I knew I would be asked for my thoughts about Monday night, but I left it 24 hours in the hope I could be rational and constructive. Obviously, the last the defeat to Newcastle, when a win was required was hugely disappointing, but perhaps it was more the manner of that defeat.
Arsenal failed to perform in their biggest game of the season, for the second match in a row, but this was not a capitulation to a fellow top 4 hopeful, as last week, it was to a team not even in the top half of the Premier League.
It would be easy to rant at the players, gripe at the constant ill-discipline, or blame an inexperienced manager for poor decisions. However, whilst all of the above would hold validity the truth is far simpler.
The manager and team who engineered 4 successive victories, two of which were away against fierce London rivals, have not become poor in a week. We cannot, as supporters, complain over the weekend, that having won 3 Manager of the Month awards, Arteta was not on the list of 6 contenders for Manager of the Season, and then question his ability a day later. No, the reasons for Arsenal’s tepid displays lay in decisions made 5 months ago.
Yes, Mikel Arteta is nowhere near the finished article, but he is learning on the job in an environment where he is trusted, over time to hone his skills and get it right. Of course, the key words in the previous sentence are OVER TIME, because last Thursday, he had taken his young side to a place where no one expected them to be – not us, not them, not the media or the facile, fickle pundits.
The real truth is that with an inexperienced young team, there will always be inconsistency so the real test will be to add proven and experienced quality to the mix this summer. None of us can know how close Edu was to bringing in new signings in January, or whether Arteta was happy or angry that the club failed to do so. Whoever ultimately sanctioned all the loans, torn-up contracts and sales, without adding depth and experience was taking a huge gamble that a young manager and squad could maintain momentum.
To do so, Arteta needed luck, and in the cold light of day his luck ran out, when Lacazette failed to step up with a consistent goal supply and more so when he lost three of the team’s lynchpins, Tomiyasu, Tierney and Partey to long-term injuries. The squad cupboard was left too bare, and a run-in was not a time to throw in more talented youth, so several influential players had to play 90 minutes, often twice a week, and always in pressured situations. Saka and Odegaard have given so much and have been running on empty with no hope of respite and that was also the case for White and Gabriel, who it obviously caught up with.
Our hopes were raised and who knows – Spurs may yet choke, but the failure, if it is to be so, to make the Champions League, whilst more galling if it is our arch-rivals who take the final place, is far from a disaster. The Europa League is still a fabulous tournament, and one which in the early stages will allow us to see if Balogun, Patino and others are ready to push for the first team, in a slightly less-pressured environment.
We have all seen that the first 11 Edu and Arteta have assembled can compete with the best, but the squad is still light and this summer we hope that can be addressed. We added top quality with no European football at all last summer and we have that on the table when we bid and negotiate this. We are still The Arsenal, with a magnificent stadium, a glorious reputation and pedigree, and we are situated in a city players want to live and play in.
Just imagine what might have been with a prolific striker whose work ethic fitted in the style of play that Arteta wants his team to play. With new attacking talent to blend with an already talented support cast, this team – and this manager – will progress in 22/23, of that I have no doubt. That said – we have to be realistic and accept that others, not operating such a self-sustaining model, like Newcastle, will also be aiming to challenge the status quo.
What I do know is that we have a young manager who loves the club, who we can get behind, homegrown first-teamers that other teams covet on long-tern deals, and a stadium that has been rocking and united more so this season than in many recent campaigns.
Roll on Sunday – North London Forever!
This is the full and unedited version of yesterday’s Sun Football Fan’s View column.
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.