Alan Smith column: Arsenal need disciplined display or questions will be asked of Mikel Arteta

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Alan Smith
·4-min read
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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Talk about sailing close to the wind. The way Arsenal played in that first half last night suggested Mikel Arteta had no grip at all on this group of players.

Ill-disciplined, lacking purpose and shape against an impressive Villarreal outfit, they seem to have learned nothing from their young manager, which wasn’t good news for Arteta’s reputation and certainly did not bode well for his job prospects.

If that shoddy attitude had led to elimination next Thursday from the Europa League, we would all be asking if he was the right figure to lead Arsenal into brighter days. Maybe the owners would have as well, but that’s a whole different story.

As it was, the team did enough in the second half to postpone such doubts. They rallied to give themselves a chance. Yes, they were lucky. For a 19-year-old, Bukayo Saka was incredibly cute in eliciting slight contact and going down to win a penalty. The referee fell for it and Arsenal gratefully accepted the lifeline. The alternative this morning would have looked very ugly.

The second leg, for sure, is going to get tasty. Unai Emery’s players, clearly well-drilled and motivated, will stand up and fight. It could actually get out of hand if the referee doesn’t retain a firm grip when the niggly contest threatens to escalate.

Arteta, after all, obviously has a discipline problem within the squad. Eight red cards in 80 games in charge is nothing to be proud of. Too many times it has left the team in desperate trouble, fighting against the odds to rescue the situation.

Arteta comes across as a character who harbours no doubts at all about his methods and ability to turn this team into something more substantial. Privately, though, I wonder what he thinks in darker moments. It’s only human, after all, to doubt yourself, especially when it’s all going wrong, as it did for a time last night.

It’s easy to forget that he’s a rookie manager learning as he goes. Mistakes will inevitably be made along the way and they certainly have. The trouble is, Arsenal’s predicament is such that they simply can’t afford too many errors. The club would be plunged into a hole even deeper than this one and it would take an awfully long time to clamber out.

So, while not much is riding on Sunday’s trip to Newcastle, it’s vital that everyone settles down to produce a disciplined display more closely aligned with the manager’s wishes. It’s about preparing for Thursday, sticking to the game plan and bringing back a sense of order to Arteta’s reign.

Anything other than that might well end in tears.

Crystal Palace vs Man City (12:30pm, Saturday)

I think it’s fair to say that this season cannot end quickly enough for everyone at Palace. Safe from relegation some time ago, the club now seem to be drifting. With so many players out of contract this summer and with Roy Hodgson’s future up in the air, it must be really difficult to plan for next season.

I’d imagine that challenge is consuming chairman Steve Parish just now. He must be working overtime to plot a path for the club that sees it grow and develop, rather than stand still. Whoever finds themselves in the manager’s chair next season, they will surely want to inject more youthful energy into an ageing squad.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Chelsea vs Fulham (5:30pm, Saturday)

The game moves in cycles. The now-familiar sight of goalkeepers playing short passes from goal-kicks immediately springs to mind. Even though the habit occasionally backfires, all the top managers remain devotees. It’s the same with centre-forwards, at least the orthodox type. They seem to have gone out of fashion with many coaches.

Against Real Madrid, Thomas Tuchel kept Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham on the bench all night. It’s difficult to criticise, given the result, but still there are times when that forthright presence is missed. Tuchel doesn’t seem bothered. His way, after all, seems to be working.

Tottenham vs Sheffield United (7:15pm, Sunday)

No one wants to be in limboland. It’s an unsettling world for owners, staff, players and supporters. But that’s the domain Tottenham find themselves in. A manager sets the tone for everyone’s mood. Without such a figurehead, it’s easy for players to coast along. They can really start trying once a new man arrives.

Look, Jose Mourinho had to go, that much was clear. His methods no longer work with modern-day players who need to be inspired on a daily basis. Securing the right person isn’t going to be easy, but Spurs have to get this one right. It’s time to be bold and invest in a young coach brimming with innovation.

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