Consecutive defeats in winnable matches against Crystal Palace and now Brighton have made Arsenal’s mission of qualifying for the Champions League after a five-year absence. Now, after lackluster showings against mid-table teams, that may extend to six years.
That could sound melodramatic, but this week’s results mean that Arsenal have lost ten Premier League games this season. While a portion of that can be blamed on their horrendous start, failing to snatch key draws has put them in an uneasy position as the team they’re trying to overlap, Spurs, who are gaining momentum while Arsenal seem to be losing it. The hot form of Tottenham with four consecutive victories means they have slight breathing room in the Champions League race. At this stage of the season, with matches becoming increasingly meaningful, every point matters.
For manager Mikel Arteta, the next month could be make-or-break for his job. If it isn’t, then it should be. Fans have tolerated him constructing a ‘project team’ for over two years now, and the FA Cup success proved to be a false dawn, and it still feels miraculous that Arteta survived through the 2020-21 season in which Arsenal missed out on European football altogether for the first time in decades. Now, all that hardship and determination of molding a team in his vision must pay off with the instant gratification of a Champions League spot. It’s less about the money and more the status; it would solidify the belief that the team are on the right track to set the Emirates booming again.
Within Saturday’s gloomy loss to Brighton, Martin Odegaard provided a ray of hope, as is standard for the midfielder with a maturity beyond his years. There is a reason Odegaard plays an instrumental part of Norway’s golden generation: As Arsenal supporters will attest to, while his natural talent in the midfield is clear to see, it’s his team spirit that elevates Odegaard to being a star. Having the right mentality can raise any player’s game, as being the figure of morale outweighs the consequences of sloppy performances, and in Odegaard’s case, the fact he captains his national team aged 23 exemplifies the respect he earns. It would be disappointing if he were to miss out on Champions League football due to blunders by his own teammates. Amidst a campaign plagued by errors, Odegaard should be pleased that his season has gone relatively error-free.
However, relying on one player for results during a pivotal stage of the season can do more harm than good, and perhaps that’s what happened these past couple games. Even when Odegaard pushes the team on and showed his class, like his beauty against Brighton, the rest of the team feel locked in lethargy. Lacazette was anonymous in that defeat, only having eight touches to look more of a pacifist than a goal poacher. At defence, the strange absence of longtime centre-back Koscielny is still apparent. To Arteta’s credit, however, his drastic changes to the squad personnel have tightened a defense previously ghostlike, with summer signings Aaron Ramsdale, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Ben White all transforming the backline. The 3-0 capitulation on Monday against Crystal Palace can at worst be considered a blip.
Arsenal have two options of equal reasoning to take: Either forget thus entire week happened, or they can meticulously dissect what went wrong. With their possession numbers ranking high, Arsenal’s biggest task is to make their minutes more meaningful. There is no use hoarding the ball if you rarely test the keeper, and that sort of static play would be exploited by opponents in the Champions League. Perhaps it’s for the best that Arsenal suffered these humbling losses, to serve as a reality check that there is still a long way to go before Arteta’s project at the Emirates can be soundly declared successful.