We’re at that stage of the Europa League when even banter can’t disguise how pointless the group stages are. The level of competition is so low, it drags all quality of football down to a level that makes it hard to analyse what’s going on and whether it means anything.
We beat Dundalk 4-2. We qualified with absolute ease. We blooded some kids that caught the attention of fans desperate for a better Arsenal on Premier League days. Cottrell and Azeez made their debuts.
The big performance of yesterday that mattered to the league was seeing AMN put in another clever performance. It’s very simple, he’s extremely talented. He moves like a Premier League footballer, his passing is ambitious, and he brings a bit of flair to a midfield that we don’t really have. His game is really simple, his passing is one touch, he can do the dirty work no one else we have can (bar Thomas Partey). Notable that Dani Ceballos was getting stick from Arteta for the quality of his passing, which has been problematic all season.
We are now at the stage where it’ll be a criminal act if we continue to see Granit starting in Premier League games. Sure, Ainsley can switch off sometimes, his focus needs to improve, but how are you countering that Xhaka is the person that is better suited when it comes to concentration? It’s a dead argument. He might be a really good guy behind the scenes, but this is elite level sport, if you can’t cut it physically, goodwill isn’t going to save you.
The other player that had Yannick Bollasie and the fans purring was Balogun. He’s quite the talent, we all know this, he has a presence in that #9 role. He wills the game on, he’s extremely hungry, and he truly believes he has the right to be playing at this level. I think he has the self-confidence of Bukayo Saka. I love the way he hunts the ball out, his touch is really dreamy, and he has that sharp turn of pace combined with quick feet that make small spaces seem large. He gave Willock his goal with a short pass and he made the right run for Pepe to feed him, his swept first-time finish was very mature. Another big game.
You also can’t forget about Eddie. He scored another goal (now our top scorer). It came from a one-touch flick from Willock, the pass didn’t quite hit, but Eddie was on hand the take from the defender and dink his shot past their keeper. He’s dogged as a forward and he’s trying to be more a part of the build-up play. He’s also the most physically impressive of our strikers. The main issue is he needs service and we don’t have that.
ESR landed his first start. He was vibrant on the pitch. He’s powerful, he looks to play between the lines, and he is an actual creative player. His assist was a backwards pass to Mo, but it was still an assist. I like him, it’s a shame he isn’t a bit more experienced, but he certainly looks like he could be value additive at some point.
There’s no point in labouring the rest of the game analysis too much. It doesn’t mean a lot. What we do know is that additional speed in an Arteta system makes us more dangerous. We also know that a lot of these players aren’t at the level we need to move forward as a club… but honestly, we’re 15th playing with the so-called better players. Is it not time to take a chance on legs? Dynamics? Hunger?
The biggest challenge Arteta has going into the fixture crunch is two-fold.
Our older players aren’t elite competitors at this stage of their careers. They don’t really care about the club, they’re thinking about what is next, so they don’t give their all. They’re 75%ers. They do an impression of commitment. They’ll listen to the coaching, but don’t really care about improvement. They’ll do the minimum but won’t die on the field. The idea of seniority being better is a mirage at this point. Our level is 15th based on the current model.
The second problem – our younger players aren’t the level of Chelsea’s. They’re not taking us to the top 4 this season. Some might grow into serious talents, but I doubt many of them will. We know that as fans. Arteta probably knows that as a coach. They have mistakes in them. They’ll drop stinkers. It could be messy.
However, the upsides are in the multiples if we accept top 4 is dead. Firstly, young kids give a fuck about their careers. Reiss Nelson knows it’s Palace if he fails here. He wants Arsenal. He’s taking extra one-on-ones with the coaches. He’ll be 100% focused on the project because survival is on his mind.
The best young players at Arsenal only care about Arsenal. The rest is noise. You will never doubt the committment on the pitch.
Additionally, young players get better. Sure, we’ll get battered every now and then, but we’ll also have players that can show off the system at its best. The players coming through have the athletic profile we need, they can do the things the seniors can do, but maybe not to perfection… but at this point, we need to see there’s a promised land so we can get behind the project.
There’s also the other consideration. There’s no value in most of our senior players you’d want rid of. Damaged reputations, huge contracts, or expiring deals. We do not have a talent harvesting machine like other clubs are. If you give 5 players a run in the side, you pump their value, because most clubs want young players, especially those from Britain.
I also think at some point, when we commit to honesty and the path forward, we’ll go young. It’s cheaper, it gives you assets you can sell, and it matches our finances. Arteta blooding youngsters and making them better this season makes our job of attracting talent in the summer a bit easier. We can become a destination for career betterment just like Dortmund is.
What do fans want to see now we’re in mid-December? Commitment. Power and pace. A clear identity of what we’re working towards.
We’ve tried the senior route. It’s shite. We need to move on a better plan.
Finally, it’s amusing to read some Arsenal fans lose their minds about Arteta being spikey with the press. Honestly, tone is now your issue? Like Mikel has to be polite after a week of being called the Spanish David Moyes? Please. Jose has never been pleasant with the press. Klopp has always been spikey when the chips are down. If tone of the manager is bothering you right now, you’re paying attention to the wrong things. I like that he’s feeling the heat personally because he should be feeling stressed, as we need a reaction. Banter and high fives with the press wouldn’t send the right message, would it?
ALSO, before we go, thank you to all those that helped me with the vote yesterday. The poll went up to 70,000 votes and we won. The Arsenal community came to my rescue. I really, really appreciate the help. YOU ARE STARS xxx
LISTEN TO OUR LATEST PODCAST. Matt and I talk about the root cause of our issues. Leadership, hard work, and lack of strategy… still. We also talk some positives as well.