Freddie Ljungberg signed off with with a middle finger to some of the senior players in the side. Ozil was injured again, but the manager made it clear he wouldn’t have played after throwing his gloves at the bench last week. He went all out to play the kids, introducing ESR into midfield, with Saka at left-back, and though the attacking football we’d hoped for didn’t bear fruit, we certainly put in a more solid defensive performance.
Say it quietly, but Xhaka had an impressive game…
There’s really not too much analysis to be had though. This Arsenal side have been playing with the handbrake on all season, now they need a huge injection of energy from Mike Arteta and Steve Round.
A few things are a worry though.
Auba looks very, very uninterested. Mikel said before the game that he was going to observe for body language, if that were the case, he’d have been shocked by how little energy his captain had on display. His movement was disengaged and he just looked like he’d had enough. He clearly has a move on his mind, which is troubling unless Madrid are coming armed with money in January, and Arsenal has Timo Werner lined up as a replacement.
Our midfield, regardless of the combination, lacks power, energy and structure. This has been going on for the best part of three years and continues. The biggest challenge the new regime is going to have to master is how to train some sort of know-how into a group of players that struggle with the basics. I’ve never seen an Arsenal midfield so slow and clueless. The gap between attack and midfield is always far too stretched, no one moves for the ball and the passing lanes always need a Hollywood epic to make something happen. We are almost incapable of moving the ball between the lines and more often than not, we have to opt for sideways or backwards passing because even the lightest of pressing puts us off balance.
We’re also going to have to work out what we do with the forward line. I’m starting to worry about Pepe, what exactly is going on there? Are we really in a situation where two managers of Arsenal football club can’t convince our most expensive signing to do some tracking (assuming that is why he’s benched)? There’s no such thing as ‘he’s not that sort of player’, because in this era, you simply have to be if you want to be positioned in the top tier of the footballing elites.
The standout players for me were the kids. I though Saka at left-back was pretty positive. He looked assured on the ball as ever, his pace really bailed him out of some tricky situations and his defensive game was positive as well. Point with Saka, he has the energy and drive you want. He never stops, he’s always sprinting, and when he gets forward into dangerous positions, he thinks about what he’s going to do next. I really love him, I hope Arteta has a Sterling like plan for him.
Though it wasn’t Martinelli’s best game, he still showed up in terms of energy. He’s very rough around the edges, but he has all the ingredients you’d want if you were a new manager. There’s a lot to work with. Aggression, power, pace, technique, great in front of goal… I am really excited to see what happens with him over the next year.
ESR and Reiss didn’t have their best games, but again, they didn’t give up. I was impressed that Reiss was trying more things, he didn’t shy away like he has been. ESR made some rough decisions, but you can see there’s plenty of potential there. Under the right coach, which we have, I expect to see these kids make huge strides.
So overall, we’re in very bad shape. Arteta has 5 days to at least bring a bit of energy to proceedings. I do think that’s absolutely key, if the training ground has been soulless for the last 2 years, an injection of positivity is going to help. The players need reminding of their talent, they need someone to paint a picture of where they’re going, and they need to be plunged into high-intensity training that stretches their thinking about how the game should and will be played.
I’m excited, the real work starts now. It’s going to be a very rough 6 weeks, we’re starting from scratch midseason, but if you look at the next 2 months as a bit of a write-off, it’ll be easier to stomach. By March, we should start to see the shape of what Arteta and Round have to offer, and we’ll see what good coaching can do for a squad everyone now thinks is shit. I’m hoping a few players will prove us wrong.
My guess is Arteta will work hearts and minds to start with, so nothing too drastic. Everyone will land a new chance, then he’ll begin to shape from there. I don’t think he’ll wait too long to assess who the bad eggs are, from the videos, it’s clear he knows a lot of people at the club who will fill him in on the history. Then we move on from there.
The bad days aren’t behind us, but at least they can be time-boxed. I think the fans need it. I watched the drama unfold after the game. Seeing fans gunning for each other was horrendous to watch. As a writer that loves the club, I genuinely couldn’t think of anything worse in the world than having the away fans round on me during a game in front of the world. I would be devastated if there was anti-graffiti on the Holloway Road about me. In their defence, the negativity they spout is merely an extreme reflection of what we feel. They don’t create that vibe, the shite football does.
That said, they do have a problem they can’t ignore. Matchday fans don’t like them. That mess yesterday looked like it could have turned violent, which would be be a terrible look for us. You can’t blame racism, you can’t blame jealousy, you have to look deeper and ask if the direction of your platform is in the service of the fans, or the wider internet that likes watching people incoherently vent and throw their weight around the internet.
A delicate situation to have to manage, but hopefully a proper coach will mean the fans spend less time worrying about things they could ignore and more time engaging in a beautiful game.