Waking up the day after the news of the Super League and it still feels odd.
Spurs have sacked Jose Mourinho, a story I’d normally be basking in, but are they doing that because they want to gear up with a proper manager for this Super League windfall? They’ve gone from being able to attract Nuno, to now being able to attract a rockstar. They’ve gone from a certain Harry Kane exit, to now possibly keeping him.
I’ve spent 5 years writing about Stan K needing to do things the hard way, and in the space of one pandemic, he’s shortcut 5 years of pain and taken us back into guaranteed Champions League football. He did it all without spending his own cash. He brought us the Arsene Wenger FFP dream. We have the edge without the effort.
The football, at this point, is about one thing and one thing only… winning the Europa League.
The second part of the football equation is keeping our stars fit. We didn’t manage that against Fulham. Alex Lacazette pulling up with a bad hamstring injury which could be the last of him this season, maybe even forever depending on how the summer goes.
If you came here expecting TRUST THE PROCESS propaganda, you’d be absolutely correct.
The Mikel Arteta fan club just had its servers crash after a masterclass under pressure.
We downed Racist FC. No, we smashed them. It was an absolutely brutal takedown. Majestic under any circumstances, more so because of the context of the scuzzy team, and the moment in our season that felt do or die.
The big worry is we’d see a return of players we’ve not been happy with.
Auba didn’t start. Was he the leaker? Did we have another Ozil situation brewing? Was this because of the authoritarian management of a novice manager reported in the French press?
No. Turns out flu was actually malaria. Yikes. That’s not good. If I remember correctly, Kolo Toure took quite a while to fully recover from the disease way back when. Wishing Auba all the best though. Sounds like he was doing captain duties from his sick bed, that was great to hear.
The ‘you are a terrible person for having an opinion’ police dishing out ethics lessons on Twitter need to pipe down. The club told us he had flu. He’s been playing poorly all season. He’s had discipline issues. If you’re above making a comment on that, fine, but please, don’t lecture people for working with the information they had.
Back to the game.
Things blew up pretty quick after 10 minutes. ESR tapped in the second ball after Saka hit the post, VAR cancelled it out, you immediately wondered if that was going to be our night.
It was not. No one felt sorry of themselves. We powered on, sticking to the plan, creating chances, and most importantly this time… taking them.
Nico scored a superb goal, breaking the offside trap by inches, then holding off shooting until 3 players had dropped to the floor before rifling into the next.
Bukayo Saka had another crack cutting in from the right, instead of gong for the far post, he caught the keeper off guard with a stunning low near post shot. Beautiful angles.
Lacazette made amends for his sins last week. He buried a penalty with his usual coolness. His second goal was outrageous footwork that blinded 2 defenders, his drag back perfectly executed in tandem with a clean striker.
Bob Holding and Pablo Mari kept things incredibly tidy for the game.
Thomas Partey pulled midfield strings again whilst also offering up a masterclass in shielding our backline.
Granit Xhaka, left back to the gods, dropped another good game.
We qualified. But in style. Performances matter, that was a performance.
So what do we have to say about that?
Playing your best players is usually the best option. Arteta didn’t start Martinelli, but I don’t think you could argue with anyone he had in the starting 11. Smith Rowe was absolutely explosive, he is the absolute real deal and I can’t believe we’ve landed him at the same time as Saka. His running is exceptional, his off-ball movement is so modern and difficult to track, he’s decisive and so alert. This kid will be a 15 goal a season player when it all clicks for him. You also couldn’t argue the inclusion of Pepe. He was brilliant again. He’s confident, increasingly decisive in big moments, and he finally looks like he’s enjoying himself. His goal was a thing of beauty, shades of Kanu, exactly what we were hoping we bought.
It’s becoming hard to deny that Lacazette is the better forward for this system. Auba is great if you want to build your game around feeding him chances. For me, Lacazette connecting 3-4 players with his quick passing and deft movement feels really promising. Our forward line in the last 2 games has looked devastating and incredibly dynamic. Now everyone is finding the Midas touch, it’d be tough to break the flow up. Interesting that Eddie is picking up minutes now, clearly to get him into shape with Auba out for a while. Shame it’s not Balogun, sounds like he’s going to leave Arsenal this summer, what a shame. Final point on our attack, we’re doing this without Tierney, Auba, or Odegaard.
Defensively, we were very strong again. Pablo Mari and Rob Holding dropped clean sheet number two. Do I like that? Yes I do. Can we move away from the idea David Luiz needs to be the future of our central defence? Isn’t it time to move on from a once elite player that will never give you reliability? Bring Saliba into the fold next season and age down our backline. It’s time.
Let’s also talk about Arteta. He had not showered himself in glory over the last month. He invited the doubters back in with familiar mistakes. It looked like the team was floating away from him. Made worse by the leaks. But here we are again, watching him do the business in a competition he needs to win. His tactics were spot on in both legs, the personnel not so much. Last night, we banged, every player worked for that win, there were no passengers. He needs to remember this. When his back is against the wall, who does he turn to? The hungry players that want it. I love that the players are reacting well to his systems and that his systems are starting to work better for the players. Arsenal, collectively, are becoming a more intelligent team. We just need to do it on a run of games. Pockets of form do not qualify you for the Champions League.
