Football Love: an end of season love letter to the Class of ‘23/‘24 (Positives Needs & Hopes)

Epic Emirates support


‘Football love’

An End of Season review

I think that at the age of 50 I am at a place where I know what true love is.

I thought that I loved people and found out that I didn’t when I met the real one. I’ve got three children and if that doesn’t help you figure it out then I’m lost. I’ve had bad jobs, decent jobs, lots of good jobs and one or two that I loved. I’ve supported Arsenal since I was four. I definitely thought that I loved Arsenal when I was seven but then I also thought I truly had fallen in love with Angel Delight. The chocolate one. I’ve loved sausages my whole life and thought that there was no comparison with any other food until I had Beef Wellington and crepes. I loved The Usual Suspects but really it was just the last five minutes. The Office (US), true love. I’ve loved INXS, PM Dawn, Paul Weller, R.E.M., Rodrigo y Gabriela, Alejandro Aranda, Terence Trent D’arby, Mylene Farmer, Chris Rice, The Beautiful South, Dave Matthews Band, Massive Attack and Nik Kershaw.

Then I found Casting Crowns and found a whole new level of love in music. Casting Crowns aren’t just an ordinary music experience but music that touches the whole of the soul. They are a different band entirely because you can’t shake the lyrics as they deal with every possible problem in life.

I loved going to Norfolk as a kid and Charleston as an adult until I found true love in The Cotswolds and Riva del Garda.

I’ve loved my family but I can’t pretend that they haven’t been times in my life that were extremely difficult and I struggled to feel that way with my mother.

More than all of the above I think I appreciated the life of Jesus as a young person but found the true love he offers as an adult. Life changing beyond any other kind of experience.

All of this is simply to give you my resume so that you believe that I’m a reliable source when I say this…,

Of all the things I’ve loved in my 50 years, I’ve loved Arsenal the longest.

The love I feel for Arsenal is hard to describe. It was just an instant connection and I have never let go. There is a separation however between loving my club and loving all of the players who played for it. Then loving the team as a whole.

Mikel Arteta is the reason that I can confidently state that I love his team. This team. More than any other Arsenal team in my lifetime.  When the Invincible era happened I was starting my life in America and the Arsenal coverage was very limited so it was hard to appreciate the love I could’ve experienced if I was living in England or in an era with the coverage I have now. The same goes for the 88-89 team. I saw them periodically live and on The Big Match and Match of the Day.

I ask myself why I love the 23-24 team both as individuals and as a team.

This is my list…

  1. Their standards are so high. As an example, nobody jogs back when we are being transitioned on.
  2. They play with their heart. Again, an over-used phrase. This team is the model of heart.
  3.  They play the beautiful game. I couldn’t watch City. Too robotic. I need to ‘feel’ my teams style.
  4. Giving 100% is the most over-used phrase of all phrases but this team actually does this. This is technically their job. Most players play and act as if this is the start and finish of their mindset. I get the impression that this team enjoys it and each other to the point where they pine for more.

They are a team of players who have come through the Arsenal ranks or look like they have. They look like they have been Arsenal supporters their whole life. I understand that they haven’t, but that’s not the impression that they give. It looks like if me and you played for Arsenal. I think what I’m saying is that they care.

That is my favorite character trait. I spend every day of my life teaching kids how to care because I feel like it is somewhat of a mission that I’ve been given. Especially in this age, the world has become self obsessed, and caring walked out of the room a long time ago.

They play as if they are protecting their actual family. The way they chase back, block shots, and defend that box is like no other team I’ve ever seen.

Everything on this list is there not solely because of one man, but primarily. Players can be hugely self motivated and I recognize that but the reason that a group of self motivated players are not left to figure it out by themselves is because football figured out that coaches are needed, and those who watch it with a passion know the difference that a great coach can make.

Not every great coach has won trophies because some have not yet been in that position to even do so. When Arteta took over, he was not in that position. So far away from it. He won one anyway. Mikel Arteta is proof that ‘football love’ can be found without yet winning the trophies. Try telling the Liverpool fans that they shouldn’t love Klopp who ‘lost’ far more trophies than he won.

I have fallen in ‘football love’ with Arsenal 23-24. The players, the team., the bizarre away kit and even the dog.


