Arsenal are standing by their man. During the team's worst run of form in home league games for over 60 years, Mikel Arteta is receiving the unequivocal backing of his superiors. This despite the fact that Arsenal sit 15th in the table with nearly a third of the season gone, five points off the relegation zone and 12 from the top of the table. Arteta's team has more defeats than any club outside the bottom three and has scored just once from open play in the Premier League in two months.
Lose at home to Southampton and the manager will set an unwanted record. Arsenal have never lost five consecutive league games at home. Nevertheless, the two men who will decide on Arteta's future - Vinai Venkatesham and Edu - have both made public statements of commitment to the Spaniard in the space of a few days.
Arsenal's belief in Arteta overwhelmingly comes from the best moments he has achieved on the pitch early in his tenure: winning the FA Cup, making a once flaky side competitive against better teams, firming up an inviting defense. It is not that alone that won him the admiration of those above him and, for a time at least, many supporters who had grown alienated in the previous years.
Club sources speak glowingly about the cultural shift that he has instigated since his appointment just under a year ago. During the coronavirus pandemic staff spoke of the club being more united than they could remember. Arteta was driving that unity, convincing the overwhelming majority of players to take a pay cut that was designed to support other members of staff (the Gunners, however, would go on to lay off 55 employees despite those efforts).
Less than two months after they returned to action Arteta was hoisting the first of two trophies he would win at Wembley in August. There were teething problems but by the end of the 2019-20 Arsenal were a disciplined machine capable of holding firm against top sides and beating them.
Past successes are no guarantee of future results, however, and it is fair to say that Arsenal are stuck in a rut now. That has not prompted them to change their view of their manager, as technical director Edu explained in robust fashion on Monday.
"The club need stability right now," said Edu, in an interview that had been arranged ahead of the Burnley defeat. "We have faced so many changes.
"Now is the time to try to be a stable club – externally and internally, we need that. Since we arrived here [he was appointed technical director in 2019] we have been changing, changing, changing. Now is the time to be stable and together at the same time."
Edu's assessment rings true. Since winning the 2017 FA Cup Final Arsenal have hired and fired one head coach (Unai Emery), a head of recruitment (Sven Mislintat) a director of football in all but name (Raul Sanllehi) and a lead negotiator (Huss Fahmy). In addition they handed Arsene Wenger a new contract he did not see out and saw chief executive Ivan Gazidis depart for AC Milan.
There has been similar turbulence in the playing staff, of that cup-winning side only four players remain in Arsenal's first team squad.
As they search for stability Arsenal's hypothesis would appear to be a simple one. The probability that Arteta develops into an elite manager is higher than the odds that they can acquire one who is willing to work at a club that still requires a significant overhaul but does not have any great desire to start over yet again. As one source close to the club put it, which top tier managers would realistically covet this job now?
Better, a prospective future boss at the Emirates Stadium might reason, to let Arteta deal with the awkward months ahead and wait until the club is something more like a blank state.
A fresh start is coming. Arsenal insiders have long looked at 2021 as a moment from which to build anew with greater vigour. Mesut Ozil's £350,000-a-week salary comes off the books then, as do the contracts of three well-remunerated center backs (David Luiz, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi).
Inevitably the financial impact of COVID-19 makes it harder to be sure how much investment can be made next summer whilst Arsenal committed long-term money last summer to veterans Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Willian. Edu insists the latter needs time even though the logic for handing him a three year deal when he left Chelsea was that he would immediately address the creative deficiencies in Arteta's squad.
So far the Brazilian has emphatically failed to do so. Having taken the creative mantle from Eden Hazard in impressive fashion last season - when he created the sixth most chances per 90 minutes of any Premier League regular - he has struggled to grasp Arteta's demands. Bur perhaps most concerning of all is that even though he is creating an average of one fewer chance per game this season, he is still Arsenal's most consistent creator of shots on goal.
Signing Willian was a proposal that drew support from across the club. Arteta had championed a move for the veteran, those above him viewed it as a relatively shrewd gambit at wages lower than he could have earned in MLS and senior players also believed he was just what was needed.
In conversation with British newspaper reporters, Edu was insistent that Willian deserves time, saying: "If people say that he's not a good footballer then maybe they don't know football because he has always performed at the top, top level.
"For me, Willian is a question of time to be performing how we know he can."
It should also be noted that Arsenal's plans to strengthen their creative corps did not stop with Willian. They had hoped to add a creative midfielder to the squad during the summer window and saw two bids for Lyon's Houssem Aouar rejected. With funds tightened by their inability to trim back the squad, they instead opted to add the other midfield type they needed, the dynamic presence of Thomas Partey.
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Arsenal are understood to be back in the market for a more creative midfielder in January but will only make a long-term commitment if the right option emerges. Come the summer, they are also expected to step up their pursuit of a new striker.
The club have identified that squad building has been a particular failure in recent years where they have spent heavily without success. There have been too many short-term gambles to find the player that might put them over the top in the Champions League race, for instance Luiz and Willian, rather than those who might develop in years to come. The recruitment department has been radically overhauled with senior scouts including Francis Cagigao leaving and Edu putting in place a smaller team with greater individual responsibility.
Assessing the success of the new approach will be impossible for several years but many of those who departed were excellent talent evaluators and it certainly wasn't their fault that this squad became so imbalanced. Scouts didn't make the decisions that led to there currently being eight center backs on the first team squad page of the club website.
This was a group made by many hands - Wenger, Mislintat, Sanllehi, even Emery to an extent - and one that Arsenal would acknowledge was not always put together with a consistent long-term vision.
To add to the squad next month will require trimming back what is already there. Ozil and Sokratis were left out of the Premier League and Europa League squads due to numerical limits. Arsenal were also willing to part ways with Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac last summer and could consider offers for Alexandre Lacazette, who has just over 18 months left on his contract.
Arteta himself believes it is impossible to keep such a sizeable group of players happy and there have been notable leaks from the dressing room in recent weeks that brought a furious reaction from the manager.
Amid speculation that some of those on the fringes of the squad are growing unhappy Kieran Tierney offered a robust defense of Arteta, saying after the defeat to Burnley: "It's not what the fans deserve, it's not what the manager deserves, it's not what the board deserve. It's us players that need to take responsibility for this.
"We have got a great manager and we believe in him 100 percent. The blame is on us, nobody else."
Tierney is not alone, sources have told CBS Sports of several other senior players who are supportive of the manager. If that is not a universal view that is to be expected of a club where results are heading in the wrong direction and several senior figures are playing more infrequently than they would like, if at all.
Ultimately those above Arteta share Tierney's view. Two and a half months ago they promoted him from head coach to manager, investing significant political capital in a man with just a handful of competitive games to his name. At the time Venkatesham said: "I find it a bit difficult to talk about him not being here".
Events now mean he and his colleagues have no choice but to address the possibility that Arteta may not be Arsenal's manager. Inevitably there are a sequence of results that will test their faith beyond its limits but for now the hierarchy are holding firm in the belief that there is, in Edu's words, a "beautiful future" that awaits this club if they can survive their current woes.