Mikel Arteta says criticism of Arsenal is understandable given his side have started the new season with back-to-back defeats, however, he’s hopeful a fully fit squad can turn things around as the season progresses.
Low in confidence after losing 2-0 at Brentford, the Gunners, depleted by injury and illness, struggled to land a punch on Chelsea who, courtesy of first half strikes by Romelu Lukaku and Reece James, ran out easy 2-0 winners at the Emirates.
On an afternoon when fans packed out the Emirates for the first time since March 2020, the terraces did their best to motivate a toothless side but couldn’t resist expressing their discontent at the end of each half.
Asked about his side’s ‘teething problems’, a beleaguered Arteta did his best to strike a positive note despite the fact his players face reigning Premier League champions Manchester City in their next league game.
“We can’t control that,” said Arteta of the injuries and Covid-19 outbreak his squad are dealing with.
“We’ll try to explain what we’re facing when we can, but the expectation is always for this club to win every single match.
“When that doesn’t happen, it’s normal that we’re going to get criticism and they’re going to try to look where they want. That’s it.
“Hopefully things will get better. When players get back, they will need some time because they have lost a lot of football. I think it will be completely different.
“Hopefully we will see a different squad, a different level in the way we can play – and different results. Then the story can change. The good thing in football is that the narrative [can] change really quickly.”
Having spent much of the last few weeks bigging up the importance of playing matches in front of a full stadium, Arteta was asked for his views on the atmosphere at the Emirates.
“I saw a lot of excitement from them at the beginning. They really tried to push the team. When you’re 2-0 down at half-time, nobody is going to be happy. We’d be fooling ourselves [as] a club with this rich history, if anybody is going to be happy at half-time with that.
“I think in the second half, you saw a different reaction – every time the team was giving something, they were reacting positively towards them. The players were saying that they believed that they were really good with them.
“At the end they had to show that it’s frustrating. You don’t want things to be negative at the moment right now but [the circumstances we are facing right now] is really difficult. We need them more than ever, now.”
As things stand, Arteta is unable to call on Gabriel, Thomas Partey and Eddie Nketiah due to injury, while Covid-19 denied him the services of Willian, Alex Runarsson, Alex Lacazette and new boy Ben White. Having missed the season opener, an out-of-sorts Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did return.
“Auba made a real effort to be able to be on the bench today,” said Arteta.
“He only trained one day. He really struggled with illness – he was in bed for a long time but he wanted to be in the squad, he wanted to try to help the team and I thought he did help the team when he came on.”
It remains to be seen whether Arteta will be able to call on Kieran Tierney before the international break. The Scotland left-back suffered a thigh problem and had to go off in the second half. Gabriel Martinelli also couldn’t finish the 90 minutes. Both could be doubts for Tuesday’s Carabao Cup clash with West Bromwich Albion.
“They had to limp off,” said Arteta. “KT had an issue with his quad and Gabi was cramping, He and Bukayo haven’t played 90 minutes for a long time. We’re asking them to do that right now when they’re not fully prepared. They tried really hard, the boys.”
So where do Arsenal go next. How does Arteta approach the next few days?
“We try to give them confidence and belief that football changes really quickly,” he said.
“The league and the table is not going to be decided in August. I don’t want to see anybody feeling sorry for themselves or for the squad or for the team, because that’s not going to help us.
“I want a team and individuals that want to fight and want to face the challenge that is ahead of us, because normally when you do that, at some stage you get rewards. That’s what I’m going to try to do with them.”