Mikel Arteta has a lot to consider these days, but he is already clear on one decision. The Arsenal manager is intent on a “clear-out” in January, as he feels there are two many “passengers” in the club.
Their football is certainly very passive right now, and devoid of any sort of drive. Among the most galling aspects of this Arsenal side is how few chances they create. Arteta wants some of the money from the clear-outs to go back into the team, especially to liven up that attack.
One of the major problems is that this side is someway off his ideal. It’s a lot of work with a lot of players that aren’t necessarily up to the level.
One obvious response to that, of course, is to coach them. That is what was supposed to mark Arteta apart, after all. Almost everyone you speak to in football who know him – including those at Arsenal, still, despite recent results – rhapsodise about his coaching ability; his effect on players; his vision of the game.
It was certainly supposed to mark him apart from a generation of managers like Jose Mourinho.
The Portuguese is currently making a mockery of arguments – some of them on these very pages – that Tottenham Hotspur had appointed a manager past his best, and Arsenal one for the future.
Circumstances are currently looking so much brighter at Spurs. They are looking at a title challenge, while Arsenal are right now looking up from mid-table and hoping they don’t fall further.
It has recently got dispiritingly bad at the Emirates, both in terms of performance and results. Any sense of progress has entirely stalled – along with so many prescribed attacks.
For his part, one of many major differences between the teams right now was how Mourinho was able to bring two decades of experience in the transfer market to bear. He knew exactly what he wanted this summer, and got it, in a way he hasn’t really enjoyed since 2014 at Chelsea. That is another factor in this resurgence. That is another contrast between the clubs. While Arsenal have had severe upheaval behind the scenes and Edu is still adjusting to a new role – with some agents still waiting to see the club’s approach, Daniel Levy knows exactly what he wants and needs with Spurs.
Many cite Mourinho’s ability to get the chairman to spend – in a way that was often absent during Mauricio Pochettino’s time – as crucial to the last window, and the current form.
It means, unlike Arteta, he has this team exactly as he wants it. It is solid, and capable of the most dangerous counter attacks. This is really the kind of front line that Mourinho has long idealised, and that is even without a fully firing Gareth Bale.
That in itself creates an interesting dilemma for this game. A fixture between Mourinho and a protege of Pep Guardiola would normally be entirely predictable: the Portuguese’s side sitting back, the opposition proactively trying to open them.
It’s just Arsenal haven’t so far lived up to the ideals of that Spanish-Catalan pressing-possession. In fact, Arteta’s side have actually looked more comfortable when playing something closer to a Mourinho game, against another big side.
It feels the canny thing for Arteta to do would be to undercut Mourinho, and go as constrained as the Spurs manager would. Arsenal surely won’t offer up the kind of space in behind that Harry Kane and Son Heung-min thrive in. The danger if they come out here is that Spurs could cut them apart on the break, for the kind of result that could well be embarrassing.
That really is the last thing Arteta needs right now, even if Arsenal are absolutely determined to stand by no matter what.
So, the first thing he should do is set up solidly.
The problem is that it could just make one of the Premier League’s liveliest historical fixtures – and the first one back with fans at that – something of a stalemate.
We could well have a stand-off. A staleness has been one of Arsenal’s problems, but it may just be necessary now.