KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Mikel Arteta suffered almost the worst fate possible for a manager after Arsenal’s 4-1 dismissal by Manchester City in the League Cup quarter-finals: he was praised by the opposing, victorious manager.
When the only available sympathy comes from the opposition any manager knows he is in deep trouble. In the case of Arteta, after eight matches without a win in domestic competition, the holiday programme can be decisive.
Arteta took up his first senior manager’s job just over a year ago after working as assistant to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. This season’s evidence suggests that the Arsenal job was too big and came too soon for the 38-year-old. That was the responsibility of the directors.
Guardiola said: “They will make a huge, big mistake if they sack him. I’m pretty sure they are going to trust him. I was with him many years and I know his incredible quality as a human being and especially as a manager, how he is involved in everything. It’s just a question of time and he will do well. He is an incredible manager. Not even a little run of bad results is going to change my opinion.”
Of course it is not Guardiola’s opinion which matters. Arsenal are traditionally reluctant to change managers but the pressures of the pandemic mean that playing in European competition – whether the Champions League or even the Europa League – is financially essential.
The League Cup was one route which is now closed after Arsenal had only the consolation of a goal from Alexandre Lacazette in response to strikes from Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Aymeric Laporte. Those goals provided holders City with an 18th consecutive win in the competition.
Arteta had the excuse of fielding a weakened team to keep his seniors fresh for the holiday jousts at home to Chelsea and away to Brighton and West Bromwich Albion. Bernd Leno was one of the players rested. His deputy, Icelandic goalkeeper Runar Runarsson, was badly at fault on two of City’s goals.
But trusting the wrong players is the least of Arteta’s problems. Whichever team he picks lack organisation, creativity and luck. The only bright spot was a lively display from returning Gabriel Martinelli but even he went off injured in the second half.
Gabriel and Shkodran Mustafi in central defence were caught out consistently by the teamwork of a City attack who did not even need Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling. As for midfield Arsenal’s most creative player is Mesut Ozil but he was banished into permanent football quarantine many months ago.
Arteta said: “This was a really painful moment again. We have to turn it around in the next matches or we are in big trouble. This is the moment which will decide our season. A lot of strange things are happening in every game but I can see a lot of fighters here.”