Bullets, bodies and bare chests: Mikel issues call-to-arms ahead of Southampton clash

Mikel Arteta left no room for doubt about his plan to get Arsenal winning again in the Premier League; the Gunners are going to war.

Speaking to the media ahead of Wednesday’s clash with high-flying Southampton, the manager was in defiant mood and his responses to questions were littered with combative metaphors. It read at times like a call-to-arms.

There was talk of bullets, talk of fighting, of bare chests, there were even invitations to strike out – all the language of a manager who believes his team is entrenched and under fire, with more fight and resilience the only way out.

Above all else, the manager made it clear that he would be staking it all on fighting fire with fire in the coming matches. Less clear though, was the question that in taking so strident a stance, would the Spaniard charging to his inevitable doom like the Light Brigade or on the cusp of his own Agincourt?

It’s not time to hide, it’s time to put your face and your body on the line and at the moment, I’m sorry, but we have to take the bullets,” said the manager, before adding: “We are not winning football matches and I have to put my chest there and you have to hit me, because you have the right to hit me because I’m not winning.”

As an exercise in sabre-rattling, it was as macho and belligerent a press conference as we have yet had from the manager, who left no room for compromise. If building a siege mentality is his intended aim, he has pulled up the drawbridge and slammed shut the gates.

And who among us doesn’t want to see the team respond to its predicament with fight and intensity and by taking responsibility for the weakness in their performance levels? An ‘us-against-them’ attitude can often inspire a group and provide a rallying point amid confusion.

But ‘us-against-them’ is only effective for short periods and, like any siege, eventually takes its toll (see Jose Mourinho at every club he has managed). If it’s going to work, it must work quickly and be replaced with a better, more sustainable plan for the longer term.

In short, there are only so many bullets you can take.

More important, I would argue, is seeing some change in approach. Given our pretty ropey disciplinary record, it could be argued that we have aggression enough already and that what we really lack is craft and guile.
Instead of drawing swords and charging headlong to war, let’s take the time to see if we can’t fix the simpler things first. Some younger fresher faces might be a good start, with the likes of Granit Xhaka and Hector Bellerin suspended, the manager can bring in Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nicolas Pepe.

Perhaps Willian and Alex Lacazette could take breathers for a game or two, giving Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, or Reiss Nelson a chance to inject some pace and creativity into a desperately pedestrian midfield and attack.

If naught else, these changes would win the manager a little goodwill and understanding. As much as we all love commitment and effort, it shouldn’t mean we picking players who try hard but ultimately lack the ability to get the job done. After all, you wouldn’t take a knife to a gun fight.

So while talk of resilience, taking responsibility and facing your challenges head on are admirable – as is the manager’s loyalty to experienced campaigners – it would serve us all better to maximise what resources we have at our disposal and mix a little wonder with the war.

Check out my pre-match preview on YouTube here.

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