Arsenal head into another week where everything feels poised on a knife-edge. Truth is, I don’t believe there’s a knife-edge Arteta is hanging on. This season will be put in the bin for a lot of major clubs. Liverpool just lost their 6th straight home game at Anfield, Spurs have been utter shite, United have failed to capitalise again… really, it’s hard to hold any club up bar Manchester City who are well ahead of every team in Europe.
If the objective is to get back into the top 4 next season, then we’re likely chasing Leicester, United, Chelsea, Everton and Spurs. We are easily on the level of those clubs and if we can fix a few things over the summer, I think we’ll certainly be up there.
Structurally, we’re in a good shape.
We defend well. We’re in our worst-ever season and we have the 5th best defensive record as it stands. Structurally, we’re built really well. It’s a group effort, everyone knows where to be on and off the ball, and players are far more accountable than they have been in a decade. We don’t get battered these days, you never feel it’s coming either. That’s progress, because there was always a spanking waiting in the wings under Wenger, and Unai Emery oversaw a game where Watford unleashed 31 shots at our goal. That sort of banter has been consigned to yesteryear.
We’re also looking slick on the ball. Our build-up play is excellent. Forget the Xhaka error yesterday, the build-up for our goal that started with Thomas Partey flooring a Burnley player with his deft movement and it was pure NSFW stuff. That is a consistent feature of this team. Whining that we should just ‘HOOF’ that ball is really unimaginative. Fixing the problem is more appropriate than the default Sunday League rhetoric that followed Pep G when he moved here.
Our final third needs some work, no doubt, but before Christmas, we were dull and unimaginative, now we’re creating a consistent flow of high-quality chances that aren’t being finished. As problems go, this is a better one to have than being a turgid fine margins attacking unit that is sad to watch.
The foundations of a top 4 team are undoubtedly in place at Arsenal FC.
There are two issues we need to fix as a matter of urgency. We make too many errors in both boxes. Defensively, we punch ourselves in the face. It’s not structural, it’s a lack of concentration. Granit Xhaka always has that move from yesterday in his locker, but we have to accept reality, he’s our second best midfielder and he’s vital to our play. Saying he shouldn’t start is a nice soundbite in the comments section, but who else are you playing there? Ceballos who gave Leeds an assist 2 weeks ago? Elneney who refuses vertical passes? AMN who gave the ball away about 50 times in his last appearance before being moved to WBA?
We’ve also had 5 red cards this season. Again, this is an area we can control. Doing dumb things can be addressed with coaching and upgrades.
Unforced errors are our biggest enemy. Xhaka alone has contributed to 8 goals since 2016 from errors. You can’t hide from data points like that. The coaching staff know that this problem exists and they will work to fix it. Key point though… the system is not the problem. Individual errors can be debugged far easier than an Unai Emery like approach that invites waves of hell at your goal. We’ve dropped 8 points from our last 4 away games through unforced errors, win those points and we’re 5th now (via @KayaKaynak). The objective will be to cut those unforced errors in half next season.
The second part of the equation the coaching staff will be looking at is finishing. We’ve been awful in front of goal this season. We weren’t taking our chances before Christmas, we are taking more of them now, but not enough to see out games.
Again, I think this is hopefully an anomaly. When Arteta first started, we had a finishing rate so good it was unsustainable. I think it was second only to Liverpool. Auba will hopefully not be this bad next season. Saka, ESR, Odegaard, and Martinelli will find the net more often after a season of playing together. People were saying Saka wasn’t top-class before Christmas because he didn’t score or assist… what are those people saying now? Young players get better with minutes. Pepe and Willian might come good and contribute to the levels we thought we were buying into. Pepe certainly looks like a live wire. I know we’re all upset that Martinelli is sitting on the bench right now, but Lacazette was brought on as a false 10, and in a straight choice between the Brazilian and Pepe, you have to go with Pepe. He should have won a penalty, and scored two goals, he made the right impact.
If Arsenal takes 20% more of their chances next season, we’re going to be a top 4 side.
There’s a 3rd thing we need to deal with, and I have no idea how you coach this. Arsenal have always been easily rattled. That Xhaka error gave life to a shit Burnley side. It took us 20 minutes into the second half to get over our misery and that’s not good enough. Dealing with adversity has been a weak point since way, way back when. The squad needs to get better at that. We should be able to concede a shit goal and get back to the plan right away.
The machine that has been built at Arsenal is controlling teams now. Every game since Christmas, bar Manchester City, has been dominant from Arsenal. The problem we have now is not the machine, it’s the coding. Things like finishing will come more naturally, unforced errors will likely be addressed with upgrades in certain positions. It’s debugging versus a total rewrite.
Now, transfer news is always contentious, so don’t hang me. But I don’t think the club will renew on David Luiz with the young centre back production line we have coming through. The chances of Dani Ceballos joining us next season are very, very low. We’ll probably land Martin Odegaard on loan for the whole of next season and try and get a buy clause in his deal. Arsenal will look to ship out £100m worth of talent, which seems doable even in this market. Then they’ll look to bolster right back, left-back and central midfield.
We’re strapped for cash though. A consistent flow of poor decisions has seen to that. Arsenal paid out Unai Emery £10m on his full deal almost immediately after he was fired and he landed a job 6 months later, a very unusual move. Spurs and Chelsea simply paid Conte and Pochettino their monthly wages until they found new roles. You have to wonder why a Super Agent recommended manager is getting a full payout from a club that’s asking people to shut windows and heat their lunch using bonfires to save on the heating bill. I guess that’s why we don’t have a Don at the club anymore. It’s also why I don’t care for Unai Emery, he knew why he was at Arsenal, so fuck him.
We need Edu to be the guy that sniffed out deals for Odegaard, Martinelli, and Thomas Partey. This summer needs to be about smart signings. I want to see us picking off players no one else is looking at. 22-23 years old, a couple of seasons of football under their belt, high levels of technical ability, with strong characters. Get that centre midfield position looking a little deeper with a lot more quality and we’re laughing. I’m also quite hopeful AMN can do this business at WBA and prove he can cut it at Arsenal in the future.
It’s hard to be Mr Positive. Honestly, I’d rather be throwing shit at the project with the reprobates every day because it’s easier. However, that’s not my style. I write what I believe in and fuck everyone else. I wanted a progressive manager that would move us multiple levels with future football. I have no doubt we have that in Arteta. It was always going to take time, but the foundational work that’s been done so far is more than enough to convince me that this project is going in the right direction. I wrote right at the start the road back to the top would be rocky, it’s been rockier and less linear than I hoped, but there’s something brewing. It is now clearer than it’s been in 10 years what needs to be fixed… it’s up to Arteta to fix it and do it in fucking ruthless fashion. Get the basics down until the end of the year, start picking sides with next season in mind, then go to town this summer and bring in a generation of talent that’ll fire us to the Champions League places next season.
… or, win the fucking Europa and do it now. See you in the comments.