Firstly, I want to go through the squad as the vast majority have had very positive seasons.


I can only speak for my lifetime, so Don Howe and onwards. I think Mikel Arteta is by far the best manager Arsenal have been blessed to have.

The bar is high as George Graham and Arsene Wenger won more and had attributes that were elite. I don’t base this on trophies as it is not a fair comparison at this point. I base it on talent and ability to make a difference. I think that there is no question that Mikel Arteta has the most talent. His toolbox is almost full. He improves players individually. He improved the team quicker and from a far lower point and the improvement has been consistent. He is in a group of probably 4 managers that are tactical geniuses. He doesn’t just have the ability to change tactics from game to game but multiple times during the game. His ability to find the right player in the market has greatly improved with his last four signings in Trossard, Havertz, Raya and Rice. He represents the club perfectly in the media. His standards are significantly higher than any coach we’ve ever had and his bravery in risking his job by asking the owners if he could start teaching the squad from the beginning of the coaching manuel rather than focusing on just winning games has given Arsenal roots and automatisms that we are now seeing the fruit of. The list is longer, but that’s plenty. I have left the best for last though….

His best gift is the most important gift that a manager/coach needs. Communication. The players use their body primarily and a manager uses his brain and voice. In everything. Talking to the press. The players. His staff. Running sessions. Pre-game. Half time. He is the best communicator I have ever seen in any walk of life. Combining the ability to inspire with the ability to offer variation in methods and the understanding of what to say and what not to say. He is in a league of his own here.

His staff

Apart from the success of Nicholas Jover, it is hard to give personal praise when we don’t know who is doing what. Their influence is largely at Colney and whispered in the ear of Arteta during games. Their influence is obviously positive or they wouldn’t be here and I’d say that it is likely very positive as Arteta isn’t going to pick any ole anybody when everything else is done with excellence.


The big difference between Raya and Ramsdale is mentality. Ramsdale revealed that he lacks focus which is a big problem for a position that is checked out most of the game. Raya showed his mentality when he arrived taking the place of a club favourite, making errors but bouncing back post Christmas to be the best PL goalie of 2024. His positioning, safety on crosses and general safe hands are upgrades.


The most over-worked, under appreciated player in the squad. If we remember that he has not only had to learn a new position but play in a variety of spaces, both inside and outside, whilst running more than every other player. What you see is the current best RB in the league. Southgate is an idiot but the fact that he hasn’t taken the best right back in the league who can also play centre back and inverted will likely benefit Arsenal as White needs the rest more than most.


Also under appreciated. Perhaps for a different reason. His ‘normal’ is much higher than most every centre back in the world so when he drops yet another 9/10, we don’t see it. My grandfather had a Rolls Royce so I understand the comparison. A Rolls Royce had everything. His development is another reason why we can log out of and log back in at the beginning of the season to see who we have signed, because Arteta seems to have a gift for choosing the right pathway for players as well as buying his new toys.


Being chosen as first choice centre back for Brazil is one of the hardest tasks. Brazil are not the team they once were but they do have 3 top keepers in Allison, Ederson and Bento (look him up) and oodles of top centre back options. I didn’t think he’d become first choice as I didn’t think this was his level but here we are. Perhaps Arsenal’s most improved player and the fact he loves defending and doing the ugly things so much is one of the top reasons why I fell in ‘football love’ with this team.


It’s become fashionable to say that he has been poor. I don’t think that is true at all. There was a period of the season where he was considered vital to victory. His defending has been a mixture of one blooper per game and the left back who wins the most aerial duels, so I think it’s important not to exaggerate. His attacking abilities are unique. If he does leave we will likely get a fee that will surprise many because there are few who understand how to play inverted like he does and their defensive standards are nowhere near Arteta’s, so they will see the good rather than illuminate his weaknesses.


Much like White, he was given a new job and largely impressed. Because we live in a world of people wanting to be the first to say extreme things, his performance at home to Bayern stays in the memory rather than his multiple good and improving performances prior.


Returned to his best quickly and if he can stay fit he is hard to not play. His improvement was seen in his two footed comfort as an inverted right back. One of my favourite players and one of the most underrated defenders in Europe. If I had to pick a 26 man squad from European teams, I’d pick him first. A serious footballer who might look 50 years old but who is apparently half that age.


