Today @shotta_gooner and I look back at the limp surrender to City and try to work out why a squad of this quality is wallowing in mid table and scoring goals at a miserable rate. To be honest I surprised myself with my conviction that Arteta is way out of his depth as a manager. I try to understand where people are seeing progress but I fail miserably and conclude that the future is bleak unless surgery is done.
If you think I’m wrong, please use the comments section to educate me, I would love to be shown as wrong.
This afternoon at 4.30 P.M. we welcome the rampant Manchester City to an empty Emirates, a daunting task is ever there was one, While City have notched up 15 wins on the spin, we have lurched between wining and losing, being awful to decent while they sit clearly on top of the pile as we are stuck in dead centre mid table. All logic and statistics point to a City win, and yet? We still have hope. This hope may be based on nothing more than wishful thinking, but without hope, why bother?
City have no injuries to speak of, but I doubt Pep will risk his current star man, Gundogan to start. Aguero and De Bruyne either, so although they may all be technically fit, we should be spared the sight of them at kick off, then again, that will make their bench even more scary.
So to us, Partey wont feature but everyone else of note is available. I’m not even going to attempt to guess who will be picked beyond Xhaka, Leno and Bellerin. Any line up and set up is possible because I think Arteta will have to try something different to what we have seen recently, I don’t imagine we will be even attempting to out play them.
I normally look forward to watching City, but not today, I’ve put a kettle and a box of biscuits behind my sofa ,where I’ll be hiding for 2 hours. But as I said, we still have hope.
A few weeks ago, Daniel, my 15 year old son, rushed out of his room, and full of excitement told me that while it obviously wouldn’t happen The Arsenal were linked with Martin Ødergaard. I listened attentively, and while not wanting to kill his enthusiasm, also wanted to warn against the inevitable disappointment when yet again a transfer rumour proved to be just that: a rumour, written to generate website clicks. While it is also true that most of the players he tells me we are about to sign I have never heard of, this one intrigued me for I had a distant memory of the name – and a sense that we’d been linked with him before.
And so we had, back several years ago now when the footballing world was suddenly full of the new latest wunderkind, the ‘hardly old enough to tie his own bootlaces’ Norwegian Messi. Martin Ødergaard. With, of course, the best ‘knower’ of new talent, Arsene Wenger instrumental in inviting all 15 years old of him, to spend a couple of days at Colney. Money talks of course, especially if you are keen to cash in on a yet to be proved player, and so predictably enough he went on to sign for Real Madrid. But however talented they may be, teenagers by and large don’t cut the mustard in senior football, and so Ødergaard disappeared from view, needing to do his apprenticeship, an apprenticeship of course involving loans to clubs perhaps less well suited to nurturing prodigious, yet fragile, talent (think Gnabry and Pulis). But the fact that Wenger had seen something, and that six year later Arteta was seemingly interested, was enough to get me thinking.
Enough to get me thinking? That, if not a lie, is criminally economical with the truth. This 63-year-old, recently invited for his first Covid jab due to a ‘pre-existing’ condition, was straight on to YouTube, consuming all the Ødergaard videos and chat it was possible to find. And then he did sign (just a loan, but who knows?). That it also coincided with an upturn in The Arsenal’s results even saw a re-reading (about the 7th, if the truth be known) of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. Suddenly we were back, the sunlit uplands beckoning, League, Cup and European glory only a matter of time. Arsene knew. And he made sure Arteta knew too. In my dreams I was shuffling back to the tube station, carried along on waves of song and the scent and smells and banter of match day, full of the 4-0 schooling we’d just handed to the lot down the road, a victory orchestrated by Ødergaard, Saka and Smith-Rowe. My dreams are so sad these days!
Well as night follows day, Ødergaard didn’t really feature at all to begin with: we were dumped out of the Cup, and then met with horribly predictable reversals in the Midlands, first thrown to the Wolves’, then scrappily at the hands of a Villa side unreally favoured by Fortune. Ødergaard merely an ineffectual bit-player. Of course there was a reason why Real let him go, of course Tierney and Partey were injured, of course the Refs were never going to help us, of course the lot of the football fan is to be permanently disappointed. And of course a bit of me was deep down pleased: supporting a team, unless you are a shifting glory hunter, is not just about the shitness of everything, but it’s the active revelling in it.
