The 49 Steps
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The 49 Steps

Notes on Newcastle 2–0 Arsenal: Les Enfants Terribles

Arsenal dropped an abomination of a performance in the most important game of the season. So much for the “Process…”

Monday’s 2–0 defeat away to Newcastle United wasn’t just the likely death knell for UEFA Champions League qualification (barring the kind of miracle that’s spared this manager more than once). It was also a flat, uninspired and meek surrender that should be the ultimate indictment of Mikel Arteta.

The Process King lives in a bubble, protected by a litany excuses for failures that would have seen other managers pilloried. Failures that led to his predecessor Unai Emery being dismissed.

You can tick the excuses off the lengthy list by rote. 4th was a stretch goal (still don’t know what that is). The “Project” needs more time. Arteta has the youngest squad in the league.

That last one is parroted over and over as some sort of catch-all for every Arsenal frailty. Bullshit.

Arsene Wenger had young squads several times after the move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006. He also guided the youngsters into the Champions League several times.

Arteta’s kids aren’t alright. Just ask Granit Xhaka, one of the supposed experienced heads in this squad who pulled no punches in his post-match interview at St. James’ Park:

https://twitter.com/TEAMtalk/status/1526317895935991811

Xhaka’s right, although he’s far from absolved of any blame for his own part in Arsenal’s latest capitulation. The Teflon General has overlooked Arteta’s culpability.

Arsenal’s youngsters froze under the bright lights at Newcastle on the heels of suffering mental midgetry at Tottenham. Bukayo Saka was off the boil, Emile Smith Rowe was anonymous and Martin Odegaard faded like a fart in the wind.

These are supposed to be the leading lights of Arsenal’s so-called “revolution” on Arteta’s watch. So why haven’t they been able to muster performances when it’s mattered the most?

The answer is simple. Because the manager is a kid. Arteta is a babe in the woods in managerial terms, and it shows in the way his fallow players keep repeating bad habits.

There’s the foul throw from Nuno Tavares that led to Newcastle’s opening goal, an own goal from an equally disappointing Ben White. Some might question the decision, but Tavares’ slip of the hand was far from an isolated incident this season:

https://twitter.com/WhoScored/status/1526308607809269763

Nor was the defence being breached by a usually goal-shy team. Newcastle had scored 40 goals in 36 league games before Monday, but if the Magpies had won 4–0 it wouldn’t have been an unjust scoreline.

It was the same story when Brighton & Hove Albion arrived at the Emirates on April 9 with only 30 goals to their credit and scored twice. Those goals followed Crystal Palace, one of the more goal-averse teams in the division, putting three past Arteta’s fledglings at Selhurst Park five days earlier.

Arsenal haven’t kept a clean sheet since the 1–0 win at Aston Villa on March 19. That took a man of the match turn from backup goalkeeper Bernd Leno.

It’s not the best endorsement of a back line remade at a considerable cost by Arteta and Edu last summer. Yet, the money spent on White, Tavares, Aaron Ramsdale and Takehiro Tomiyasu hasn’t produced the desired results:

https://twitter.com/Orbinho/status/1526307643228307458

The 47th goal was netted by Bruno Guimaraes, the former Lyon midfielder signed by Newcastle in January. Arsenal had first dibs, but Arteta said no, even after offloading Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Calum Chambers and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Streamlining the squad looked foolhardy at the time, and so it’s proved. For those who absolve Arteta of any blame on this one, ask yourself what you said those seasons Wenger didn’t want to “spend some f*cking money” come the winter.

Bruno gave Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny a lesson in control, technique and influence. Xhaka’s 29 and so is Elneny. So much for those terrible children…

https://twitter.com/Squawka/status/1526306993941712898

Arteta’s indifferent (at best) performance in the transfer market could form the basis of the next 10 posts on this blog. For now though, it’s more fitting to concentrate on the consistent failings on the pitch.

Failings like Arsenal’s miserable run during the business end of this season, when securing a top-4 finish was well within reach. It’s unlikely to happen because Arteta’s team has lost six of the last 11 games.

Dire form at any time, but a win-loss record like that when you have everything to play for is an indictment of the manager’s ability to motivate and focus his squad. There was little doubt Arsenal would arrive on Tyneside still a little jaded after Thursday’s 3–0 shambles against Spurs.

It was on Arteta to make sure the page was turned. Managers earn their crusts and reputations in such circumstances.

Rebounding from defeats is a challenge for the motivational skills of any manager, but a challenge the top gaffers pass consistently. Wenger made leaping over hurdles of this kind into an art form.

Think 2014, when Arsenal bounced back from a 3–0 defeat to Everton at the start of April to win five straight and secure fourth place before finishing the job in the FA Cup. Or how about a year earlier?

Arsenal were five points outside the top four after losing 2–1 at Tottenham in March 2013. Wenger’s team was then dispatched from the Champions League by Bayern Munich. Le Prof’ made a few tweaks and engineered a 10-game unbeaten run to get Arsenal another seat at Europe’s top table.

Perhaps the best turnaround of all was the 2011/12 season. Arsenal lost key players, particularly Cesc Fabregas, during a chaotic summer.

Wenger’s skeleton crew then started the campaign with four points from five games and a goal difference of minus-eight. A rapid rebuild on the fly ended with Arsenal finishing third.

And still Wenger was hounded out, while Arteta gets to sell progress with nothing to show for it.

Arteta’s teams don’t respond to negative results because his players crumble in the face of adversity on the pitch. Arsenal have now lost nine of 10 games in the league this season when the opposition has scored first.

That’s cast-iron proof of a psychological weakness among the manager and his players. So is being thoroughly outplayed by a Newcastle team with nothing at stake, a team that should have been on the beach but was faster, stronger and smarter in every area than Arsenal.

Time to face facts. This process is rudderless. These kids aren’t alright.

Originally published at http://arsenalnotes49.wordpress.com on May 17, 2022.

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Arsenal, NFL History and Film Analysis from James Dudko

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James Dudko

James Dudko

Films, Footie and Gridiron, with the emphasis on Arsenal, NFL history and analysis of cinema from years past.