He may have barely played but I think we can all see a real player there. I think that next season he will be the main inverted full back. There is something about the way he moves. Sounds like a late night slow dancing song.


There are more factors beyond Rice being ‘the difference’ in us falling away last season and taking it to the last day this season, but I am happy to agree with those that say that Declan Rice is the biggest factor in this. I hear he eats 4 pancakes before every game. I think we should call him ‘Pancakes.’ I think Arteta will eventually be credited with turning the best DM in the national team into the best all round midfielder in Europe. How many 80M+ signings have succeeded in football history? I’d say 1 in 5. Not only is he a roaring success but he will encourage the owners to go big again when needed.


When Dennis Bergkamp arrived at Arsenal we had not really signed many, if any, superstars. He was like many talented players at Arsenal over my lifetime, a potential superstar who was struggling in a league somewhat unsuited. When he arrived it took a little while and I was there at Highbury the day he found his groove against Southampton. He was rightly elevated to the status he held and currently holds. Dennis has a statue and rightly so. Many consider him the best ever Arsenal player. He might just be. If not, he is top five. Martin Odegaard travelled a similar path. I’m not sure if he will ever get the same recognition if he ever gets to that level. I don’t think he is far away. I don’t think he will because Dennis arrived at the very beginning of Arsenal’s period of signing elite talent. Since then we have had many top players and they can unfortunately blend together to where a player like Odegaard can get lost in the myriad of wonderful players that we have had over the last 25 years. In our current team we have a rather large handful of players who like Odegaard might well get to the Bergkamp level. Saliba, Rice and Saka stand out in particular. Potential statue worthy players.

I think Martin Odegaard was brought up in the under stairs cupboard. Didn’t have any room to work on his game but developed ball control that others can only replicate unopposed. That is the joy of Odegaard. He can do what others can only do when under no pressure. An ice hockey player on a football pitch.


I’m still struggling with the idea that he might leave. If he does he better not play in a league that Max can watch because I’d rather not hear or watch him. I will be a man scorned. I just love his game. At his best, I still think that he is up there with the best central midfielders in the world. I’ve prayed for his health. Never really spoken to God about Arsenal before that. I fully understand if he leaves. What was interesting was that Arteta kept using him when he was fit and when he had options too. I think I’m going to buy the club one of those new Med Beds and stick TP on it. A lovely footballer that lives in a world that very few in his position do where he can defend and penetrate with equal effect.


We may never know how important Jorginho was. His importance has been demonstrated by his new contract when Arsenal are in the position to sign most anyone they want. Intelligence on the field and the understanding of where to be and when are at the bottom of the list when fans evaluate players because it is hard to spot.


Sometimes when it’s hard to identify a player’s main super power it might be that he has many. An Avenger movie with one super hero because the others weren’t needed.


Another great season and much like Odegaard he is under appreciated because of his own level and because of those around him. His biggest compliment is given when he hobbles off the field after being hacked repeatedly and never left one on one. Arteta has many strengths and one is most certainly valuing the character of the recruits. Arsenal are loaded with players with A+ character. Loaded. You can see that when remembering that the true test of a man is when he is under pressure. Either we have top character or Arteta has changed these men and their mentality. Saka alongside Odegaard sit at the top of this impressive list.


Many think that he was poor this season. I didn’t see that. I think we are spoiled. A team that so rarely makes mistakes has a player that hasn’t risen to his level as often as the others. He is still a game changer, was a game changer and won us the most important game of the season. I think Martinelli was 7/10. He can certainly do better as his level is much higher but I think he suffered from comparison.


A good team has a player or two that can get the crowd of their feet. A great team prioritizes players that are highly effective. See Antony. See Trossard. Bad comparison. United aren’t good and Antony is an imposter.


See Martinelli, see Jesus. Better than we are told. Pivotal at certain times. Unique in his position even though he’s likely out of position. The super power that was lost in the criticism was his ability to create for his teammates with the right pass at the right time with the right weight. The level is so high at Arsenal that players like Partey, Jesus and Martinelli are somehow criticized more than admired.


