It’s still the international break and therefore there is still being football played, in which apparently England did something, but I hold it in as much importance as the next Beyoncé Knowles album.
(For the avoidance of doubt, I hate Beyoncé’s music)
My brain is clearly desperate for its next Arsenal fix though, because last night I dreamt that we got our first penalty of the season and for some bizarre reason, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang decided that under the new rules he would take his kick from the halfway line. Sadly his penalty kick floated straight into the arms of Ben Foster and I woke up a few minutes later genuinely believing that Auba’s stupidity had cost us points.
Thankfully the game hasn’t been played yet and thankfully the crazy rules my brain invented aren’t into play as we speak. Although let’s be honest, with some of the rules this season like that weird handball rule, it could possibly only be a matter of time.
A bit like it was only a matter of time in which we got some sound bites from departing Mkhitaryan, who whilst away with Armenia, has spoken about how unhappy he was in England. It doesn’t really come as any surprise to be honest. He was a passenger so far this season and for large parts of last season was more Ghost of Mkhitaryan’s Past than the real thing. He’s one of our highest paid players delivering some of the weakest output and so the club were always going to look at moving him on if they could.
And for him the Italian league is probably more suited. It’s a slower league that doesn’t require the same level of intensity as the Premier League does and having watched him for over 18 months flit in and out of games, we’re all probably glad that he could get a chance to prove he wasn’t totally broken by his time in England.
And for us if he can find some sort of form in Italy then it’s happy days. We need him to recapture some because at the end of the season he’s still going to have a year left on his deal at The Arsenal and comments like this will hardly make anybody desperate to have him back. At this stage we all have to admit that it’s best for everyone involved to pray he’s a success in Italy because of it does happen, at least we’ll be able to get some money for him, as well as getting him off the wage bill.
And it’s a wage bill that is looking a heck of a lot trimmer these days than six months ago. I don’t have access to the exact data but enough people who are better at making guestimations than me have speculated that it’s easily north of a million pound a week that has disappeared. That’s one heck of a rebalancing exercise and whilst there’s still plenty more more work to be done, of course, the fact that we’ve been able to be this ruthless can only stand us in good stead in terms of looking to run the club more efficiently.
But efficiency and sound financial management doesn’t get you far on the pitch, it’s the players, so the hope is that after a tough couple of games we can kick start the season with a good victory this weekend against Watford at The Vicarage. More on that game as the players return and we have an idea on who is fit and who isn’t.
In the absence of any major news the club did an ‘Ask Unai’ section on social media in the last week and his words have gone up on the official site. It’s funny because I still think that 50% of what he says doesn’t really say anything at all, like your classic politician just filling air, whilst not giving anything away. But he does have some interesting points and it’s pleasing to hear him talk about how it’s just as important to see the rise of the young players like Willock, Nelson and Smith-Rowe, to add to Maitland-Niles in the first team. These players are the reason the club has been able to offload some of the expensive deadwood from last season but they still represent a gamble by the club. All of them will need to make some form of significant contribution this season if we’re going to get somewhere or go deep in competitions, so whilst we can all get excited about the likes of Pepe, it’s also those young players we should be watching just as keenly.
We have a very young average age now. I believe it’s one of the lowest in the Premier League and with that also comes the need for patience because those players will have patches of form that they won’t be able to immediately recover from. But it’s all part of the learning process. Think about how Guendouzi’s form dipped a little towards the end of last season. That could happen to any of the new players we have so the onus is on us as fans to cut the players a little slack.
But as well as that the onus is on the coach and the back room footballing staff to be able to recognise when a player suffers a dip and bring them out of the firing line if needed. Too often in recent years players have been played to see if they can ‘play through’ their dip in form. Sometimes that does more bad than good.
The good news is we have a squad that looks a little more balanced with players of different ages and stages in their careers and the hope is that this enables Unai to juggle the playing time which keeps us competitive but doesn’t, as Wenger would say, “kill” any young players careers.
Catch you all tomorrow.