Arsenal, Spurs going in opposite directions ahead of derby
It was nearly three months ago that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pronounced upon signing his big new deal: “I want to become an Arsenal legend.”
He’s scored one English Premier League goal since then, from the penalty spot.
Mesut Ozil, reportedly the only player earning more money than Aubameyang at the club, spends more time on social media during matches than he does on the field. A few weeks ago, during Arsenal’s lacklustre 0-0 draw at promoted team Leeds, he got into a Twitter spat with TV presenter Piers Morgan.
Nicolas Pepe, the team’s most expensive signing ever at US$87 million, has started two league games this season. He got sent off for a headbutt in the second of them.
There’s also the rookie manager, Mikel Arteta, who has overseen Arsenal’s worst ever start to a Premier League. A year into his first senior coaching job, he has his team in something of an identity crisis.
Oh, and there’s even worse news for Arsenal in what is fast becoming a season to forget for a fading force of the English game: their biggest rival is absolutely flying.
The first north London derby of the season arrives on Sunday with Tottenham and Arsenal in vastly different situations.
While Tottenham are top of the league after 10 games for the first time since 1985, Arsenal are languishing in 14th place and in their lowest position at this stage of a season since 1981.
It’s a contrast to the start of the league, which Arsenal came into on a high after winning the FA Cup final against Chelsea and then beating Liverpool in the Community Shield later in August.
Even as recently as November 1, Arsenal were eking out a 1-0 win at Manchester United that was regarded by some as a watershed moment for Arteta’s team.
All that positivity has disappeared, though.
In the past six league games, Arsenal have scored two goals – Aubameyang’s penalty against United and a header by centre back Gabriel from a corner in last weekend’s 2-1 home loss to Wolves.
The only teams with fewer goals than Arsenal’s 10 are the three currently in the relegation zone.
“There are no excuses – we have to improve,” Arteta said.
A match against Tottenham isn’t the ideal time for Arsenal to get their attack firing again, with José Mourinho’s team having the tightest defence in the league with just nine goals conceded following back-to-back clean sheets against Manchester City and Chelsea.
Arsenal couldn’t be further from the swashbuckling, enterprising side of old under Arsene Wenger, with caution and extra control the mantras in Arteta’s tenure so far. Ozil and Aubameyang are among those paying the price for that, two of the league’s most high-profile players quickly becoming the forgotten men of English football.
It wasn’t long ago that Arteta was being hailed as one of brightest young coaches around, someone Arsenal could build their future around. Now he is being criticised.
Beating Tottenham at the weekend would quickly turn things back around.