And yet. And yet. And yet.
Just when you think it is all so bad it’s time to walk away, to stop going, to stop accessing the websites, to deactivate Twitter, Arteta only goes and starts Aubameyang up front, with Smith-Rowe, Saka and Ødergaard just behind him, and another great Wenger signing (Xhaka) playing alongside another tiki-taka Real reject (Ceballos) at the heart of the midfield against everybody’s flavour of the month, Leeds. And before you know it, it’s 4-O to the Arsenal and the side’s oozing Wengerean unction. Little twiddly midfielders everywhere, Wengerball incarnate, ‘walking-the-ball-in’ the clear ambition.
As I once read, Arteta was Arsene’s translator on the pitch. Could it just be that the DNA is reasserting itself? Might there be glory days ahead? Is it safe to dream again? And if it isn’t, if dreams aren’t allowed, then what after all is the point of anything?
This afternoon at 4.30 P.M. we play Marcelo Bielsa’s mad attacking Leeds side. It should be an exciting game because of how they play. They have an all action, all attack, energy filled game that they play no matter who the opposition is. I don’t believe they have a single player that is as good as his Arsenal counterpart. Regardless of that, they will come at us in waves for 90 plus minutes. They will impose their game on us. It might cost them dearly, but even if it does, they will do the same again to their next oponents, no matter who they are. Remember those days?
Now, as for us? Who knows? We hope it’s the way we played for 44 minutes against Villa and not what we have seen for most of the rest of the season, but as I said, who knows?
Two big misses for us are Partey and Tierney. Their absence gives Arteta a problem or two that is more than just their own quality being missing. Who he picks to replace them will change the way we play considerably. The conservative changes would see Cedric and Elneny come in. Cedric is a genuine defender and Elneny is full of running, which me might need to match Leeds. A more adventurous line up would see Saka at leftback and Ceballos in the middle. Again, who knows? I can see the benefits for them all.
Luiz and Leno are back and one of them, Leno, seems certain to be selected. Luiz though? That’s quite a call for Mikel. Personally I’m not sure he should pay the price for what I consider was shocking refereeing, but I suspect he will.
We absolutely have better players than them, but so do every other team in the league, so we can’t rely on that, we will have to play well to win. We can and I hope we do because that will make it a good game and a good day.
An early 12.30 P.M. start away at Villa to quickly look forward to. I think despite the loss to Wolves, we have seen enough of an improvement to actually “look forward to” in a positive way. There can be no doubting that there has been a genuine improvement to our recent performances and results.
I have long said that Xhaka is a top player who generally always plays well. I have maintained that he has suffered from being put in midfield with the wrong players and in a poor set up. He was blamed for the teams shortcomings rather than any of his own, Of course I received dogs abuse for this opinion and despite me providing his personal stats to back up my opinion, I was told by the “I used my eyes” brigade, that I was an idiot. Well, Arteta has basically said the same thing now, as Emery and Wenger before him did, so I wonder if these fans will claim Arteta is an idiot? Partey is a good player, but i’m sure he will benefit from Xhaka, just as much as the other way around. I feel it’s a midfield partnership as good as anything in the league. I believe that centre midfield is the most crucial part of a good team, so there is much to be pleased about with these two lads.
Leno will be missing so I expect to see a half fit new boy, Mat Ryan, between the sticks as Alex Runarsson, has done all he can to convince us that buying him was a mistake. Good luck Mat.
Luiz will be missing and I think Gabriel will replace him. The lad was showing signs of vulnerability before he caught Covid so it could go either way with him, he might be less physically ready, but more mentally rested? Let’s hope he is at his best, which we have seen is quite good.
Smith-Row and Saka will surely play ,if fit, and Pepe has eventually shown enough to keep his place, so for me, it’s either Lacazette or Aubameyang in the middle. There is a good case for either and whoever Arteta picks, I won’t be criticising in hindsight, should all not go well.
