Arsenal in crisis: What now for Arteta after worst start in history?

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Lacazette Arteta Aubameyang

Three games, three defeats, nine goals conceded, no goals scored. This is as bad as it gets for Arsenal.

It’s the first time in the club’s long and illustrious 134-year history that they have lost their opening three league games without netting at least once.

This is no blip; this is a full-blown crisis and we haven’t even seen the back of August yet.

It was obvious that Arsenal’s start to the season was going to be difficult, with a trip to newly promoted Brentford on the opening night followed by back-to-back matches against last season’s Champions League finalists, Chelsea and Manchester City.

But nobody would have expected things to be this bad after the opening three games. Arsenal now head into the international break bottom of the Premier League.

Trust the process, we are constantly told. But what exactly is that process? 

Right now, the confused mess we are seeing on the pitch every week makes that a question that is almost impossible to answer.

“I don't think today is the day to talk about any process,” manager Mikel Arteta said when he was pressed on that very subject after Saturday’s 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City. “We have to talk about the result, what happened on the pitch and that's it.

“I've always said I will be the one [to take responsibility]. I think I've been more critical about myself and taking the blame every single time, but only when we have defeats. 

“I stand here today and I do exactly the same thing. I question myself and I have to try and have the right people around me and look at every decision that we make, and that I make to try to improve it and change.”

Arteta is fast approaching last-chance saloon territory at Arsenal.

Mikel Arteta

Had he been in charge of a club like Chelsea right now, then there's no chance that he would still be in a job, given the results he suffered last season and the way the current campaign has started.

Yes, Arsenal have only played three games and their squad had been decimated during the early weeks of the season due to injury and a Covid-19 outbreak.

But there is simply no excuse for the type of performance we witnessed at the Etihad. Arsenal were inept in every department. They were shambolic at the back and utterly toothless in attack. 

They may have played 55 minutes with 10-men after Granit Xhaka’s dismissal, but the loss of one man should not result in the white flag being raised.

Arsenal had just 19 per cent of possession and they failed to muster a single shot on target for the first time since before the 2003-04 season, when Opta records began.

This was a capitulation of epic proportions from a squad that looks totally devoid of any sort of ideas and the responsibility for that has to rest with the manager.

“This type of game you have to play with everything, take risks; we just didn't do enough and that's it," Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang said after the game

“We have to talk between us players, it's important as we are Arsenal and we have to have pride. We have to talk, say the truth, be honest."

Arsenal face four huge games after the international break.

They start off with a game against second-from-bottom Norwich, who sit above them by virtue of the one solitary goal they have scored during their opening three defeats. They then travel to Burnley before welcoming Spurs in the north London derby and taking on Brighton at the Amex Stadium.

There is simply no room for error for Arteta in those games. The Arsenal hierarchy do not want another change in manager, but they will surely run out of patience if those matches do not bring results and improved performances.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

“Hopefully, we can get some players back,” Arteta said. “We missed a lot of players in recent weeks. Hopefully, some of them will be back in decent shape. 

“It is [now] time to reflect, to look in the mirror, each of us, and try to change the dynamic straight away because we need to pick up results.”

The return of Thomas Partey will certainly strengthen Arsenal, with the midfielder set to return to training next week following the ankle injury which he sustained during pre-season.

Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes should both also be available and the pair will surely become the bedrock of a defence which has looked a shambles during the opening weeks of the season.

The fact that Sead Kolasinac, a player Arsenal have been trying to offload all summer, started against Manchester City sums up how bad things have got, while it also highlighted some of the bizarre decisions that are being made at the club.

Arsenal have spent £130 million ($179m) on new signings this summer, more than any other club in England. Yet only one of those – Martin Odegaard – started at the Etihad.

Aaron Ramsdale, Albert Lokonga and Nuno Tavares were all unused substitutes, while White was absent due to Covid-19.

With Arsenal looking to improve on two successive eighth-placed finishes, you have to question why so much money has been spent on players who are deemed not ready to make an immediate impact.

And fans will understandably also point to the fact that talented young centre-back William Saliba has been sent out on loan again, while Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Kolasinac remain at the club.

So many questionable decisions have been made at Arsenal and right now, including the farcical situation surrounding Xhaka - who had looked set to leave the club this summer.

He would be a Roma player right now, had the Italian club met asking Arsenal's asking price. Xhaka was happy to go and Arteta was willing to let him leave.

Alexandre Lacazette Arsenal

Yet not only is the Switzerland international still at the club, he has been captain in Aubameyang's absence this season and has also bizarrely been given an extended contract.

Quite why Arteta decided to give the midfielder a pat on the back as he left the field on Saturday after his fourth Premier League red card since the start of the 2016/17 season only he will know.

This was the latest in a long line of examples of Xhaka costing his team. Some may debate whether he should have been sent off, but the fact is he gave the referee a decision to make with a reckless tackle when his team-mates were under the cosh and needed him most.

Arteta had a golden opportunity this summer to move on from Xhaka and provide Partey with a new long-term partner in central midfield.

But now the 28-year-old is tied down to a new deal and Arsenal are left with the same old problems in an area of the pitch where they have been second best for years.

It's a baffling situation and one that sums up the confusing way things are currently being dealt with in north London.

Despite all the issues currently facing him, however, Arteta remains convinced he can turn things round.

“I wouldn't be sitting here [otherwise],” he said in the aftermath of Saturday’s latest embarrassment. But he will know time is running out. 

Arsenal’s manager doesn’t just need wins to ease the pressure, he needs performances. 

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His team have managed just seven shots on target in their opening three games, that just isn’t acceptable – no matter how many players have been missing.

The embarrassing capitulation against City once again shone a glaring light on the mess that Arsenal are in and they now find themselves rooted to the foot of the Premier League for the first time ever after more than two games.

This has to be rock bottom. If it isn’t, then Arteta’s time in charge surely has to come to an end.