Xhaka and Arsenal hit the self-destruct button as Arteta’s Gunners project goes into meltdown

Xhaka and Arsenal hit the self-destruct button as Arteta’s Gunners project goes into meltdown

The Gunners are now just five points off the Premier League relegation zone after losing 1-0 to Burnley at Emirates Stadium

The Mikel Arteta project at Arsenal is in meltdown.

All the good work that had been done during the second half of last season has been crumbling away in recent weeks as the Gunners slumped to their worst league start in 39 years.

And on Sunday night the self-destruct button was well and truly pushed.

It started with Granit Xhaka inexplicably getting himself sent off for grabbing Ashley Westwood round the neck and ended with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang heading past Bernd Leno to give Burnley a 1-0 win in north London.

The end result was a fourth successive home defeat in the league for Arsenal, something that has not happened since 1959.

Arteta’s side now sit 15th in the table and are just five points above the relegation zone.

It’s coming up to a year now since the Spaniard was appointed and, whilst he remains a hugely popular figure at the club, it’s inevitable that his job will come under scrutiny given the horrendous run of results his side are on.

Arsenal have now lost seven of their last 10 games in the league and have failed to score in six of them. Unai Emery was sacked for less.

There would at least be some cause for optimism if Arteta’s side were playing well, but that is not the case. Arsenal have been dreadful for months and Arteta seems unable to find a solution.

He wasn’t helped by the idiotic Xhaka against Burnley, who inexplicably got himself sent off for grabbing Westwood by the neck at a time when the home side were dominant and looking likely to break the deadlock.

But, in truth, Arteta has to take a long, hard look at himself while trying to put a finger on what’s going wrong.

Why was Xhaka even starting? The Switzerland international has been horribly out of form of late while Ainsley Maitland-Niles – who has been so impressive in the Europa League – has had to watch on from the bench.

After the successive defeats against Wolves and Tottenham, this felt like the perfect opportunity to shake up his team selection, especially after his second string had scored eight goals in two games in the Europa League against Rapid Vienna and Dundalk.

Yet the only change that he made from the team that lost the north London derby last weekend was Mohamed Elneny coming in for the injured Thomas Partey.

That meant another start for the likes of Xhaka, Willian, Hector Bellerin and Alexandre Lacazette – players who have consistently underperformed this season.

So can there really be any surprise that Arsenal produced yet another insipid performance in the Premier League?

Arteta seems strangely reluctant to make changes. Senior players continue to be allowed to get away with poor performances, while youngsters are not being rewarded when they play well in the cup competitions.

Emile Smith Rowe was excellent against Dundalk in midweek, yet remained an unused substitute on Sunday night. The 19-year-old playmaker may be inexperienced, but he has all the attributes Arsenal currently lack in the final third.

Folarin Balogun, who scored and got an assist on Thursday night, didn’t even make the match-day squad at a time when Arsenal are trying to convince him to sign a new contract.

It seems incredible to think that Arsenal were lifting the FA Cup just four months ago, yet now they are facing up to a potential relegation battle in the Premier League.

Some may think that is still unlikely and that they are far too good to go down. But they can’t score, can’t create chances and are now leaking goals at the back once again.

And to top it all off, they are losing their heads and showing a complete lack of discipline.

We saw Nicolas Pepe do it when he was sent off at Leeds last month and now Xhaka has done exactly the same thing and will miss the next three games at a time when Arteta is already missing Partey to injury.

Arteta has consistently talked about his ‘non negotiables’ since he arrived in north London, but they are now seemingly being ignored by his players.

The past 12 months have seen Arsenal throwing their weight behind the Arteta project to such an extent that they even promoted him from first-team coach to manager just a couple of months ago.

But as it stands that project is crumbling and there are no signs that he can find a way of halting the slide.

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