Our new signings will not have to play straight away. I think all of us would be fine with Arsenal starting an 11 from this season. In fact I think it would be an unnecessary risk to play new players when the need isn’t there. The need is for getting rotation options that Arteta trusts. There is certainly a need for different profiles on certain days but it isn’t needed on August 17th. This gives Arsenal an advantage the first half of the season. There isn’t so much of a need to adapt a player like Havertz or Raya. They can be brought in slowly. They can learn behind-the-scenes. All of them. The other reality is that playing for Arsenal and Arteta is a different thing. Arteta has a textbook that others don’t have or they just have a binder with certain chapters and pages ripped out. Our new signings have a book to learn and an exam to take. If they come from Brighton, City, Leverkusen or Bologna then they will know much of this textbook but I doubt we are signing players from these teams.


I told a story at the beginning of the season about one of my most successful soccer camps that I’ve done. In short, I made huge strides with the team by significantly raising these standards. By not saying ‘good job’ when it was lucky. By expecting what these girls were capable of. Arteta has higher expectations than other coaches. That is evident when you see how willing we are to do more than others when we are protecting our goal. All professional footballers can get as fit as each other. They can all give the same effort. If they do give more it has been drug out of you by a coach who has higher standards. You can see this level when Arteta is interviewed. He always seems unsatisfied. Fair, but unsatisfied. He offers no excuses, just challenges. A coach that gives a higher value to psychology.

Arteta’s new contract

What is revealing about this contract is that Arteta is going to be the highest paid manager in our history before he has won a major trophy. We don’t have a history of wasting money so this is well thought-out and well-deserved.


You may have heard that the players play a game called Mafia/Werewolf on travel trips, in hotels or at Colney. Why is this so important? Well, think about how you’ve heard many times about how ‘bored’ players can get when they aren’t training or playing. They tell stories about not wanting to be there. Does that impact performance? I’d say it must. Hard to switch mentality as soon as you leave the hotel.

I don’t know whether the coaching staff started this game intentionally but I’m getting the feeling that literally there is ‘no stone left unturned.’



There is much talk about Arsenal needing more threat. I think that is right. But why? Well, firstly the right side of our team is more of a threat than the left side. That gives clarity to our team who know that creation comes more from the right and finishing from the left.  More than that we are trying to become unpredictable. We are capable of having equal threat on both sides and causing confusion in opponents pre game planning. There is also a need for us to be equally flexible in the way we score. We are still not a big threat in the air from general play or scoring enough ‘simple’ goals in and around the 6 yard box.  Saka plays too much and arguably Martinelli does too. Bringing in a player with the capabilities of Pedro Neto will give relief to our wingers and offer speed during the last 25 minutes of what is now a 100 minute game with players who are getting more fatigued.  I’ve been pushing for Gyokeres because he offers all we don’t have but there are so many options because Arsenal are arguably the most desirable team in the world as going to City may be poor timing for a player who wants to play in the Premier League.

Players he trusts

Does Arteta distrust players like Smith Rowe because they aren’t at the level of those that play? Or is it more that the first team have improved at such a rate that the others haven’t been able to catch them? Whatever it is, we need to include the vast majority of the squad next season. Again, for the sake of being unpredictable to opponents if nothing else. When City play they can use Foden and Grealish on the wing or Doku and Bernardo and there is essentially no difference. Arsenal have to get there. Arteta needs to get there.

City 115

I haven’t really talked about this. I have a strong opinion though. My main issue is with the Premier League. If City were charged over a year ago and charged 115 times then the evidence is obviously there already. The evidence came from City so they were fully aware that they were being investigated. Don’t tell me it was a surprise and that their lawyers need 12 months to make a defence. I don’t work in law but giving someone over a year and what will now be closer to 18 months to come up with a defence tells you everything you need to know. This is being delayed for a nefarious reason. As a society we are living further from utopia than in any time likely in the history of the world. Corruption is at Stage 4 level. Terminal. The Premier League screwed up when they charged and punished Forest, Everton and then Everton again because we all saw that instant punishment can happen no more than a month after the charge. Mainly because I live in CorruptVille, I have a determination to not be an idiot and believe the best of a group of people who look like they are trying to destroy the most popular league in the world. I think they are going to give City a partial slap. Might be a tough slap but not full justice. They are hoping that we forget and don’t care by the time they tell us what it is which will probably be when electric cars are replaced with hoverboards.

