The Arsenal manager also acknowledged that there had been a worrying pattern, during his time in charge, of the team going on lengthy runs of games without a win which has undermined their campaigns.
“We want to stop that as quickly as possible,” Arteta said. “Every time you lose the next most important thing is to win to stop that happening. We haven’t managed to do that and that’s a reality and we have to face it.”
Arsenal return to league action in the lunchtime kick-off at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday amid a run of just one victory in seven games in all competitions including an FA Cup exit to Liverpool and the Champions League dead-rubber draw away to PSV Eindhoven.
But that sequence also includes dropping 11 points, from a possible 15, in the league with Arsenal falling to fourth place – five points behind the leaders Liverpool and only now ahead of Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference.
The concern is that this has happened before – and in each of Arteta’s three previous full seasons in charge. Of course, it can happen to any team, and defeats often run in bunches given the effect they obviously have on confidence and the factors behind them (a spate of injuries, for example).
But for Arsenal it has occurred too often and too consistently. There is a pattern which has to be addressed: last season there was a run of just two wins in eight, plus two runs of no wins in four (including one with three defeats). In 2021-22 there were three more lengthy blips – four losses in five, no wins in five (and three losses) and no wins in four (and, again, three losses). The season before that Arsenal won three out of 11 games (losing six), one in five and two in eight (with four defeats).
“We have done a lot of things and to produce as much as possible during the games and to get as little as possible from the opponent. It has just not happened,” Arteta said when asked what he had done to try and stop this trend from happening. “In the end you have to just win the games and we haven’t.”
Given the tight margins at the top, and with Manchester City gathering strength for the second half of the season and Liverpool in their stride, Arteta is clear that anything short of maximum points against Palace is unacceptable and would lead to more critical questions being asked.
“Well, we had better start to pick up points for sure if we are going to be up there,” he said. “We are going to have to have consistently three points on the board and we know that at this level you cannot have more slip-ups.”
The frustration for Arteta – or so he claimed – was that the statistics show Arsenal should have won far more games than they have this season.
“If you look at all the data Arsenal, Arsenal – in the top, in the top, in the top,” he argued before adding: “The reality is we haven’t won enough matches so there is something underneath that. It’s like an onion: the first layer, two layers. We have to go to the bottom to understand what is making us win or not win. It’s been the small details, the small margins… we have to change that. We have to find something else to win.”
Work has been done on this, including trying to simplify things in attacking positions, during Arsenal’s eight-day warm weather training camp in Dubai, with the players allowed to bring their families, to take advantage of the Premier League’s staggered winter brink.
Arteta admitted confidence has been affected. “For sure, that’s a big factor,” he said before adding: “But… we create more chances than any other team in the league.” However the data simply does not back up Arteta’s claim – Arsenal are only sixth in the Premier League on the key metric of xG (expected goals) and fourth in terms of shots and only seventh in terms of shots on target. They rate more highly, second behind Manchester City, in passes into the final third.
After 20 games, Arsenal are also 10 points worse off than last season and have scored fewer goals (45 compared to 37) and conceded more (20 as against 17) whilst having invested heavily in the transfer market – including forward Kai Havertz from Chelsea for £65 million. The elephant in the room, of course, has been the decision last summer not to buy a centre-forward.
In fairness any criticism needs to take place through the prism of Arteta and Arsenal undoubtedly over-achieving last season – hence the comparisons on points and goals being a tough one – but elite sport is all about continuing to improve and move forward. “Marginal gains,” Arteta called in and, unfortunately for Arsenal, that is not showing right now as the manager struggles to identify the reasons for the runs without enough wins which keep recurring.
Arsenal also have to decide whether to allow Emile Smith Rowe to go on loan to West Ham United who have inquired about the attacking midfielder. The indications are neither Arsenal nor the player are keen. “I am really happy with Emile,” Arteta said even though he is undeniably a fringe player. “He’s on the right trajectory and he’s settled, he’s training really well and you know that I’m not happy about talking about any individual situations.”