I think Villa have been playing better ,as a team, than us, but we have better players. However, our team play looks better than it was, so that, and our better players, gives us a really good chance of revenging the hiding the gave us at The Home of Football.
It’s great that we can again be excited about a game and today is not the time to harp on about what has gone on for most of the season, lets leave that until May.
Our twenty first game of the PL season saw us play one of the top sides in the division and perform very well. It left us ninth with 31 points however all the teams above us have played less games apart from Manure and the three teams immediately below us could go above us with wins from their games in hand which would leave us in 12th. Not all teams will win games in hand of course and in an extremely game packed season points in the bag and being out the F.A. cup could work in our favour.
So, what should we asking ourselves and speculating on for the remaining 17 games? Well, the biggest question is does Mikel now know what type of football to play to get us both results and performance after his piece of luck against Chelsi saw his fortunes change and poor old fat Frank fail as he could have got his cards had he carried on playing the same tired team in the same tired style.
Who is our best eleven and does Mikel know? For me its Leno, Hector, Bob, Mari, Kieran, Granit, Partey, Saka, ESR, Joe and Laca. Obviously form changes and Martinelli and a few others will be seriously challenging that line up especially our new number ten who may turn out ok. There will be many who question my view that Joe should be in there, but football is a team game and I believe he gives more stability and balance to the side defensively and will chip in with goals more than the so-called flair players that are supposed to be in front of him in the pecking order(Willock is now on loan and so can’t be considered). The next big omission in that eleven is Aubameyang, well I have always thought he gives very little to the team apart from goals and as time has gone on that has become more and more apparent. Now he is not scoring he should be an impact player for the rest of the season with Laca and Eddie sharing the starting birth. I think most people know my views on Pepe, he is a day dreamer which makes him a liability and does not produce enough at the other end to warrant a gamble with his defensive frailties.
How will Mikel manage the battle of the number tens? From what I have read Odegaard wants to play for Real Madrid and there is little chance signing him on a permanent basis especially as we will not be in the Champions league next season unless we win the Europa Cup. While the emergence of Emile has shown how much we needed such a player, and he could not do it every game for the rest of the season pissing him off in his breakthrough season could prove disastrous for ARSENAL long term. If Mikel goes with Martin more often and then he goes back to RM or another CL side next season and Emile thinks he hasn’t been trusted, we could lose the pair of them and then we would be back to pre-chelski.
What should we do about the set piece coach? Defensively we do not seem bad although I did notice yesterday that the player, we have been leaving on the edge of the box at corners to chase down the second ball was missing sometimes. At the other end we have no potency, our free kicks are rarely on target and so we should be using a bit of imagination to get the best out of free kicks in dangerous positions and corners have got to be more varied to produce goals. The pile a million players round the keeper to give him COVID-19 ploy has never worked and should never be seen again. If the Set piece coach is not working, then they should get rid of him and reemploy Audrey the tea lady.
What do we do with the ex-Academy players for the rest of the season? So, its January the 31st and most of the players who have been in the squad are still here which is what I had hoped. As I alluded to at the start of this piece this is an incredibly competitive league this season and because of our bad start top six is probably beyond us in which case the use of the youngsters and the progression of the squad is vitally important for next season and beyond. I think the manager must make sure that players get game time with each other and not 100 miles away playing for cold balls utd. Obviously below that Edu must make sure the younger players loans are at the correct clubs to develop them in the way we want, and which will maximise the chance of the players integrate into our first team squad.
How good are we? Even after the performance yesterday and the run of the last seven PL games it is still difficult to tell how good we are. We seem to have improved defensively despite having to change personnel to often however going forward scoring does seem a problem with defenders, midfielders, and forwards all under scoring for their respective sections. I believe selection based on cohesion rather than individuals will cure this although I do have a nagging doubt that Mikel does like a “Name”.
All in all, although there are still some worries especially politically at the club there are also some cracks of optimism starting to appear so start thinking and enjoy the rest of the season.
(ed. This was written by seebs @arse_or_brain before transfer deadline day, thanks Ian)