Arsenal desperately need a ‘Project Restart’ of their own

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Arsenal's Spanish head coach Mikel Arteta reacts to their defeat on the pitch after the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on July 12, 2020. (Photo by Julian Finney / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /  (Photo by JULIAN FINNEY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta after the Gunners' 1-2 Premier League defeat by Tottenham Hotspur (PHOTO: Julian Finney/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

By Noah Tan

You might be surprised to learn that as an Arsenal fan, the Gunners’ 1-2 loss to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday actually warmed the cockles of my heart.

But you see, I hate cockles. And that warmth I feel around my heart? That’s rage. Raw, unadulterated rage.

And that, dear readers, is a perfect analogy of how I feel towards Arsenal at the moment – I hate what they’ve become, and I’m fuming mad at how far we’ve fallen as a club.

There have been many articles written about the reasons why Mikel Arteta’s side lost to arguably the worst Tottenham Hotspur team in five years. Some say it was a tactical masterstroke by Jose Mourinho. Others argue that it was Arteta’s inexperience that cost his team. Yet others – mostly deluded Arsenal fans – even pointed to bad luck and inconsistent refereeing (Winks, Winks) as contributory factors to their defeat.

But the simple reason for their loss is this: Arsenal were s***.

And that’s all there really is to it.

You might think that’s unfair on Arsenal. Maybe that’s just the rantings of a bitter Arsenal fan who has yet to properly process the trauma of watching Mourinho celebrate. *shudder*

But, no.

Because even now, in the cold light of day, with my raw emotions having settled down somewhat, the uncomfortable truth continues to stare me in the face – this is an Arsenal side that is simply not talented enough to achieve its goals.

Anyone who can look at a back-three line-up of Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz and Sead Kolasinac and tell me otherwise is either a troll, or, to borrow a phrase from Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, “indulging in falsehoods”.

And so it proved, as the Terrible Trio somehow contrived to do what hundreds of millions of Manchester United dollars could not do: make Mourinho look like a world class manager again.

It started as early as the first minute, with Luiz losing the ball at the edge of his penalty box and allowing Lucas Moura to test Emi Martinez with a rasping shot.

Then, along came Kolasinac.

Like the election candidates from Peoples Voice whose name is not Lim Tean, Kolasinac’s sole purpose in the team should have simply been as a filler.

But the Bosnian, evidently unsatisfied with playing the role of a back-bencher, decided to take matters into his own hands, by gifting Spurs’ Son Heung-min with a misplaced back-pass that the South Korean gleefully capitalised on and scored from.

That Son’s goal came barely two minutes after Alexandre Lacazette had put Arsenal ahead with a superb long-range shot just added to the frustration of Arsenal fans everywhere.

Kolasinac continued to play the part of worst performing Arsenal player on the day, giving away possession as cheaply as a politician’s pre-election promise, and failing to pick up his man on multiple occasions.

Mustafi, who has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance in recent games, then went full-on Mustafi in the final 15 minutes of the game or so, which essentially meant panicking whenever he received the ball, going to ground needlessly when trying to tackle, and getting easily beaten by Harry Kane, who, while not necessarily known for his speed, looked like Usain Bolt on steroids alongside the hapless German defender.

When you add Luiz into the mix – a player who even at the best of times is like an expired box of chocolates, in that you never know what you’re going to get, but you can be sure it’ll leave you sick to your stomach – then of course, you can see why exactly Arsenal lost.

But the Terrible Trio aren’t the only ones at fault. The rest of the team, bar perhaps Emi Martinez and Lacazette, have to shoulder the blame as well for failing to capitalise on their second half dominance in possession.

There was, in particular, a distinct lack of creativity in the final third, with balls being pinged left to right and right to left, without it ever making serious inroads into the Spurs penalty box.

There was about as coherent a plan in the Arsenal attack as there was a plan for East Coast, while Hugo Lloris in the Spurs goal was akin to Singapore’s Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam during the recent General Election: untested and maybe a little bored.

Having said that, there have been green shoots of progress since Arteta took over the reins from Unai Emery late last year. The passing, while still as unimaginative and repetitive as some political playbooks we've seen, is at least crisper and sharper.

The collective pressing is better coordinated, there is more energy, pace and physicality in the team, and tactically, we’re no longer relying on Emery’s patented “cram as many of our players into our own penalty box and hope for the best”.

Inherently, though, this squad of players is just not good enough. They’re not good enough to play the sort of football Arteta envisions. They’re not good enough to finish in the top-four, let alone challenge for the title. They’re not good enough to go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the world, or to win trophies.

They’re not good enough for Arsenal.

Of course, there are gems within this group. Players like Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Kieran Tierney and Nicolas Pepe have shown enough (in Aubameyang’s case, more than enough) to suggest that can cut it in the upper echelons of the EPL, and should be kept and nurtured.

But, for their talent to really blossom, they need to be playing with similarly talented team-mates. More importantly, they need to be amongst a group of players who are hungry for success, and won’t accept anything but winning.

Like the People’s Action Party, Arsenal need to take a deeper look at themselves and change the culture within, pronto. And that can only come with a “Project Restart” of their own during the off-season.

After all, while Arteta may have somewhat managed to stabilise the sinking ship, he needs support to help it sail again. So, a clear-out of deadwood within the club is necessary, while smarter investments need to be made in players who are not only quality, but also have the right attitude, and fit the sort of system that Arteta is trying to implement.

Young, hungry players who are eager to learn and are willing to put in the hard yards, coupled with a few classy players who are about to enter the prime of their careers (Thomas Partey, anyone?) will do just fine. Such players will probably not come cheap, but if the club wants Arteta’s rebuild to succeed, then they will have to get such deals done.

After all, the board has already given Arteta the mandate to lead Arsenal back to glory.

Now, all he needs to succeed is a blank cheque.

This article, “Arsenal desperately need a ‘Project Restart’ of their own”, originally appeared on Football Siao – Singapore’s craziest EPL website.

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