A shocking defeat to the likes of Brighton in the League Cup third round has ruthlessly exposed Mikel Arteta as little more than Guardiola’s cone-man who is way out of his league and in way over his head, and it’s only a matter of time before this cruel truth—those two consecutive eighth place finishes and bottling fourth place last season a a truer reflection of his capabiliites (or should I say lack thereof) than winning the FA Cup or somehow getting to the top of the table. It’s only a matter of time before the wheels come off because the fairy-tale season is over. Well, that’s what you might get elsewhere, but you won’t get that here…except as an attempt at mocking the kind of over-reactive clickbait that passes for journalism.
Instead, I’ll offer you this: Arteta made ten changes to the side that defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, motivated possibly by a desire to rest key players, give others important roles and minutes, and maybe even progress to the fourth found of this competition, one that hasn’t really mattered to this club since we almost won it back in 2011. With Tottenham and Chelsea also crashing out, the chances of winning it did increase, but there’s still Man City and Liverpool to consider. In the end, Arteta came close to having his cake and eating it too. After all, Nketiah scored from a great run-and-pass from Nelson, and he came close to drawing us level but struck the post—and we did create opportunities. 57% possession and 23 shots do show a respectable threat level even if the quality of the players on the pitch didn’t rise to the level necessary. Brighton are no mugs. They’re 6th in the Prem after all and look better than they did under Potter.
Instead of revealing much about Arteta’s qualifications, the result reveals something we all know—there’s a large drop-off in quality between our first and second teams, especially in key positions. The Lokonga-Elneny midfield offers nothing going forward and very little in front of defense. It seems clear that none of Nelson, Vieira, Marquinhos, or Nketiah is ready to play in the top flight, at least for a side that wants to challenge for a Prem title (or, apparently, this bit of silveware). If Arteta did flounder, perhaps it was in throwing on Jesus, Xhaka, Martinelli, and Zinchenko late on, depriving them of the rest he ostensibly tried to give him in the first place. One might as well start strong, try to grab an early lead, and then replace creative players with defensive ones. By contrast, consider that Antonio Conte, frequently held up as the kind of world-class manager we should have gotten, started seven regulars against Nottingham Forest—who themselves made nine changes to their lineup—and Spurs limped to a 2-0 loss despite Forest going down to ten men for the last 15-20 minutes of the match. They may have lost Højbjerg to injury along the way.
In the end, then, there are tempests in teapots and mountains made of molehills. This result is one and the same with both. Yes, it’s fine and dandy like sour candy to win every match, but this is one competition we could take or leave. It gave valuable minutes to some players on whom we might have to depend more thoroughly without undermining our larger goals. They almost made the most of it. Let’s hope they learn and grow from the experience so that they’re better-prepared and more-determined for the next time they’re called on. As to the League Cup, let the likes of Man City, Liverpool, and Man U squabble over it while we chase a bigger prize.
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