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Soccer

Mikel Arteta Isn’t Helping His Case

Folarin Balogun of Arsenal looks dejected as he is consoled by Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal following defeat in the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on August 22, 2021 in London, England.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

There are two things that make soccer fans soccer fans: being unbearably smug through their team’s success, and firing the coach. Right now Arsenal supporters can only manage the second.

The Gunners are 0-2-0, and they’ve yet to score a goal despite playing against a team (Brentford) that hasn’t been in top-level football in three-quarters of a century and an elite team (the freshly Lukaku-ized Chelsea) at home. It is Arsenal’s worst start in 118 years, which is even before Arsene Wenger was hired. Today’s 2-0 loss is somewhat understandable because Chelsea is ambitious, organized, and pretty badass, but the fans were already in foul humor because a 2-0 loss to Brentford wasn’t supposed to happen.

In the Premier League standings, Arsenal is only better than freshly promoted and soon to be re-re-re-re-re-relegated Norwich City, and that’s only on goal difference. Moreover, manager Mikel Arteta is already acting like a doomed man because whatever mileage one gets from winning the FA Cup quickly recedes. After all, Arsenal won three FA Cups at the end of the Wenger era, and that didn’t save him from the kind of grief that helped convince him to walk in 2018 (or, as some believe, helped convince club owner Stan Kroenke to show him the walkway).

So the periodic cry to fire Arteta has arisen again, because that’s how soccer works. Fans of teams with pedigrees tend to be less patient, but this is now the sixth or seventh time that Arteta’s chair has needed to be doused in fire retardant, and he was already working up a froth before this.

“We knew that from the beginning,” he was quoted as saying on Friday. “You have to play 38 games against all the teams at the end of the season and it’s the perception, the pressure and again, the negativity. I just want people that are constructive around me. I know that people have the intention to bury us and try to criticize us, but we are not interested in that.”

Well, it could be worse. A lot of today’s boot talk is about Cristiano Ronaldo and his fading presence at Juventus. But it couldn’t be much worse, because for months Arsenal has been flirting with sacking Arteta. While the fanbase is just getting started this time, one suspects they mean to finish the job. Truly, Kroenke is hearing more about his team than he has since the Super League disaster, and he didn’t buy this team to be called a fool—even if it is an accurate assessment.

The rage will swell, and in the meantime there is Arteta, standing on the prow of a sinking ship because, in his own words, “long-term things in football are not very realistic.”

Oh, but there’s one thing that is. His days are both numbered and likely to be miserable. Arsenal’s next Prem match is Saturday at Manchester City. Arteta will be lucky to get out with his trousers.