Today’s post is brought you you by Jonathan. Enjoy, then give him a follow on the Twitter.com @jblauphoto
Well, hello again.
Do remember me? The 2018-19 monthly columnist from the American Wild West?
How are you all doing this fine April Day?
(Oh, right. Not the smartest question to ask in the middle of a pants-shitting scary global pandemic.)
Speaking of pants shitting, this is a true story.
Yesterday, I got a friend to admit he’d shit his pants, all because I was trying to be polite.
I mentioned I’d fallen and hit my head this weekend, (I’m OK,) which segued into talk of changing diapers, (we’re parents,) and then after the pants shitting expression was used, I said something generic like, “yeah, I know that’s a hard one.”
Right away, sensing community, he pounced.
“Oh, it happened to you too? Yeah, I was on the floor, working at XXXXXX restaurant in YYYYYYYY city. I sharted. So embarrassing.”
Speaking of embarrassing. I paused.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I was actually just trying to be nice, when I said I know how that goes. I’ve never actually shat my pants. Sorry.”
Then he paused.
Little did he know I’d be telling the story, but I’ve changed enough details to make it safe.
I mention all this, with great flair, at the opening my first article in nearly a year.
Why? To what end?
Well, I’ll tell you.
When I wrote last year, I correctly predicted Liverpool would kick it into massive trophy winning mode, that the Brooklyn Nets would soon make major moves, and that Unai Emery should be fired for shitting the bed in the Europa and Premier Leagues simultaneously.
There was no coming back from that, I wrote, and to delay in making the change would only dig the damage in deeper.
So yes, I’m here to take a bow, having been proven right.
I’m also back to write a football article, because Pete has been working so hard to keep this blog going, bereft of any football, or even the near-term hope of its return.
Sorry, but that part’s true. No one on Earth knows exactly when or how the games will begin again.
But they will begin again.
That much we know.
So I offered to jump in, from the vantage of nearly a year, to give an assessment of the Arteta era, now that the tragically-unhip-Unai-Emery-era is blissfully over.
(Quick sidebar: while I’ve been gone, Pete wrote something about sniffing a Wuhan sneeze, and then compared Joe Biden to Unai Emery. I’m proud to write for this edgy, absurdist Arsenal blog.)
First of all, thank god that we hired Mikel Arteta.
I was behind the move the first time around, but perhaps he managed to learn some extra tricks in the subsequent 1.5 years he had under Pep?
Maybe we got a wiser, more capable Arteta? (Though his hair is identical, and will be in 10 years time.)
We’ll never know, of course, and hiring him the first time would have spared us the joyless, sad, gray, prison-like football we saw under the vampiric Basque. (Not to pile on, but really, he did look more than a bit like a cinematic Dracula.)
Mikel Arteta represents all the things we want: attacking football, pressing, youth development, swagger, and eventually a return to football relevance.
That’s what we’re all hoping, anyway.
He’s young, we can see for ourselves he’s a great communicator, and he has Pep’s IP, as Pete is always fond of saying.
Given he was Arsenal captain too, and a genuinely excellent player for us, I think he came in the door with massive street cred.
Enough to have started with a locker room that believed in him, and the wiggle room from the players and upper management staff to figure things out, as he is a first time manager.
What’s the very first thing he improved at Arsenal, in his tenure?
That’s right, the one thing we’ve all been asking for for years: the bloody defense.
So many clean sheets, under Arteta.
And with the same defenders: Sokratis, Mustafi and David Luiz.
That I wrote Mustafi’s name, and you didn’t automatically cringe, is probably the best compliment I can give our new skipper.
He tightened up the eternally loose, he did the impossible. And yes, we were drawing a lot at first, but we weren’t losing.
Then the wins came.
Did we all forget how shitty it was to watch these underachieving players lose all the time? (And in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m accusing them of downing tools.)
I don’t want to write what Pete has, as it’s redundant, but I did pen in my column that I thought that development, buy low sell high, and reclaiming value by getting player improvement, was job one.
We’ve seen that too, as beyond Mustafi, we saw jumps from Reiss Nelson, Dani Ceballos, Bukayo Saka, David Luiz, Guendouzi, and Nicolas Pepe. (I know Real Madrid benefits from Ceballos, but still.)
Lacazette’s form was in the crapper, and Aubameyang produced at more or less the same level.
Martinelli kept his form, I think, from the Emery-era, and looks quite the prospect.
Some of these kids, the ones we want to root for, will get sold to places we don’t like, to fund the rebuild.
It will happen.
As for PEA, I’m fine with selling him for cash. I know his goals will be hard to replace, but if he were a more clutch player, we’d have made the Top 4 last year, (penalty against Tottenham,) or beaten Olympiacos this year in the Europa League.
You can give me analytics all day, and I’ll agree with every word.
But in my 40 years of sports watching, I’m damn sure the clutch gene, for the biggest moments of your sporting life, is there.
You have it or you don’t.
(Exhibit A: Eli Manning.)
PEA choked twice, in two seasons, at the critical moment.
The Arsenal teams of late-Wenger did win 3 FA Cups. Those players, your Aaron Ramsey’s and Koscielny’s, the Arteta’s and Alexis Sanchez’s, those guys had enough grit to win trophies.
Not the big ones, true, but 3 FA Cups in 4 years is now something we’d all happily take, after sitting in 10th, and losing to crap teams on the road for two years.
I don’t know how much I believe in Raul and Edu, yet, as the jury is out, for me.
But I do believe in Arteta.
And I think we’ve got the spine of an improving team.
What will Saliba look like? Will Leno, Saliba, Mari, David Luiz and some spare parts, (Mustafi, Sokratis or Holding,) be enough to build a sustainable platform for the future?
Where will our next-gen creativity come from?
Does Hector Bellerin’s new tough-guy haircut mean he can get back into future-core status?
In midfield, I like Guendouzi, for all-action, and Joe Willock looks like he could handle that too. But one of them will have to offer end product, a la Welsh Jesus.
Torriera is too short/slow, and that’s the truth of it. I’ve always though Xhaka was too dim, but maybe I was wrong? Next to an athletic DM who can cover his ground, maybe he could be a poor man’s version of Pirlo. (To borrow an expression from Bill Simmons.)
If forced to pass judgment on Xhaka though, I’d say no.
Sell him, Torriera, Mustafi, Aubemayang, Ozil, maybe Sokratis, and whatever kids you feel you must.
Beyond the defense, build around the remaining kids: Saka, Nelson, Guendouzi, Willock, Pepe, Martinelli, and a whole new round of purchases, paid for by the first wave sell-off.
I wouldn’t sell Lacazette now, while his value is low, but he’s proven he can be a bastard, and clinical, when he’s in form.
He’s also not old yet.
I’d give Arteta another season to plump his value, and let him be the wise old head on the front line, and sell him once he’s worth more again.
During my column year, I mentioned that sometimes in sports, you have to out-wait a dynasty. I mentioned how the Golden State Warriors, a juggernaut so fierce they took down peak LeBron James 3 times, would be done in the end by injuries or contracts, like all great teams before them.
And then it came to pass last July.
Liverpool will drop eventually, and Man City will have down years too, as they have before.
I think Mikel Arteta gives us a real chance to ascend in 2021-22, or 2022-23, at our current rate of progress.
Whenever the games come back, that is.
Sending you good wishes from New Mexico.