Forget ‘trusting the process’. Arsenal need to trust the progress instead

·6-min read
Arsenal's Willian and manager Mikel Arteta.
Arsenal's Willian and manager Mikel Arteta. (Pool via Reuters/Frank Augstein)

By Noah Tan

Much like how #Oleatthewheel has become synonymous with support for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign at Manchester United, #TrustTheProcess has been the phrase that Mikel Arteta’s advocates usually fall back on whenever discussing the job he has done at Arsenal.

But it’s been one-and-a-half years since Arteta took over at Arsenal. During that time, he’s managed to win the FA Cup, and…erm…

Does avoiding relegation this season count?

Sure, winning the FA Cup is not an achievement to be sniffed at. Some clubs go years and years and years without ever winning honours, leaving their top star so deprived of silverware that he has become creepily obsessed with any trophy he can get his hands on.

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However, it would be hard to argue that Arteta has made any discernible progress with the Gunners since taking over in December two years ago. 

Last season, Arsenal finished eighth in the English Premier league (EPL). This year – in Arteta’s first full season in charge, and with Thomas Partey in tow – we ended up as the eighth best team in the league yet again.

What’s more damning is that, even with Spurs’ hilarious self-imMOUlation act this season, us Arsenal fans still ended up being unable to celebrate St Totteringham’s day.

Knocked out of the Carabao Cup in the quarter-finals by Manchester City. Booted from the FA Cup in the fourth round by Southampton. Missing out on qualifying for European football for the first time in 25 years. 

And perhaps most humiliating of all, getting eliminated from the Europa League in the semi-finals by Villarreal and the man who Arteta replaced, Unai Emery.

So, Arteta, you ask us Arsenal fans to trust the process? How about you show us some progress first?

Arteta’s supporters will point to the admittedly decent run of form the team put together in the second half of the season – they were second in the form table behind champions Manchester City in 2021 – as evidence that there IS progress being made.

They will also point to the table and the mere six points that separated Arsenal and the top-four as further proof that Arteta is not too far off from bringing the North London club back into the fold of the elite.

Maybe I’m more of a glass half-empty kind of person, but when I look at those six points, I think about the run of results in the early part of the season that was so ridiculously bad, I almost pricked my nether regions to make a blood sacrifice to Cthulhu out of desperation for a win.

I think about the impotent losses against the likes of Wolves, Aston Villa and Everton during that so-called golden period of form. I think about the frustrating draws against relegated Fulham and Sean Dyche’s Burnley, the ‘Stoke lite’ of the EPL.

I think about the goals Nicolas Pepe scored (16 in all competitions), and the number of minutes Arteta took away from him just so he could play his signing Willian (one measly goal in all competitions).

Saying that Arsenal were two wins away from a top-four finish is like saying that I was two numbers away from winning 4D – it’s still two wins/numbers too far.

In this excellent statistical analysis by Arsenal blogger 7amkickoff, he paints a much fuller picture as to why Arteta’s ‘progress’ in the second half of the season is skewed.

But I think the main reason why I don’t rate Arteta as Arsenal’s manager is this: there just doesn’t seem to be a plan. Exactly what is this so-called ‘process’ working towards?

There is no coherence in the way the club operates, or the way the team plays. Some of it is down to Edu and the Kroenkes, of course, but for the large part, Arteta has to shoulder the blame for the lack of consistency on the pitch.

His propensity to chop and change a winning tactical formula – seemingly for no good reason – has hurt us in key games, not least in the first-leg of Europa League semi-final against Villarreal, where he decided to play with Emile Smith-Rowe (ESR) as a False-9 for the first time this season.

ESR is a fantastic player, but throwing him at the deep end in a role he has never played in before and expecting him to do a job is like hiring an Army general with no media experience to run one of the biggest news organisations in Singapore.

What irks me even more is his reluctance to utilise the immense youth talents in the team. Bukayo Saka and ESR are regulars in the starting-11, yes, but that’s because they’ve made themselves un-droppable. That’s to the two youngsters’ credit, not Arteta’s.

Instead, Arteta often chooses to rely on the same players who have long shown that they just aren’t cut out for a club with the ambitions of Arsenal. Willian. Dani Ceballos. Mo Elneny. Eddie Nketiah. Even captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been particularly woeful this season.

He could have used the youthful exuberance of the Energizer Bunny reincarnate Gabriel Martinelli, or given a run-out to promising striker Folarin Balogun, or even tried re-integrating the precocious talent that is Reiss Nelson into the squad.

Instead, Arteta chose to keep them warming the bench. And in the case of Nelson, can someone please file a missing person report soon? He seems to have completely disappeared off the face of this earth – I suggest starting the search in Arteta’s basement.

Ultimately, no matter how you look at it, this has been a season of failure for Arteta and Arsenal. Maybe Arteta does deserve another season to prove himself, but I look at Chelsea and their ruthlessness in getting rid of a club legend like Frank Lampard to get in Thomas Tuchel, and I can’t help but think that’s the way we should go.

Nonetheless, in a summer where Arsenal need a major overhaul in their playing personnel, perhaps it would be prudent to maintain some stability in the dugout. For now, at least.

But if Arteta’s Arsenal fail to impress once again next season, then I’m afraid it’s time to show him out of the Emirates Stadium for good.

I’m done trusting the process. Now, show us the progress, Arteta.

Overall grade 2020/21: D-

This article, "Forget ‘trusting the process’. Arsenal need to trust the progress instead", originally appeared on Football Siao – Singapore’s craziest EPL website.

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