It’s also worth talking about the leaks. Someone went to L’quipe and complained about the same things that went into The Sun before the Sheffield United game. Authoritarian management, unhappy senior players, and Thomas Partey not being played correctly. 2 games, 2 leaks, 2 wins. The leaks aren’t coming from players we should care about. There’s no manager coming into to work with this lot that wouldn’t make the older player change their games. As for authoritarian, again, what is the counterpoint? Build out a creche like Wenger did? Cave to senior demands like Unai Emery? This phase of Arsenal cannot be a negotiation with players that aren’t doing it.
The path we’re on is the right one if Arteta learns his lessons, fast. Stick with the players that want to be at the new Arsenal. Give chances to young players with high ceilings. Develop senior players who want to learn. Keep improving how we do things week in, week out.
The next round of the Europa is against Unai Emery. We must destroy Villareal. There’s no other outcome that is acceptable. A see a lot of people crying about how classy he was. It needs to stop, this is a guy brought in by a super agent, late to the process, who landed the job without speaking English. He literally did a deal with the devil, and when Raul let him go kicking and screaming, a skint Arsenal paid him out in a lump sum instead of putting him on gardening leave like every other club would have.
This cut back merchant needs to feel the full force of the new Arsenal. Arteta needs to make a statement in both legs. We need make sure we see a bang-bang performance because I honestly cannot deal with the Emery fan club any longer. The weirdest fetish on the internet.
A final against Manchester United will be very tough, but in a one-off, you’d have to fancy our chances.
But first… we need to exact a lesson on Villareal. Last time we were in a semi against them we made a Champions League final. Time for us to make another European Cup Final and actually win one this time.
Onwards. Podcast on Sunday. See you in the comments. #ArtetaFanClub
The Champions League is over, the big show is tonight, Arsenal vs the MIGHTY Slavia Prague.
What did we learn from last night?
That teenagers can do it at the highest level.
Jude Bellingham, 17 years old, dropping a big performance against a top 3 side in the world.
Phil Foden, haircut of a god, not quite a teenager, but young enough to be worth mentioning because he decided the game.
Mikel Arteta falls back on his safety blanked of senior players like they’re the Milan side from the 90s. I’m sorry, I can’t have it. There’s no Inzaghi, Seedorf, or Pirlo to fall back on in this group. We have seen that movie enough times.
‘One last job for the boys’ usually ends up with the robbery vehicle stalled with everyone going to jail.
Tonight is about the kids showing the world how good they are.
We need their energy. Their hunger. The decisive nature of their football offering.
Auba wasn’t at training yesterday. Maybe he really does have flu? Who cares. What I care about is knowing whoever is on that plane is ready to deliver in a game that is absolutely vital to our season.
ESR is fit. Martinelli is fit. Saka is fit. Those three, playing at their peak, is enough to take the tie.
Lacazette will likely start again, I like the role he takes on, creating openings for the pace technicians.
Thomas Partey should be the pivot in supporting two banks of 3, or even a 6 man forward line.
I’m a little concerned about Xhaka at left-back again, only because the Slavia forwards have more confidence and they seemed quite fast on the break.
This Arsenal team has enough to win tomorrow. We just need to show up with the same urgency and aggression we saw at the weekend.
Unai Emery in the next round will no doubt be tougher, but at least the game will have some zest about it. Last time we played Villareal in the semi-finals, we made the Champions League final. It’d be pretty sexy to do it again.
This is a big moment for Arteta.
The worry is that he is often more concerned about proving his ‘manager’ decisions in the summer were the correct ones. We need the Arteta that knew his job was on the line at Christmas.
Pick the best team. It’s that simple. Don’t select on reputation, salary, or the memory you had of said player from 6 years ago. It’s time to move this project on, accept what hasn’t worked, and go for the starting 11 most likely to execute the game plan.
Liverpool was a disaster. Slavia at home, regardless of the chances, was a disaster. Time to make amends, and as a 7 famous sounds artists once said…
‘Reach for the stars’
‘And when that rainbow’s shining over you’
‘That’s when your dreams will all come true’
Big night. Let’s see what the players have! Make our dreams come true.
You know what I thought was very amusing? The story in The Sun leaked by senior players in the team who feel like they’re taking the fall for being shite. They dropped a similar thing in the same paper before the Chelsea game on boxing day. One of their big swipes was about the role Thomas Partey plays… then he goes and drops a 9/10 MOTM performance.
Senior players at Arsenal need to understand this: No one gives a fuck what you think. No one. The star boys are all under 25.
Bigger picture, Arteta needs to stop propping these schemers. Willian has ‘great potential’, Pierre ‘late for NLD team meetings’ Auba is committed… he always goes to bat for his big names, and they rarely repay the faith.
Telling a journalist Arteta blames them feels so far from reality. He never throws players under the bus. He takes the blame so often, it’s almost problematic. The worst flaying he’s dished out was Pepe when he headbutted someone at Leeds. Dropping big names for shit performances all the fans watch with fury is not throwing players under the bus. It is a very, very weird bubble these guys live in.
You can say we should be beating teams like that and you’d be right… but we did not beat a similarly bad Aston Villa side last season when we had our minds on a different competition. The players didn’t show up that time because they were saw the game as a punishment fixture.
Mikel Arteta has finally caved to Martinelli in the starting 11. All the noise I hear is that he’s been electric in training. He needs to channel some of that ESR mentality. Play like you belong, don’t give an inch to the manager, and take the chances afforded.
Nicolas Pepe has also been rewarded after his cameo on Thursday. He’s another one that needs to keep showing that he can be relevant for 90 minutes. He needs to take his chances, impose his bag of madness on a weak defence, and be decisive.