Thursday night’s Europa League match was a welcome relief for Arsenal. After another disappointing performance in the league over the weekend, the team looked jubilant against Rapid Vienna, running rampant for a 4-1 win in front of home fans for the first time since March. The team looked like they were having fun, and the fans in attendance were rewarded with the energetic performance.
While the fans were a welcome sight, there might be more to the performance than just the presence of supporters. According to ESPN’s James Olley, the Gunners held a team meeting on Tuesday led by Mikel Arteta to discuss the club’s slow start and poor form, holding an open forum for all first-team players. That meeting was followed by a heated players-only meeting which ended with a supposedly more resolute team.
Exclusive: Mikel Arteta called a squad-wide meeting on Tuesday to address Arsenal's disappointing start to the season. Coaching staff left, players then held second 'clear-the-air' meeting involving angry exchanges but ended with resolve to improve. Story: https://t.co/AjcN5SpBwh— James Olley (@JamesOlley) December 4, 2020
Now, these sorts of players-only meetings are nothing new, especially when teams are in the midst of a poor run of form. However, this is the first time under Mikel Arteta’s leadership that a meeting like this has been reported, and understandably so. Following a slow start to his managerial career, Arteta went on to lead the Gunners to win the FA Cup and the Community Shield in his first season, clear indicators to many that he had the club headed in the right direction. The ascendancy of young players like Bukayo Saka, the addition of Thomas Partey, and the extension of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all seemed to indicate an upward trajectory for the Gunners.
But a dismal beginning to the 2020-21 Premier League season has summarily dashed those hopeful visions and has brought back concerns that plagued the club during the waning months of Unai Emery’s ill-fated reign. Inexplicably poor performances, a lack of creativity in the attack, and an overall malaise within the club have seen Arsenal to their worst PL start in club history. While it was obvious that Arteta had his work cut out for him when he took over, few envisioned the type of regression that the club has endured since August.
It would appear, though, that enough is enough, as both the team and the manager saw fit to address the poor performances on Tuesday, including a fiery exchange and finger pointing during the players-only portion. Accountability is a cornerstone upon which all successful teams are built, and it sat front and center during this meeting as players were given free reign to vent their frustrations. Despite the reports of confrontation and anger, the meeting reportedly ended with the team galvanized around backing Arteta and one another.
It’s no secret that Arsenal are in desperate need something to kick-start their performances. The winter transfer window is looming and reinforcements could very well arrive if Arteta has his way, but the Gunners still have six league matches until the window opens, including this weekend’s North London Derby against league-leading (barf) Tottenham Hotspur. The return of players like Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari, and Emile Smith Rowe will go a little way towards adding fresh legs and depth, but the rest of the roster needs to dig deep and find that extra edge to get things back on track before they lose sight of the track completely.
Many will look at this and say “good on them! Taking agency and accountability! What a team!” And that is all well and good and warm and fuzzy, but others will look at this meeting with a cynical eye, which is equally as fair. While everyone loves a good “win one for the Gipper” rallying speech, it’s ultimately up to the players to prove that they are worth the wages they are making. Coaches and captains can give speeches until they are blue in the face, but without the performances to back them up those speeches are little more than wasted words.
While the meeting appears to be a positive step toward righting the ship, Arsenal will need more than speeches and meetings to get them there.