Gary Neville feels there is a “disconnect” between some of Arsenal’s attacking players and Mikel Arteta and believes the Gunners boss will have to move them on if he is to successfully implement his vision.
Arsenal produced a dismal performance in Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Liverpool and Neville was left stunned by the lack of application from attacking players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe, calling their efforts “a joke”.
The Sky Sports pundit was critical of the performances of Arsenal’s entire front six, including Alexandre Lacazette, Martin Odegaard, Dani Ceballos and Thomas Partey as well as Aubameyang and Pepe, and likened some of them to a “little mafia” who appear to be at odds with the man in the dugout.
“I have to say, at half-time on Saturday, I was really uncomfortable with what I’d seen,” Neville said on Monday Night Football.
“At the end of the game I did something I don’t normally do. I sat around for a few minutes with Martin Tyler and said, ‘What was that?’
“There’s a couple of times in the last 10 years that I’ve been doing Monday Night Football that my anger has grown over the couple of days after the game. It happens very rarely.
“We don’t know what goes on behind the scenes at Arsenal, but I have to say there’s a few of those players in the front part of the pitch who looked like a little mafia against Liverpool.
“It looked like a group of players who weren’t comfortable, like there was a disconnect between them and the manager. The manager looked like he’d had enough of them. He had that glazed-eye look.
“It’s instinct, but we’ve been around football for long enough to know when a group of players are disinterested.”
Neville: ‘I’d go as far as to say they were a joke’
Neville has been impressed by Arsenal’s defensive organisation under Arteta in recent months, but without their injured youngsters Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe on Saturday, he felt there was a glaring lack of effort and intensity out of possession.
“The shape under Mikel Arteta has been really good. The back four pushes up to a really good line. They have a compact 30 or 35 meters between them.
“That wasn’t too different on Saturday but what was really different was the effort – or lack of it – of that front six.
“Odegaard did try and put a little bit of a press on but he was on his own. The rest of them, I’d go as far as to say they were a joke.
“At half-time, you start to start to question yourself a bit because you think, ‘it’s Liverpool, they’re a good team, it’s 0-0 and they’re still in the game’.
“But I think Arteta will have been shocked by the lack of application he saw against the ball in the front part of his team.
“Liverpool just won the ball back time and time again and it was a walk in the park for them. They had no pressure against them. It was embarrassing.
“I came away from it feeling like it was a bad moment, a crossroads moment, a moment where you feel like it’s more than just a 3-0 defeat against Liverpool. At the start of the season, you would have said, ‘Liverpool have beaten Arsenal 3-0, so what?’
“But I think Mikel Arteta will have come away from that game thinking ‘it’s me or them’.
“He’s not going to be able to implement his plan unless those players from Saturday decide to start playing for them, or he gets rid of them. I doubt the first option because something didn’t feel right. I came away feeling there were real issues with a group of those players.”
Neville suspects the perceived disconnect may be related to Arteta’s decision to drop Aubameyang for the north London derby last month after the Arsenal captain reported late on the morning of the game.
“I don’t know if something’s happened in the last few weeks. Maybe it’s because of how the late thing has been dealt with. I just didn’t like it. I didn’t like what I saw on Saturday.
“Arsenal are either going to have to back the manager, which is obviously something you could do, but also with five players that are valued around £250m, the loss would be huge to shift them all out.
“There is a dilemma coming for the Arsenal board.”