Why do I feel like this might be a long week?
Last night Ben, Steve and I recorded our penultimate ‘Suburbs’ podcast on GunnersTown and aside from the fact that we were all nervously laughing about how bad we were against Watford and Villa, the fact that an FA Cup Final looms on the horizon against a Chelski team who are spending big, just confirmed Champions League football for next season, will be buoyant about what the future holds and have an owner that is dropping large chunks of cash, kind of made me feel a little apprehensive. They’ll be on top of the world come Saturday and when you contrast that with where we are as a club right now it feels like we’re certainly not going in the same direction.
Of course I don’t want to be overly negative and winning on Saturday could be massive in terms of a boost at the club, but as soon as that game is over you only have to look at the work that is needed to see just how much of a challenge Arteta has. To send us in the right direction towards competing our brand psanking new manager needs to:
- Find a way to improve us defensively, possibly without too many additions given the volume of centre halves we already have at the club
- Improve our creativity in the team, probably through two or three creative players, when we have little or no money to spend
- Sort out the Guendouzi and Ozil situation, almost certainly by getting them out the door (I realise that’s Raul and Edu’s job as much as it is Arteta’s)
- Get on his knees and pray we can keep Auba and if we can’t, hope for a miracle that we find a 20-goal a seasons triker without spending too much cash
It all feels like a bit of a mess at the moment and as Ben said last night when we were talking, this feels like our Sliding Doors moment right now because defeat could mean a long and painful summer as everyone around us strengthens and we beg, steal and borrow to try to improve the squad somehow.
Sorry for coming across as a bit gloomy this morning. It seems mad that with an FA Cup Final on the horizon I’m in such a neggy mood, but I keep having flashbacks to last season and the similarities are striking. Last season a win in Europa League gives us a trophy that we haven’t won before, it puts us in to the Champions League and delivers the riches as a result that could have helped us to further improve the squad. The alternative was the defeat we suffered – a heavy and embarrassing one too – which resulted in another year of Europa, a team that went into one of those ‘negative spirals’ and ended up sacking its manager and essentially imploding before Arteta arrived and started to patch things back together.
On that, and by way of a slight aside, I’m not having some of these doom mongers talking about how nothing has changed under Arteta given our position in the league and the number of games played. That’s because Arteta didn’t start from a standing position. He didn’t take over a team who had the freshness of a new season and optimism behind him. He started with a team on its knees mentally and morale-wise, with a captain ostracised from the side in Xhaka, as well as players actively rebelling against the coach. He’s effectively started 20 yards behind the starting line when he arrived so the fact that we have managed to be where we are is testament to the work he’s done. And at times with one hand tied behind his back due to injuries, suspensions and David Luiz’s mentalness. So for me the comparisons with UNai Emery and his first 19 games are mad. Especially when you think how much luck we had under Unai, compared to how much BAD luck we seemed to have had under Arteta.
Regardless of what happens on Saturday I am optimistic that Arteta will get a better tune out of this squad of players. I don’t believe that it will be to the benefit of a Champions League place because our defence is just…well…pants, but it should be to the improvement that sees us creep a couple of places up the league at least. That gives us at least some hope even if we sign nobody in the summer.
See? I’ve got there in the end – the positivity train that is – although I still harbour some severe trepidation about Saturday.
I just hope that is misplaced. I hope Arteta has the mother of all master plans. Because we’re gonna need it.
Catch y’all tomorrow.