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Does Mikel Arteta have a disciplinary issue at Arsenal after red cards and training ground bust ups?

Mikel Arteta’s problems at Arsenal may appear obvious as they sit in the bottom half of the Premier League table. But after their latest red card at Leeds last weekend, there is more than a hint of a deeper issue for the Spanish manager to contend with. 

Nicolas Pepe headbutted Leeds’ Ezgjan Alioski early in the second half of the 0-0 draw and was scolded by many, including his own boss – who labelled his behaviour ‘unacceptable’ after watching his side fail to score from open play for a fifth game running.

But the statistics would suggest the sending off – which will see Pepe miss their next three top-flight games including the north London derby against Tottenham – is not an isolated incident.

Mikel Arteta could be facing a discipline problem at Arsenal along with his systematic issues

Mikel Arteta could be facing a discipline problem at Arsenal along with his systematic issues

Nicolas Pepe's red card at the weekend was the Gunners' fifth since the Spaniard took over

Nicolas Pepe’s red card at the weekend was the Gunners’ fifth since the Spaniard took over

The decision was given after VAR showed Pepe had headbutted Leeds' Ezgjan Alioski

The decision was given after VAR showed Pepe had headbutted Leeds’ Ezgjan Alioski

Red cards in the league since December 2019

Red cards in the league since December 2019

Pepe’s red card on Sunday was the Gunners’ first of the current campaign, but they picked up four red last season – including two following the Premier League restart – in addition to another top-flight high of 64 yellow cards since the beginning of December last year.

Dani Ceballos has also been involved in scraps with team-mate Eddie Nketiah at Fulham on the opening day and more recently with David Luiz earier this month, so is Arteta’s situation more complicated than just calming a few hot-headed individuals?

Historically, it was Arsenal’s perceived soft centre and lack of fight that opposition sides used to target, but now it appears the Gunners have adopted a rather different approach. 

Some sectoins of the support believe the ‘weak and feeble’ label assigned to them in the latter years of Arsene Wenger’s reign in particular now spells double trouble as they claim referees now take a harsh view when they do overstep the line.  

Luiz – involved in the training-ground-bust up with Ceballos – was the guilty party on two occasions last season. He was sent off for denying Tammy Abraham a clear goalscoring opportunity in the draw at Chelsea in January then hauled down Riyad Mahrez in the box at Manchester City in the first game following the restart to complete a nightmare appearance in which he had already played a huge part in conceding the first goal.

David Luiz was the main culprit last season, getting sent off twice including at Manchester City

David Luiz was the main culprit last season, getting sent off twice including at Manchester City

That followed a sending off for denying Tammy Abraham a goalscoring chance at Chelsea

That followed a sending off for denying Tammy Abraham a goalscoring chance at Chelsea

Luiz is no stranger to the odd rush of blood to the head and he shouldered much of the blame as his team were criticised.

But the Gunners’ other three sending offs all came from forward players, beginning with the captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a dangerous challenge on Max Meyer in the draw at Crystal Palace in January.

The Gabon forward scored to put the Gunners in front but then had an initial yellow card upgraded following a VAR review, before a subsequent appeal was rejected.

Yellow cards for clubs since December 2019

Yellow cards for clubs since December 2019

The exact same process occurred for Nketiah, who had only come on moments before a lunge on Leicester’s James Justin saw him dismissed in the 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium in July. 

Pepe’s dismissal at the weekend however was a moment of outright petulance, making it five dismissals and 64 cautions under Arteta.

Another forward – Alexandre Lacazette – is top of the charts along with Granit Xhaka with seven for yellow cards picked up since former midfielder Arteta took over. So, does the Spaniard have a disciplinary issue as well as systematic problems to sort out?

During the 14 months of Unai Emery’s tenure, the Gunners picked up 105 yellow cards, with 42 of those being shared between just three players – Xhaka, Sokratis and Matteo Guendouzi.

While it is difficult to predict just how many the current squad will pick up over the same time frame, the Greek defender has not been included in the Premier League or Europa League squads while the France Under-21 midfielder has been shipped out on loan to Hertha Berlin.

