Well, here we are, once again licking open wounds on a Monday morning. It’s grim. But every moment like this presents an opportunity to learn. That Liverpool performance will give credence to certain debates going on behind the scenes. It’ll also shake out any decisions being moved on emotion, versus hard facts. It needs to mean something because we had a game like this last season against Villa after a semi-final win and it seems we learned nothing.
A bum result like the Liverpool one is par the course for this squad of players. We know we can compete against them because we’ve beaten this Klopp side in the past when they were at a higher level. The main difference this weekend? There was nothing to play for, so the players switched off.
The manager takes responsibility for that, no doubt. The players, well, it’s hard to pin the blame on them. That’s simply who a lot of these players are. You can’t coach character. They have the talent, but unless there’s something of interest on the line, they don’t always show up and that performance will always wait in the wings. You can zig and zag, but ultimately, you usually fall back on who you really are.
We can rectify some of those issues this summer.
Dani Ceballos, under no circumstance, should return to Arsenal. That performance was absolutely shocking. When you’re highlighting the importance of Xhaka to that level, you know something is up. He didn’t know where to receive the ball, he didn’t know what to do with the ball. Even the passes he made that found a man weren’t of the level required… Liverpool press in such a way that if the angle isn’t perfect on the pass, they kill the man receiving. Watch Dani back, time and time again, his sloppiness put his receiver under pressure.
We lacked alternatives. Mo Elneney is not the one. That we started this season with those two as back-up midfielders was an abomination. My big fear on the Egyptian was that we were rewarding him a new deal for being good, the suspicion is that Arsenal will be taking up our option on his deal so we can sell him for decent money. Still, both of those players need to be relegated in the squad.
There’s also the David Luiz issue. He’s our most important centre back, but he comes loaded with baggage as well. He doesn’t show up in games that don’t mean anything, and at the age of 33 (birthday in 2 weeks), are we really going to continue to make him the lynchpin of our defence next season? Your comfort blanket cannot be players like that.
Even Alex Lacazette, who has been a bit of a star this season, has to be moved on. What we can’t do is look at big performers in a drossy season. We have to look to the future. Auba was our big bet last season. There’s only one role he can play… that’s as a centre-forward. That means we can’t keep Lacazette unless we want a £180k a week sub.
Tough decisions have to be made.
We’re already making some of them as well. The lack of Hector time, now missing for 5 games, is most likely linked to him telling the club he wants out this summer. That’s great news for Arsenal and great news for the player. Cal Chambers is no right back and the fact he’s taking minutes over Cedric is ominous… but the happiness I take from that is we’re using his position to see who is up to it next season.
The Rob Holding contract also looks a bit perplexing at the moment, because as solid as he is, he can’t play the style of football we need from him. But, he’s young, British, and he is of the standard in the league. If he can’t cut it, then he’ll be loaned next season and we’ll be banking a fee. His deal was Arsenal acting like a business… I hope.
The Premier League season is now dead, but it’s still of use. We should be trying to find out which players have what it takes at this level. Arteta should be gauging who has the right spirit when there are no chips on the table.
The summer has to be laser-focused on our needs. We have 16 players that, if kept fit, could take us to top-4. Reality is that’s not enough.
Some proper business has to take place this summer.
Watch for basically all the loan players being moved on. Hertha Berlin are now calling Matteo a top professional, which hopefully means that they’ll deal with us this summer. Joe Willock scored from the bench against Spurs, he’ll find a move. Mavropanos will be sold, hopefully to Stuttgart. I don’t think there’s going to be a future for Ainsley, but he’ll find a decent club, no doubt. The only name coming back will be William Saliba who should get a run at starting next season.
Eddie, who only has a year left on his deal, will be sold. It’ll be interesting to know whether we have an option to extend his deal so we can up the fee. Regardless, a team like Brighton would be great for his talents. Reiss Nelson is hanging on harder than Nik Bendtner, he needs to leave, someone will give him a chance.
That’s a lot of gaps to fill, maybe too many, but look… there’s plenty of cash that we could raise, and there are lots of good players that could build out the foundations at the club that are extremely brittle.
Arsenal needs real competition for Bernd Leno. He’s been very disappointing this season. We can’t keep carrying him.
We need a world-class right-back like Hakimi. We need to settle on our roster of centre-backs. There has to be a young and hungry left-back to compete with Tierney. Playing him after 3 world cup games was a disaster decision, but the choices were limited.
Our midfield needs desperate attention. We should be sniffing around players entering their final two years. Young, hungry, exceptionally fit, technically gifted and intelligent. Spending big on one Premier League talent would be smart, but we can’t leave it at that. We need to be very cute. Rummage in Austria, Eastern Europe, have a look in Spain, Portugal and Holland. What can we find in South America? Make Brexit work for our squad.
Our forward line is where the toughest decisions must happen. Right now, it doesn’t work. We’re not scoring enough goals, it’s as simple as that. Pepe had a bad game at the weekend, but that was more down to receiving the ball so deep and having no options. He’s got something, but at 25, could we sell him and upgrade? Lacazette? We can’t keep a striker that doesn’t score. Auba? We have to keep him, he earns more than Mesut, he ain’t going nowhere. We have to make it work. But we have to build on what makes him tick. Sign Odegaard. Give more minutes to Martinelli. See if we can find more runners that can unlock the best finisher in the league.
That’s a lot of work for a Technical Director that thought Willian was faster than he was and blew £39m on him because of special qualities we’ve not seen.
One of Arteta’s comments post-game was.
‘We lacked clarity’
Arsenal picked Arteta because they were prepared to go on a journey. Emery was a plaster on a gaping wound, his combination with Don Raul caused an infection. Symptoms? Unbalanced squad, cratered culture, bloated wage bill, no identity… skint.
Arteta wasn’t just hired because we fancied going high risk, he was also the best choice they had economically if they wanted to jump a level. Someone suggested to me on the internet that we should hire Julian Nagelsmann… like, honestly, the most unoriginal suggestion. We don’t have the money for wages, we don’t have the financial backing, and the club is too far away from the top for most to take the risk.
Things have to get worse before they get better. The painting is half done. Since Christmas, we’re top 4, still. The improvements didn’t all evaporate because of the Liverpool game… just like Chelsea aren’t now absolutely shit because West Brom put 5 past them.
The big question isn’t whether this coaching could work… I’m convinced it can. It’s whether Arteta the manager and Edu the Technical Director can move this from a petri-dish maybe to something that works over a whole season.
The only way we get there is if the summer is ruthless and laser fucking focused on what needs to happen to move us to the next level.
Next season only works if Arsenal FC is honest about what hasn’t worked. There must be consequences for not hitting the mark. There needs to be solutions to the weaknesses we know couldn’t be addressed in 18 months. This season will be a pass for a lot of managers, next will not be. The best thing that Arteta can do with the remaining 9 games is give the fans a taste of the young players and dish out some accountability to sloppy seniors. The best way to keep the fans onside is to go out and win the Europa League with a brutal destruction of all the teams we’re about to play.
Arsenal needs to work under Arteta. The next 8 months are crucial. Europa League is what the 1990 FA Cup was to Sir Alex Ferguson. There needs to be a silver lining, that would be one, but nailing the summer is the most crucial of trophies.
Let’s see what we have!