I decided to go for an early run this morning and as usual, put on my headphones and had a listen to an Arsenal podcast or two. There was one topic which I did find interesting during the run, which was from the lads on the Arsenal Vision podcast, in which they touched on the decision making that needs to happen regarding Emile Smith Rowe and how Arteta needs him to effectively start on fire for the start of the season. It was Paul on the podcast who said if Emile Smith Rowe starts banging in goals and has a really good May, that may not be enough for a manager with whom many Arsenal fans really started to question after last season and the depths at which we plumbed. Add to that the horrendous capitulation in the Europa League and there were plenty of fans who seemed to lose faith in ‘The Process’.
And I’ll admit that I was somebody who really questioned some of Arteta’s decision making and whether he was this genius coach who would steer us to the glory we all seek. I wavered, I questioned, but as enough time passed I started to think “come on now Chris, look at some of the dross he’s been working with; he probably wants to get rid of half of these lot as it is”. In my head I was able to quickly compartmentalise the season because I guess I thought that Arteta would be making root and branch changes to his side so that he could properly build it in his image. I pondered that this summer would be such a massive summer and that we’d see a lot of movement and shuffling of his deck because, ultimately, Arteta had been dealt a pretty tough hand with some of the players he had on the books when he arrived and then last season.
So this summer would be his chance to make the changes needed and re-jig this team so that it is ready for a proper go for at least the Champions League spots.
But as I sit here with just under two week’s until the season starts, I can’t help but start to feel a little nervous. Not just at the lack of first team incomings (although Ben White is supposedly close to be confirmed soon if you believe what you read in some sections of the media), but also of the outgoings. Because we need to remember that every regeneration of a a team, every evolution, needs fat trimmed from it. You only need to look at the problems we had with some players who were contributing towards a toxic environment pre Christmas to see just how much damage it can do to morale. You can see what not cutting the metaphorical rotting flesh from the wound can do. We needed to offload some of those players in January and we did it and we have a heck of a number of players that we probably need to exit the club now to continue the rebuild process.
Yet we’re not getting anything. I get that this summer has effectively become a massive game of transfer cat and mouse, I get that transfers are complex, but with all of the work that was needed to be done this summer, doesn’t it feel a little uncomfortable to you that we still haven’t made decisions on what feels like 50% of our squad?
Perhaps I’m just being your stereotypical hyperbolic football fan; always worried, never satisfied and I get that you might be rolling your eyes as you read this, but this summer to me was the one in which I was hoping Arteta would be making some real statements to us in what he thought of last season’s squad. Yet with two-and-a-bit week’s to go until the big kick off against Brentford, it looks to me like he’ll be going in to the new season with practically the same squad that exited the last.
Perhaps the second half of the season was enough to show that he can get a tune from those players. Perhaps some of the positive football we’ve seen in pre season – caveat of friendlies notwithstanding – is enough for us to have some belief that we’re already better than the side that went in to the beginning of last season. But no matter how much I try to spin the positive in my head on this, I still worry that his faith in certain players might be misguided and that refreshing the first XI BEFORE that Brentford game might not happen and we might find ourselves with familiar failings.
He won’t have the luxury of being able to ride out a difficult pre Christmas winter. Arteta will not be afford the wrath of fans if we decline like we did in October, November and December last year. So to bring it back to the original discussion point, his faith in players like Smith Rowe needs to be rewarded asap. Like, immediately.
To swing myself back in to a more positive frame of mind, however, I do think ESR is ready to explode. I think Pepe is looking ‘on it’ in pre season. Partey has been pinging some tasty balls in through the lines in most games and whilst he hasn’t been scoring, at least Auba is getting in to those positions. So there are reasons to be cheerful. But we have a bloody tough start to the season and Arteta will find himself under a heap of pressure unless results are instantaneous. Imagine we lose to Brentford and then go in to back-to-back games against the League winners and the Champions League winners. Imagine we lose all of the first three games. That’s when the pressure mounts. Which is why I am hoping that some of those players who are showing some form this pre season, continue it for the proper stuff. Because conversely if we pick up six, or even seven points for those first three games, the excitement in the fanbase and amongst the players will be massive.
Just some food for thought on a Wednesday morn.
Catch you all tomorrow.
Quick aside before I disappear for another day. I fully realise that this isn’t all on Arteta. Edu has a massive part to play in this summer and the success of the window. In fact, his job should also come under much scrutiny if some of the key deals and outgoings are not secured. If we tank this side of Christmas again then Arteta may well pay with his job, but if that happens (and I pray that it doesn’t because I am desperate for Arteta to succeed), then Edu needs to also fall on his sword too because he will have failed to deliver the tools for his manager.