But Emery’s Arsenal sides were only reduced to 10 men on three occasions, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles being given his marching orders against Leicester and Aston Villa and Lucas Torreira shown a red in a Wembley north London derby.

The others are from forwards, starting with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (2nd right) at Palace

The others are from forwards, starting with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (2nd right) at Palace

Eddie Nketiah is the other after he was sent off minutes after coming on against Leicester

Eddie Nketiah is the other after he was sent off minutes after coming on against Leicester

Dani Ceballos has also been involved in scraps with Nketiah at Fulham (above), and Luiz

Dani Ceballos has also been involved in scraps with Nketiah at Fulham (above), and Luiz

That is a clear decrease on the number since Arteta took over, but the majority of the red cards incurred under Arteta were – like Torreira at Tottenham – genuine attempts to win the ball.

Aubameyang and Nketiah were only – but critically – fractionally late in their attempts to regain possession, while Luiz tried his best to recover desperately ominous situations.

Yellow cards for Arsenal since December

Yellow cards for Arsenal since December

The most alarming issue for Arteta however, is that while last season’s red cards were all direct results of trying to impact the game, the same cannot be said for this campaign’s ill-discipline.

Pepe’s headbutt was unprofessional behaviour, regardless of the incidents prior to his moment of madness.

The same also applies to on-loan Real Madrid midfielder Ceballos, who perhaps had no grounds to square up to Nketiah in a warm-up drill for the substitutes, while his training spat with Luiz left him with a scratch on his nose.

Yellow cards for Arsenal under Unai Emery

Yellow cards for Arsenal under Unai Emery

The Gunners boss defended Ceballos on both occasions, claiming he is an admirer of the Spain international’s passion following the incident at Craven Cottage, while stating ‘issues happen a lot’ following his clash with Luiz at London Colney. 

Martin Keown claimed however the training-ground spat could be a portrayal of a fractious atmosphere and a ‘problem within the camp’.

But the former Arsenal defender added: ‘There’s a fighting spirit there. You won’t want it to happen too often.’

Ceballos evidently therefore possesses that fire in the belly given the enthusiasm with which he celebrates goals on the field, but there is a more languid and easy-going characteristic about Aubameyang, Lacazette and Nketiah.

There perhaps though, the rash behaviour of the forwards is the direct consequence of a notable change in philosophy.

The Gunners boss has urged his forward line to press from the front at times and ordered the likes of Aubameyang to track back from his wide left position and help Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka with the forward runs of opposition players.

Lacazette has also dropped his position to help out defensively on numerous occasions, which could explain not only why the goals have dried up but also how, with the forward players consequently involved in more duels, they are more likely to find themselves in situation conducive to conceding fouls.

Striker Alexandre Lacazette surprisingly has the joint-most yellow cards under Arteta

Striker Alexandre Lacazette surprisingly has the joint-most yellow cards under Arteta

Arsenal only received three reds under Unai Emery, including two for Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Arsenal only received three reds under Unai Emery, including two for Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Aubameyang and Arteta have repeatedly stated that the team has been undergoing ‘a process’ since the boss rejoined the club, and perhaps the more they become accustomed to his demands the better they will understand how and when to commit to the tackle.

But there is no denying that despite their revived solidity in defence – having conceded just 10 goals this season after playing at Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs already – their moments of recklessness appear to have increased.

If the Spaniard is able to find a balance between defensive resilience and allowing the forwards to take up more advanced starting positions after recovering the ball, he may yet discover the formula to get Arsenal making the headlines for the right reasons in the not too distant future.  

Lucas Torreira was the other man to get his marching orders against Tottenham last year

Lucas Torreira was the other man to get his marching orders against Tottenham last year

But perhaps the issues show the change of philosophy that Arteta has brought to the club

But perhaps the issues show the change of philosophy that Arteta has brought to the club

Original article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-8981437/Does-Mikel-Arteta-disciplinary-issue-Arsenal-red-cards-training-ground-bust-ups.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490

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