I am STILL buzzing on a Monday morning, and yes, I’ll be honest, I went in for round two on the game because that’s how good I felt. It’s a lot easier to watch those ties when you know the result.
A few things stood out the second time, the first being that Kieran Tierney really was fantastic. He slipped in as the left-sided centre back, presumably to give some pace next to Luiz, then he was moved out left when AMN moved inside, and occasionally he bombed forward as an LWB. Magnificent. What a great player we have there.
I also think Granit Xhaka has to be given his dues, he has been mostly excellent under Mikel Arteta. He had another really, really good game. He put his body on the line over and over again, he lead like a warrior, and he gave the team a calm player to look up to when City were coming at us.
I also didn’t give enough credit to Pépé for his showing. I’ve been very critical of him over the last 3 months. I know there’s a player there, but he doesn’t show it enough. He’s a very quiet player and sometimes, that comes across as meek on the pitch. I didn’t feel like that after the game on Saturday. He gave more to the defensive side of things, and going forward, he was quicker and bolder with his decisions, plus, he made decisive contributions for our two goals in a game that wasn’t going to give us much.
I know I might be early on this, but I also feel like that was a game the fans needed to see from Arteta. We’ve been watching him make steady improvements over the last 6 months, but generally, there’s always been something not quite right about our game. Injuries, mistakes, red cards, contract induced brainfarts… factored with the harsh reality that this team hasn’t been coached to an elite level in over a decade.
City felt like the game where we delivered an innovative performance against the odds. The gameplan was bold, it was very unArsenal, and it was executed to near perfection. Our last manager couldn’t get us passing out the back in 18months, our new coach has us using it as a tactic to play around a Man City press. That’s not to say we haven’t seen other really good performances. Chelsea at home, United at home, Sheffield United away and Wolves away spring to mind… but this had something important on it, and no one gave us a prayer. It just felt bigger, particularly after the absolute spanking we took against Liverpool in the week.
The Manchester United vs Chelsea semi-final wasn’t that interesting. Ole G, after receiving all the press plaudits for 3 wins on the bounce against shit teams, didn’t show up for a Wembley semi-final. United lacked drive, a decent plan, and a good goalkeeper. Frank Lampard cooly took the game and at an absolute canter. I fancied our chances against either side, but I think I prefer Chelsea. Lampard is a better manager than OGS, so it’ll be tough, but I think everything that was wrong under Unai Emery came out in the wash in Baku.
- Our players weren’t focused before the game. I was told they were complainining about travel arrangements and senior players in the side knew we’d lose just by how much of a farce it was pregame
- We played an extremely negative game. No one showed up for the final. It was an embarrassing performance. The worst final I’ve ever seen us play in.
- The plan was confusing, watching Iwobi trying to decipher what the fuck Emery was trying to say on the sidelined summed it all up. We gave Sarri his first ever trophy and we shouldn’t have
This final is the chance to right the wrongs of last season and prove that elite coaching can be a driving force in our return to the top. Ironically, it’ll give us the opportunity to get back into the same competition we were trying to escape so desperately last season, but after the mess of this year, it’d be more than welcome. We made £42m last season from the Europa League last season, that sort of cash takes us from a very bland summer to something mildly interesting.
Still a longshot… but the other upside of us making it to the final with Chelsea is that I believe it’ll open up Europa spaces to 7th place. Currently, we sit in 10th. The league chase is not in our hands at all, but there’s always an off chance we could make it. What is gratifying is that we’ll know where we stand before the game. It won’t make a difference to the performance either way, but it adds a little bit of spice to the young managers final.
Talking of summer, it’s going to be very interesting to see what we do.
It’s clear to me that Don Raul isn’t going to be able to do whatever he likes this time around. He’ll be answering to someone this summer and that’s a good thing. Also, have you noticed that he’s being briefed against? John Cross dropping precision bombs his way, The Athletic went very hard at his approach, and we saw similarly aggressive stories from The Guardian. Those are no accidents.
That said, it won’t stop him working with who he wants to and my fear is that we’ll have another crack at trying to drag ourselves into the Champions League with the ‘one more job for the boys’ type signings, versus just accepting the reality… football isn’t won with contacts, and if Arsenal wants to be like Liverpool, they are going to have be smarter about transfers.
One thing is absolutely clear from this week. Arteta and his coaching staff are desperate to get into the Champions League as quickly as possible. Given the choice of a City like injection or taking it slow, he’s going to go for the fast route in. He wants to win the biggest prizes. That’s why I would not be surprised to see him entertain the offerings that’ll come his way.
He’ll take Coutinho if it’s offered because regardless of where he is now in his career, he’s better than what we have. Willian is a very good professional and gives us something we don’t have. I wouldn’t take either of them, because we’ve seen what signing players on the way out does to the squad.
We should be focusing on a 5-year plan. Ship out the players that are problematic to the culture. Find new homes for players that aren’t mentally up to the task. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can save a body part that has started to go green.
We don’t have a lot of money, we have a disgraceful wage bill, and Raul has been doing everything in his power to exacerbate both problems. Arsenal should not be giving anyone £250k a week unless it’s Auba. We should not be signing any players over the age of 30. We should be clearing our wage bill, upgrading our older players with younger ones, and implementing a plan to be competing for the league and Champions League in 5 years time.
Trying to become elite by investing premium money on players that have no sell on value will not kick us on and it’ll delay the inevitable reality: we have to move to a sustainable approach to player recruitment.
- Scour the world for value. Look where others aren’t. Or go where RB do. Salzburg have players from Mali, Hungary, Bosnia, Ghana, Japan, and Zambia.
- Pick up players with 1/2 years on their deals from smaller leagues that blood young players earlier
- Focus on young players with high ceilings
- Use data to drive your decisions, not super-agents
- Accept that to get back to the top, you have to be a selling club
- Build a conveyor belt with that in mind (Pulisic > Sancho)
Matteo G and Lucas Torreira are prime examples of this in action. Both look likely to move this summer, but we’ll get more than what we paid for, and at the very least, we’ll retain value. The current model of chasing the Champions League with battle-hardened pros has left us with what? Sokratis? Mikhi? Lichtsteiner? Soares? They’ll all be worth nothing, so what’s the point?
We also have to be smarter about players values. Nicolas Pépé might blow up, he might, but we spent such a horrendous amount of money on him, the chances of him having a resale value higher than what we paid is unlikely. He’s a £35m player, not £72m. You only spend that sort of money when you need a VVD or an Alisson. We spent world-class money on someone that still needs a lot of coaching. Again, not saying he can’t come good, just that it’s very hard to think that move was money well spent… but that’s the reality, we don’t have a Head of Football that has the future in mind. He’s rolling the dice with his closest pals, he doesn’t really give much of a shit about how this pans out for Arsenal.
We have all the tools to succeed at the club, the big question is whether there’s a smart plan in place to drive Arsenal forward. My big fear is that this summer will look much like the last one. Rushed deals through a small collection of agents that reek of short-termism.
Let’s hope I’m wrong.