Mikel Arteta's bland football not enough to rouse resigned Arsenal fans from their slumber - Opinion
The Gunners just about salvaged a point against Crystal Palace in yet another disappointing Emirates display under manager Mikel Arteta. Visiting teams no longer fear facing Arsenal at home, and Ibrahim Mustapha looks at how their current predicament has left fans without any hope or expectation that an improvement is imminent.
Arteta 'can't believe McArthur was not sent off’ in Arsenal draw with Palace
Inside the Emirates Stadium, the barrier that separates the upper tier and the corporate boxes the level below is not adorned with adverts like at many other grounds.
Instead, Arsenal, as England’s third most successful club, choose to remind attendees of all the honours won throughout the club’s history, from a first FA Cup in 1930, to a record 14th in 2020, as well as 13 league titles and other trophies collected along the way.
Since the club moved to the ground from their old Highbury home in 2006, success may not have been as frequent as initially anticipated but Arsenal are always expected to play on the front foot in front of their own fans, providing a fear factor for visiting teams, meaning they have also long been able to chastise opponents for ‘parking the bus’ in the N5 postcode of north London.
The Gunners faithful have had a reputation, rightly or wrongly, of not generating the most intense of atmospheres at their home ground but at present, the team is not giving people a lot to shout about.
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Despite a great pre-match reception for returning hero Patrick Vieira who was in the dugout for the opposition, and an early goal, fans were soon slumped in their seats at watching a sterile, ineffective passing game that has been a feature of much of Mikel Arteta’s time in charge.
Palace’s fightback to take the lead in the second half was not met with anger or frustration but simply resignation. Back-to-back eighth place finishes have essentially gaslighted much of the Arsenal fanbase into accepting that a possible home defeat to Crystal Palace is 'just what happens these days'.
Arsenal are in a state of apathy. There is no longer hope, nor expectation, among a very flat set of supporters.
After coming on as a substitute, Alexandre Lacazette ran towards the North Bank stand and threw his arms in the air trying to rouse the crowd and, to their credit, those still in the ground - a number had already left without regret - when he snatched a 96th minute equaliser, greeted his goal with some rare gusto.
“Maybe because of the way we were playing at that moment, they were a bit sleepy,” the Frenchman said afterwards. “So I wanted to just bring some energy that I know they like, and to change the game.”
The ‘sleepy’ fans may have woken up for the late goal, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the Emirates will stop being the place they catch up on 40 winks in future.
This season at home, Arsenal have been comfortably beaten by Chelsea, struggled to overcome a poor Norwich and now stumbled to a point against Palace.
The only standout Emirates performance so far was the blistering half-hour blitz against arch-rivals Tottenham which, of course, had the crowd in intense fervour throughout. However, this very much feels like an exception.
Palace are now unbeaten in four away at Arsenal and will be disappointed not to come away with three points, a feeling that may very well be the case with a number of visiting sides from now on.
Taking an admittedly small sample size, in 2017/18, legendary manager Arsene Wenger endured his ‘worst’ season by finishing sixth in the Premier League and ultimately lost his job, but ended the campaign with 15 wins, two draws and just two defeats on home soil, collecting 47 points which was second only to runaway champions Manchester City on 50.
Wenger’s replacement, Unai Emery, in his one full season in charge, had a near identical record, winning 14 and drawing three, which was only bettered by champions City and second place Liverpool.
Even in a Covid-interrupted first six months after taking over from Emery mid-season, Arteta won seven of his first 10 matches at the Emirates, losing only his first in charge against Chelsea.
However, this took something of a turn last season with the Spaniard winning just eight and losing seven of his 19 league matches at the Emirates, while racking up a number of unfavourable records.
The loss to Leicester was the Gunners' first home defeat to the Foxes since 1973. Wolves’ 2-1 victory was a first at Arsenal since 1979 and Burnley also came away from the red half of north London with three points for the first time since 1974 – a match which also signalled a fourth successive home defeat, something that hadn’t previously happened in 61 years.
It was another disappointing night at the Emirates for Arsenal
Image credit: Getty Images
Of course, Arteta could justifiably point to the lack of supporters in the stadium – something rivals Manchester United and Liverpool could also argue after their indifferent home records – so the return of fans this season should have provided a welcome boost.
The Arsenal boss is a divisive figure among the supporter base and, while his defenders will argue he is still in the process of rebuilding and transition, critics will point to the fact that nearly two years into his tenure, there still feels like no clear idea of what he is trying to do.
As well as the home failings, it's worth pointing out that on the road, things haven't been much better with just one win and one goal in four games as they languish in 12th place in the league.
The football itself is uninspiring, bland and both draining energy from supporters while motivating rivals, all of which evidenced by the fact that playing at home barely feels like an advantage. Something that will be a huge concern going forward.