Mikel Arteta says he and his players have to “put their face and body on the line” and take the brickbats being aimed their way after a calamitous start to the Premier League season.
Arsenal face Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday and desperately need to stem the flow of negativity that has threatened to engulf them after four successive home defeats. It is a swift reversal of fortunes for Arteta, who was being lauded as recently as August after winning the FA Cup in his first half-season, but he is determined that nobody hides from their responsibility to turn things around.
“I prefer [the] pressure of trying to win the next trophy but this is the reality and we have to face it, being brave and fighting and no one giving up,” he said. “It’s no time to hide, it’s time to put your face and body on the line.
“At the moment we have to take the bullets. We are not winning matches and you have to put your chest there, and you have the right to hit me because I am not winning. So what else can I do but put my head down, work harder and do my best to improve? It’s how we have to approach this.”
Arteta was comprehensively backed by Edu, the Arsenal technical director, on Tuesday and it is understood there is no severe risk to his job even if results do not change quickly. There have been calls for his head among some sections of the fanbase; he said he is comfortable with that view being expressed and that he is hurt “more than anyone” by the team’s plight.
“It’s natural that the criticism comes my way,” he said. “I accept it and it’s part of the job. When you’re not getting results it is the manager who has the maximum responsibility to lead. So you can say whatever you want to explain, but in the end you have to win matches and this club is too big to accept this many losses. My chest is here, so hit me.”
A further spiralling from their current 15th place would surely bring a relegation fight but Arteta preferred to call Arsenal’s situation a “blip”. He said any response to Granit Xhaka’s red card against Burnley on Sunday, which cost them a game they had looked likely to win, had been “resolved internally”. He publicly defended Xhaka, for whom it was not a first instance of red mist, praising his professionalism and commitment.
“What I can’t do is just throw everything he’s done away because he has made a mistake. We all make mistakes and I am here to protect the players when they deserve it.”