For much of today’s 2-1 defeat to Brighton, Mikel Arteta stood on the touchline with his hand cradling his face. Usually full of firecracker energy, he looked forlorn, frustrated and slightly lost.
His body language mirrored those of his players who followed up Monday’s defeat to Crystal Palace with another horribly disjointed performance.
While Martin Odegaard’s late deflected strike raised hopes of an unlikely draw, the truth was that the Gunners lost this game way before its dying embers.
“The first half, it was really poor again,” reflected Arteta in his post-game press conference.
“The reaction that we wanted to show and everything that we talked about, we didn’t make it happen on the pitch.
“We were sloppy on the ball, we were second best in a lot of situations, we didn’t show any purpose or build any momentum in the game or play with the right speed to transform the game that Brighton proposed today.
“The first chance that they had, the only chance that they had, they scored the goal and then we created a cold atmosphere, an atmosphere we weren’t comfortable with and when we tried to change it was too late. It was great not to give up but it was too late.”
The visitors established their two-goal advantage courtesy of well-taken strikes by Leandro Trossard and Enock Mwepu who both converted pull-backs to the edge of the box.
Between the goals, scored on 28 and 66 minutes respectively, the Gunners laboured around the pitch, all too often slowing the tempo and seeming to have no idea how to break down the organised blue and white block in front of them. The boss said his players didn’t take ownership of the game.
“It wasn’t a problem of attitude it was the approach and the courage that we showed to play, we didn’t have that purpose,” he said.
“I know them, and we didn’t have the intention to attack and step in and provoke the situations we wanted to provoke and we were looking at each other too many times instead of taking ownership of doing what we have to do. You cannot play like that, you have to make yourself count and step in. Today, we didn’t do it.”
He returned to the theme when pressed again on what went wrong. “We lacked to take the ownership in the game to make decisions about ourselves that could affect the game, instead of allowing the game to go and go and go and take a trajectory that we could see clearly, wasn’t the one that we want.
“When that happens you have to move and take the game into a completely different direction. That has to happen during the match, early. We didn’t do it. By the time we started to do it, it was too late. You could see already the energy was very, very different.”
Having spoken in the week about taking advantage of playing at home in front of supporters who’ve been in good voice this season, Arteta lamented the scraps his players fed the punters.
On the “cold atmosphere”, he said: “We created [it], the fans were here again and they were exceptional, the moment we gave them something with what we tried. We played a game that you could not see the purpose, or the intention of what the team was trying to do.
“What can they [the fans] do, we have to give them [something] and we didn’t give them anything in the first half. This is down to us.”
Having lost twice in a week to opponents most would have backed the Gunners to beat, things get much harder here on in. In the final eight games, Arsenal still have to travel to West Ham, Chelsea and Sp*rs and have a home game with Manchester United.
Qualification for the Champions League, and even the Europa League, looks hard going, especially given the absence of Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey. It’s not over yet, but it will be if we don’t turn things around quickly.
Arteta knows it, saying: “What happens next? We criticise ourselves a lot, get slapped again because we were really poor again in the first half and then lift ourselves again.
“We know that this road is taking us nowhere, especially where we want to be, we have everything still to play for in the last eight games and we have to have a level of energy and visualising the challenge, the beautiful challenge, that we have ahead. We don’t sit back and see what happens.”