Covid, dead wood and Aubameyang are all agonising Arteta

Covid chaos, being unable to shift dead wood, a lack of leadership and getting fans back on side: The issues agonising Mikel Arteta as Arsenal endure their WORST ever start to a top-flight campaign

  • Arsenal have endured their worst ever start to an English top-flight campaign
  • Zero point and zero goals from two games – it’s been a horror start for Arteta 
  • But there are many mitigating factors for Arsenal’s poor start to the season
  • Sportsmail looks at why they aren’t firing and what can be done to turn it around

Zero points. Zero goals. This wasn’t the start to the season Mikel Arteta had envisaged.

But there are many mitigating factors for Arsenal’s poor start to the season; some out of Arteta’s control, some he may have been able to prevent. 

Here Sportsmail looks at why the Gunners aren’t firing and what can be done to resolve their worrying plight.

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have endured their worst ever start to an English top-flight campaign

Arsenal were without vital front pairing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette for their Premier League curtain-raiser against Brentford because they had contracted Covid.

They were without £50million summer signing Ben White for Sunday’s loss to Chelsea for the same reason. Willian and third-choice keeper Alex Runarsson have also tested positive.

The club were forced to cancel their pre-season tour to the USA due to an outbreak at their London Colney training ground in July.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (left) and Alexandre Lacazette (right) both contracted Covid

Arteta — who in March 2020 was one of the first Premier League figures to confirm he had tested positive — is sick to the back teeth of coronavirus. Opinions will vary on whether Arsenal’s difficulties with Covid are a valid excuse for their poor start to the season.

Unquestionably, however, it has had a detrimental impact. Their trip to Brentford was close to being called off hours before kick-off after all players and staff were forced to take emergency Covid tests on the day of the game.

The game went ahead, but a number of players were worried they had already caught the virus. Indeed, members of staff had to report back to their Hertfordshire HQ the day after the defeat — a designated day off — for another round of tests. Hardly ideal.

Squad uncertainty

To their credit, Arsenal have been decisive in securing their transfer targets. But their work with outgoing players has been far less impressive. Joe Willock — who joined Newcastle for £25m — is the only player of any note to have departed the Emirates.

For a while it looked as if Granit Xhaka would join Roma. Both clubs were understood to be keen to conclude a £17m deal for the Swiss midfielder. Arteta was, in fact, happy to keep Xhaka, who, equally, preferred to stay. He has since signed a new contract under Arteta’s recommendation.

Hector Bellerin is keen to leave… again. Inter Milan want the right back but they have no money.

Hector Bellerin is keen to leave… again – but his exit looks unlikely with deadline day looming

Lacazette has less than a year left on his contract. Monaco have shown an interest but Arsenal face the possibility of losing the Frenchman for nothing next year.

Sead Kolasinac and Lucas Torreira, both of whom have no future under Arteta, are twiddling their thumbs waiting to see what happens. Willian had been in limbo, his positive Covid test complicating any potential exit, but he is at least now bound for Brazil. There is still a lot of business to execute in the final week of the window. 

Lack of leadership

Even the biggest Aubameyang supporter would be hard pushed to say he is a natural leader. His goalscoring abilities are undoubted, but is he a born captain? Some of his behaviour during the Arteta era has raised red flags.

Last season he was dropped for a game against Tottenham after reporting late for duty on match day. Time-keeping isn’t one of his strong points, by all accounts.

Fans may need to be patient to see Aubameyang back up to speed again following his bout of Covid. But there have even been questions over the striker’s conduct in the lead-up to his positive test after wife Alysha posted pictures on social media of a family birthday party, although such functions are now permitted under Government rules.

Aubameyang’s goalscoring abilities are undoubted, but is he a born captain?

Truth be told, the Gunners would think seriously about selling Aubameyang if the right offer came along. But with the striker earning £350,000 a week, interest is likely to be limited.

Sources claim Arteta and Aubameyang haven’t always seen eye to eye, though that’s not to say they have a dysfunctional relationship. There are other senior players who have a complex dynamic with the head coach. But when your leader can’t turn up on time for work, then it’s right that questions are asked. 

Create siege mentality

In many ways, Arteta has already started putting the ‘us versus them’ method into practice; calling out his team’s critics ahead of Sunday’s loss to Chelsea.

Xhaka echoed those sentiments after the game, saying: ‘A lot of people try to speak and to kill a little bit the players and the team but the strongest thing to do at the moment is to be together.’

However, Arteta could find difficulty in trying to get his entire squad pulling in the same direction.

Arteta could find difficulty in trying to get his entire squad pulling in the same direction

Some players find Arteta introverted, privately complaining that he offers more attention to select players in his squad. It’s left many confused about where they stand with the Spaniard.

One source said: ‘Once you’ve lost him it’s hard to win him back round. He can be distant with certain players.’

It could certainly make creating a siege mentality tricky.

Getting supporters back on side

Arsenal were booed off twice on Sunday and Arteta was confronted by irate supporters as he drove away from the game.

The only way of resolving that is by winning football matches. Do that, and the tide will quickly turn the other way.

Arteta should be afforded time for the club’s Covid crisis and injury problems to clear up. The supporters — and more pertinently the board — should judge Arteta when he has a full quota of players and the club’s new signings have bedded in. But if there are then no signs of improvement, something will have to give.

Arsenal were booed off twice on Sunday after being comfortably beaten by Chelsea at home

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