When you charge someone for anything on 115 accounts, me thinks that you are guilty. Maybe not of all of it, but if Everton and Forest were deducted 4 points for a minute fraction of the number of charges City have, you’d think the punishment would be relegation out if the Football League and all titles taken away. The size of the club, who their coach and players are and the amount of money and influence that they have is utterly irrelevant. Unless you live in CorruptVille.

As for City, they were a club without a soul before I knew about these charges and now they are even more-so. I’ll never understand why people who are already the best decide to cheat in order to be the best. They had the best coach and the best players but clearly wanted to ensure that the best got the best awards. I just don’t see the gratification in winning by cheating, but if that’s normal for these people then I guess I understand. I feel for the players who have still had to perform and their legacy will be tainted regardless of what a committee says because we have our own minds. Pep…. I don’t know what he knew so I either feel sorry for him or he will need to be severely punished. I’m sure he will get out of Dodge before City get punished.

The club itself will only bounce back if they are appropriately punished. If they are then this will just go down as a strange memory for most. Frustrating might be the more accurate adjective. If they aren’t appropriately punished then they are finished as a club. They will be labelled ‘115’ rather than Manchester City. They will be labelled ‘cheats’ even when they aren’t cheating anymore. Big players will leave and stop coming.

The Premier League may be in serious trouble too. Eyes are watching and waiting as they anticipate the most unjust decision in the history of the sport in England. It may break the popularity of the league and so I can only hope that the PL are more awake than they were when they dropped the Super League idea.

When I was young, I always wondered why our religion teacher would talk about greed being one of the worst human qualities. I think I thought it was food related. I’m sure that’s a small part of it but I now fully understand. It’s just fascinating how the wealthy are the ones that get the greed addiction. It has inadvertently taught me to be satisfied.


Players leaving:

Here is the list of players that I think the club will sell;





Norton Cuffy








Here is the list of players that I think the club will loan;

Smith Rowe




Of this list, I wish we’d give a chance to Patino because he’s potentially special. I wish we’d loan ESR and Vieira because I think both are good enough but not trusted yet. Thomas Partey (pause for baby cry).

Academy/Loan players:

There is an opportunity for players like Nwaneri, Cozier Duberry and many who were on loan, to break into the squad. Not all but maybe 1 or 2. With the Euro’s and Copa America both going on, Arsenal’s first few pre season games will have to include them. This is a dream group to break into and so the motivation is high. I’d look at those that have recently signed contracts in particular. The one that jumps out is Ethan Nwaneri. The contract situation is bigger than just trying to secure a player. You have to remember that he batted off other big teams and so you’d imagine he has been told that there is a pathway and the club have to prove they meant it.

I’ll stick my neck out and say that Nwaneri will not only elbow his way into the squad but on to the field. The few times he has played, he looks unafraid. That is normally the key to the door.

Wenger’s offside:

You have likely seen Wenger’s offside idea. If not, here it is…

wenger's offside rule - Google Search

The concept is that there will have to be daylight between the attacker and defender to be offside. If this is implemented, then this could be a change as big as the back pass rule. The talk is whether it would be better than the current rule. That’s part of the conversation, but the part being left out is what it will do to defending. Not just defending but recruitment and then attacking. Teams will be more reticent to play a high line because easily over 50% of previous offside decisions, will be onside. Quicker defenders will become more valuable. Or perhaps deep block defenders will become the priority as defenses drop deeper. Attackers will need to be quick or they will be caught even if they are 1 on 1.

For Arsenal, the coaching staff may be waiting to buy the ‘threat.’ The winger or striker or both so they can see if the law will be implemented. It could change the decision from Michael Olise to Nico Williams. Interesting.


Is it the year we bring Santi Cazorla back and into the coaching fold. Please!!!


I’ve thought about this way too much.

Here is who I would sign and the second list is who I think the club will buy;

My list:

Ferdi Kadioglu (Fenerbache)   My comfort blanket. A player who can play everywhere. Much like Tomi, we take a risk but not an expensive one.

