In his latest Sky Sports column, Paul Merson assesses his former club Arsenal’s start to the season, questions who pulls the strings in the transfer market – Mikel Arteta or Edu? – and responds to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jurgen Klopp’s “embarrassing” comments on Premier League rule changes…
Did we really expect Arsenal to beat Chelsea?
Arsenal are a million miles behind Chelsea. Games like that are not Arsenal’s bread and butter, that was the Friday before, against Brentford. If Chelsea had gone to Arsenal and drawn that game, they would have come away devastated. It’s a fact.
These are worrying times for Arsenal, there is still a long way to go but if you weigh up the last two games you have to conclude that Arsenal are and are going to be a mid-table team. I mean, did you think Arsenal would finish in the top four before a ball was kicked?
It’s all well and good saying get rid of Mikel Arteta or change the owners but, first of all, the club costs a fortune and, secondly, who is going to take that job on? There isn’t a queue around the block to manage Arsenal because if you’re a top manager with a good reputation you would be putting that on the line.
Yes, Arsenal should have beaten Brentford, but they shouldn’t have beaten Chelsea. If you weigh it up over the course of a season, they are three points behind the ball, so they have got to go and beat someone they are not expected to beat.
With Manchester City up next, their season will start when they get back from the international break. They’ve had injuries and players out, so you have to give them a chance.
You cannot sack Arteta after just three games but if they don’t start beating the likes of Norwich, Burnley and Brighton he will be in trouble. Arteta knows that, it’s football.
‘Arsenal sign players nobody else is after’
What is the plan at Arsenal when it comes to transfers? And who is buying the players?
If Arteta is buying the players, then he is under severe pressure. If Edu is bringing these players in and Arteta is having to work with them, then it’s a different story.
Arsenal seem to sign players nobody else is after. When was the last time they beat someone else to a big signing? We are talking years.
If you look at the signing of Martin Odegaard, he went back to Real Madrid after his loan and wanted to play for Real Madrid, not Arsenal. All of sudden Real Madrid say they don’t want him and he comes back to Arsenal where he knows he’ll earn a fortune and play every week.
This is how it is now. Gone are the days when Arsenal would have said: ‘we’re a big club, we’re not going to get messed around, you cannot come and sign for us when you feel like it or when you’ve got nothing else’.
When Real Madrid made it clear the Odegaard could leave, was anyone else in the race to sign him? No, just Arsenal.
‘Arsenal play it safe and lack vision in the market’
Where is the recruitment, where are the people behind the scenes, what work are they doing? Every single player on Chelsea’s bench on Sunday – every single player – would have been on the pitch if they played for Arsenal’s first team.
Why is someone like Danny Ings not playing for Arsenal? You cannot tell me he’s not good enough. Why are Aston Villa getting players like Ings, Emiliano Buendia instead of Arsenal? Who is making these decisions? Surely these players would have been on Arsenal’s radar.
Arsenal have just let Joe Willock go for £25m. What for? Surely, he had a future at the club, surely the coaches at Arsenal could improve him. Why have Willock on the books in the first place if you don’t rate him?
They got £25m for a kid who knows the club, loves the club, and then spent it all on Odegaard who scored two goals last year. What would have happened if Willock got a run in the team? He might have gone and done what he did at Newcastle and get seven goals in seven, who knows.
Then there’s Granit Xhaka, who has just signed a new contract. It seemed like he was out of the club two years ago, then he was going to go to Roma this summer, and now he’s signed a new contract after his good performances at the Euros. He’s not going to be on the youth training scheme, is he? You’re talking £100,000 a week.
I’m not having a go at Xhaka, he performed well at the Euros and has been one of Arsenal’s better players, but Arsenal’s recruitment is safe and lazy. They have panicked after the Euros and not had any vision or conviction in the transfer market to progress.
‘It’s Arsenal now, not the Arsenal’
I get so frustrated with Arsenal. People have a go at me and say I’m always moaning but, no, I’ve been there, I know what the club is like, I know what the club expects, and I know what the fans expect and should expect.
Arteta talks a good game, but not good enough to convince anyone that everything is on the right path at Arsenal. I like Arteta, he is a nice bloke, and I hope he gets it right, but we are still living in the past at Arsenal.
In the almost 20 years since they went an entire season unbeaten – something that will never happen again in the history of football – they’ve won five FA Cups. We are all living on the Invincibles, living on the dream of Arsenal with Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Sol Campbell.
The things which differentiated Arsenal from everyone else back in those days are abundant in the Premier League; everybody has a lovely stadium and training ground. Everybody has caught up. It’s not the Arsenal anymore, it’s Arsenal.
The fact that Brentford, if they had the opportunity to pick who to play, would have picked Arsenal over, say, West Ham and Everton just about sums it up. Brentford would have wanted the glamour of a top team but also a team they could beat, and that is what Arsenal are. They are living in the past and are a million miles away.
I don’t know when this all happened. I don’t know what’s happened at Arsenal. To be fair, it’s not my job.
‘An embarrassment to rugby players the world over’
I want to finish this column on what can only be described as an embarrassment to rugby union and rugby league players around the world.
When Premier League managers are saying our game is becoming like rugby… please! I nearly fell off my chair, I cringed. It was an embarrassment.
In rugby union and rugby league, players put their bodies on the line. Go and watch a rugby game live and hear the hits and then see if you turn around and say football is going down the rugby route.
How is football turning into rugby when you can barely even tackle now?