08.04.2021 - Ask any fantasy football manager and they would have told you in the first few weeks of the 2020/2021 season that there was something wrong with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Indeed, revealing statistics show that managers up and down the United Kingdom and across the world had pulled the Gabonese forward out of their teams in the opening weeks of the campaign, given how lethargic he looked in front of goal.In general, Arsenal as a whole looked short of ideas in the final third of the pitch when the season kicked off in September and it seemed a certainty that a long season awaited the Gunners. Fast forward seven months to April and the latest football odds show Arsenal at somewhat inconceivable odds of 11/1 to merely finish in the top six.
How has this happened and why does it feel like the Gunners are lightyears away from competing for a Premier League title once more? You probably don’t need to look any further than Mikel Arteta for the answer.
? Arsenal have only had three shots or fewer in four Premier League matches since we obtained Opta data in 2009/10— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) April 3, 2021
? All four of said matches have come under Mikel Arteta! pic.twitter.com/duC52aUwq2
When the Spaniard joined Arsenal following Unai Emery’s sacking, he promised to make the Gunners hard to beat and return that much-missed steeliness to the football club. There had been such a clamour for Arsenal to toughen up during the end days of Arsene Wenger’s reign with many supporters left disillusioned at how soft the underbelly of the club had become.
With Arteta now in charge, expectations were high and the fans were sure that the days of 'one-nil to the Arsenal' would return. All in all, it was a good start, as Arsenal won the FA Cup after beating ten-men Chelsea 2-1. However, the cracks would begin to appear only a couple of months after the season had started.
In fact, the drop-off in form coincided with Aubameyang signing a new three-year contract.
The 31-year-old put pen to paper on a deal that would see him earn £60 million over the next three seasons. The euphoria that followed his announcement soon died down after the forward’s level of performance dramatically fell away. This prompted many Arsenal fans to shift nervously in their seats at the thought of another Mesut Ozil saga engulfing the club.
Those fears weren't unfounded - Aubamenyang was left out of the starting lineup by Arteta against Spurs having arrived late for the north London derby. You, all of a sudden, had the club captain being publicly disciplined after years of seemingly faultless service. This had all the hallmarks of Ozil’s falling out with the club but, surely, lessons had been learned by Arsenal to avoid this kind of catastrophe ever happening again.
The more you look at the situation currently unfolding at Arsenal, the more you get the sense that in a bid to toughen the club up, Arteta has instead alienated members of his squad by trying to make an example out of the best players in the building. It has spectacularly backfired.
It has even led to what Gary Neville now describes as a type of mafia allegiance between some of the players and Arteta. Indeed, with mutiny not far off in the Arsenal change room, it really is a case of being ‘me or them’ for Arteta. A glance back over the history of football will give you a very good idea of what happens next when the board of a club has to choose between the players and the manager. However it goes, it won't be pretty.