Murillo (Forest)   Reminds me of Gabriel. A warrior. Would give us another dimension bringing the ball out and between the lines. Could be our ‘Ake’ and play left back and potentially use his running power to offer the overlap.

Frenkie DeJong (Barcelona)   I have debated for so very long as to whether we need a defensive player or a press resistant play maker. I think Arteta wants a 6/8 so he can switch Rice and new signing as needs must, so I chose a play maker. My favourite play maker. The signing of Skelly Alvero is related. So….

Skelly Alvero (Lyon)    My love for Thomas Partey set me on a search. To search I just go talk to Max and he gives me what Brazil Scout only wishes they could. I’d suggest you check him out. Six foot eight. Ball winner. Elegant on the ball. I’d loan him to Brentford to adapt. You are welcome, Brentford.

Pedro Neto (Wolves)    Perhaps, a silly risk. His hamstrings, ouch. He is just perfect. Could play either wing and we really need that. So quick, so fast. Premier League ready.

Viktor Gyokeres (Sporting Lisbon)     Would be my first signing. The player I’m most excited about. Has everything we don’t have at striker. Huge hunger in the penalty area and threat in the air. Such a menace and he’d distract two centre backs, giving others space. Much needed as we need to score more simple goals.

Arsenal’s list:

Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord)    I think Arteta wants a GK who can push Raya.

Jarel Hato (Ajax)      Perfect character and footballing profile for Arteta. Could be integrated slowly.

Ferdi Kadioglu (Fenerbache)    In a team where almost everybody plays at least two positions, he becomes a huge asset.

Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle)      I struggle with the fact that he’s a thug. I don’t think we need that. Arteta likes him because he can do everything and he’s done it already in the PL.

Benjamin Sesko (Leipzig)     Seems to be the chosen one. I’d be very happy even though I’d prefer Gyokeres. Sesko is younger and likely happier to be a rotation.

Raphinha on loan  (Barcelona)      I think we go back as Barcelona get desperate to offload wages.

Ultimately, I am entirely serene about the choices that the club make. Firstly, I think that Mikel Arteta’s best quality is communication as I said earlier. The apex of his communication gift is one that we don’t see. The gift of persuasion. Arsenal are in a better place than they have been in decades to attract any player, anywhere. There will be competition but there is so much truth in the industry chat that it’s almost pointless trying to compete with Arsenal in the market because Mikel Arteta has this gift and you simply can’t compete.


Shaquille Pinas: Left footed Centre Back at Ado Den Haag in the Eridivisie. Has a lovely ‘pausa’ on the ball that allows him to break lines. Wonderful feet and an obvious talent but a risk. A very cheap risk but as I’ve said previously, we need to buy cheap and then loan out.

Franco Mastantuono: This post is too long already. Remember the name.


Sorry that this took so long to get out. I’m bouncing around the US watching Dave Matthews with my wife and vacationing before we holiday in England.
I’m sort of looking forward to the Euros where cheering on Harry Kane makes me gag. England could win if Southgate leans into his strength which is the midfield and forward talent and then simply gets out of the way. The Germans have a better team than many realize and could pull a surprise.
I hope to write again soon. Probably when Mbappe signs for Arsenal.

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2 Responses to Football Love: an end of season love letter to the Class of ‘23/‘24 (Positives Needs & Hopes)

  1. NBN June 2, 2024 at 4:44 am #

    A fair and accurate end-of-term report on the first team. Perhaps a smidgen generous to Martinelli, whose progress was impeded by injury and loss of form, although I doubt even then that many full-backs relished him coming on with 20 minutes to go. Spot on about Kiwior. Partey, when fit and purring, is another Rolls-Royce.

  2. allezkev June 3, 2024 at 12:28 am #

    Ah, the comments box is back, it disappeared earlier yesterday.

    Great post Mike, very detailed and thorough as usual.

    I’m not keen on Bruno, too indisciplined and brutish for my liking, I don’t care how good he is and the £100m touted fee is hilarious.

    Murillo is good, no bells and whistles he just gets on with the job in an unfussy manner.

    Neto is brittle but very good, the fee Wolves would want is totally unrealistic if it’s the reported £60m.
    Worth a put at say £20/£25m, no more imo.

    I’ve seen some brief YouTube vids on Sesko and he looks interesting, not overly expensive and a project.

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