their move to the Emirates. Now, they are competing with the likes of Aston Villa and Leeds and being outpaced by the likes of Everton and West Ham. That is damning and is indicative of the metaphorical bull that is Arsenal running rampant and causing all kinds of chaos
Ultimately, there is only one man who can grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground, and that is the owner.