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under fire Mikel Arteta can no longer plead poverty – he is running out of time to prove his credentials

The empty seats of the exiting fans echo doubts about the Spaniard’s future

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is running out of excuses for his side's form. Credit: Reuters

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is running out of excuses for his side's form. Credit: Reuters

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is running out of excuses for his side's form. Credit: Reuters

For the Arsenal fans, it must have felt like they had never been away. The pre-match excitement, heightened by the reintroduction of Martin Odegaard, was followed by a promising start under sunny skies.

But, as was oh so predictable, the sky quickly fell in and by half-time the supporters were booing and the clouds had gathered over the Emirates.

Those in red who stayed for the final whistle booed even louder, but by then the majority of the home fans had made for the exits. And who could really blame them?

Odegaard was not signed permanently from Real Madrid in time to make his second Arsenal debut and Ben White was the latest player to be ruled out with Covid, so midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga was the only one of the club’s £125million worth of summer signings to start against Chelsea.

Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, who cost more than the £20m Arsenal last summer sold Emiliano Martinez for, was on the substitutes’ bench along with Nuno Tavares. The left-back may have helped to have stifled Chelsea’s threat down the right through Reece James, which head coach Mikel Arteta inexplicably did nothing about during the first 45 minutes.

It is all very well spending a lot of money and targeting young, hungry players, but if the coach could not see that his team had major problems on the left side during a first half in which James assisted and scored, then there cannot be much hope for this Arsenal squad or their beleaguered fans.

An improved second-half display suggested Arteta used the half-time break well, but it was already too late by then and it is hard to fathom why he did not, or could not, make tactical alterations sooner from the touchline.

Arteta has big players to come back, including Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhaes, but this still looks like a group of players that are short of real leaders. With club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang starting on the bench, Granit Xhaka, a player Arsenal were more than open to selling at the start of the transfer window, took the armband and there was nobody taking responsibility on the pitch after Chelsea had taken the lead.

Pablo Mari simply could not cope with Romelu Lukaku and was eventually booked for a foul from behind on Chelsea’s record signing, before Rob Holding followed him into the book at the end of the first half for a wild challenge on Marcos Alonso.

Chelsea could have barely believed how easily their opponents were being suckered in.

Odegaard is a talented player, but it is hard to see how he would have changed much about yesterday’s game, given he was part of similar performances while on loan at Arsenal last season. White is an upgrade on Holding, but he was part of the defence that conceded two goals at newly promoted Brentford on the opening weekend.

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These are early days, of course, but a trip to Manchester City before the international break suggests that things will get worse for Arteta and Arsenal before they get better.

There were plenty of empty seats on view for what was Arsenal’s first match at a fully open Emirates for 18 months and the Chelsea fans sang ‘is there a fire drill’ as the supporters who did turn up flooded out early.

There could be even more tickets on general sale before the next visitors Norwich City arrive, when the Gunners could easily still be stuck on zero points.

There are at least a couple of reasons for optimism in the shape of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, who had their moments against the European Champions.

Playing at the Emirates for the first time since his European Championship penalty shoot-out miss, Saka received a huge cheer from the Arsenal fans and generous applause from the Chelsea supporters ahead of kick-off.

It was the winger who provided two nervous moments for Chelsea, going down under a challenge from James inside the penalty area towards the end of the first half and forcing Edouard Mendy to tip a deflected shot over his crossbar after the break.

Saka exited to a standing ovation when he was replaced after the hour mark by Aubameyang, but the same generosity will not be afforded to Arteta if results and performances do not improve quickly. No longer able to plead poverty, it is time for the coach to prove his credentials.

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