Could another slump in form spell the end for Mikel Arteta at Arsenal?
It looked like the tide had turned for Arsenal recently in the Premier League. Those who poked fun at a possible relegation battle for the Gunners earlier in the season were made to look stupid as the north London outfit climbed up the table and got within touching distance of the top four.
A 2-1 defeat to Everton on December 19th marked Arsenal’s eighth loss in 14 Premier League games, and just four points separated the Gunners in 15th from the dreaded relegation zone. The side’s dire form had reportedly made the club’s hierarchy begin to plan in case of a drop down to the Championship, which was believed to have included talks with players about wage cuts and so on.
However, they then went seven Premier League games without defeat (5W, 2D), starting with an impressive 3-1 victory over Chelsea on Boxing Day and carrying on right through until the end of January. It’s runs of form like this that have made it difficult to know how to bet on the English Premier League this season.
Arsenal’s unbeaten streak, however, was ended by Wolves at the beginning of the month. Nicolas Pépé had given the Gunners the lead at Molineux Stadium. But, a controversial red card for defender David Luiz and Rúben Neves converting the subsequent penalty turned the game in Wolves’ favour. João Moutinho fired Nuno Espírito Santo’s men into the lead in the second half and there was a further red card for Arsenal’s goalkeeper Bernd Leno, who came charging out of his box to punch the ball out of play.
Defeat in their next match against Aston Villa, with OIlie Watkins’ early strike the difference between the two sides, resulted in the Gunners dropping down to 11th in the table, and they are now nine points adrift of the Champions League spots.
With Arsenal now without a win in three successive Premier League games, it is understandable that all those involved with the club are worried once again, especially as tough fixtures against Leeds United, Manchester City and Leicester City are all crammed into the tight schedule between now and the end of February, which also includes the Europa League clashes with Benfica.
Whilst the thought of relegation is off the table for now, as some 16 points separate Arsenal from 18th-placed Fulham, it is worth noting that there are just six points between the Gunners and Newcastle United in 16th. So, Arsenal could well be safe from the drop, but they are still on course for potentially one of their most embarrassing finishes in the Premier League table on record.
The board received great credit for standing by their man despite the turbulent start to the season, especially with their cross-city rivals Chelsea sacking Frank Lampard after a dip in form. However, the more Arsenal fall down the table throughout this potential second slump, the more their patience with Arteta could wear thin.
Some fans are already questioning how the former Gunners skipper is at the helm, and the criticism is fair as the results are not matching the club’s ambitions. It’s hard to believe that there are six managers ahead of Arteta in the next manager to be sacked market, but those odds will be slashed and the pressure will really begin to mount if they do fall back down to the lower reaches of the Premier League table that they found themselves in some months ago.
Arsenal’s chiefs are well-known for having patience with managers, but sometimes you have got to bite the bullet and move on before too much damage is done. Unai Emery was sacked last season when the Gunners were in eighth, and whilst the board might not want to churn through managers, it’s fair to say that they need to accept that Arteta might not be the man for the job and move on.