I was feeling a little ropey yesterday and so when I thought about sitting down at my laptop and tapping away in my office about what happened on Saturday night away to Liverpool, I just didn’t really have the desire or energy to muster up any kind of thoughts. What also helped my overarching desire to not go near my computer was also the fact that I’d only watched until just before Liverpool scored their first goal, as I was heading in to the City for a friend’s birthday party and my signal cut out until I was able to see that Arsenal were two down and it was in to the second half.
Knowing that we wouldn’t claw back two goals against Liverpool I knew that sitting in the corner of the bar whilst my friends all proceeded to have a rip-roaring time (none of them are football fans) was not going to be the best use of my evening, so I opted to not bother with watching the remainder of the game, instead waiting until it had finished before checking the result.
And upon looking at the fact we’d lost 4-0, I thought I’d feel better about the fact I hadn’t watched it. In fact, I still haven’t even seen the goals. I deleted the Sky+ record of the match straight away, Match of the Day was deleted as a recorded option and yesterday I pretty much avoided Sky Sports News. It certainly helped to temper my mood, but I still found myself a little down yesterday. I kept thinking to myself “All I asked for is that we didn’t get battered. Yet we have”. That’s what got me down. A 2-0 loss at Anfield I’d have probably felt better about. But seeing just the score line, reading what some people have been saying on my timeline and then seeing what some journos have been putting as well, it just depresses me. The result is just another opportunity for the media to tut and say “see, same Arsenal. Nowhere near the top teams and they will always flatter to deceive, as has happened this weekend”.
I think that’s what is getting me down the most out of this weekend for us, which is the fact that as somebody who has just seen the stats, looked at what others have viewed this game as, then looked at the number of goals we’ve conceded against the top three teams in the country, is quite depressing. I know there are mitigating circumstances; the team that played against Chelski and City is totally different to the one that has been picking up so many points of late, but that heavy defeat of yesterday just had the whiff of the ‘told you so’ brigade in the media coming out and using it as an excuse to put us down.
If I can try to find some semblance of an upside, perhaps this defeat is needed as a test in this young teams evolution. Perhaps this humbling will kick the players enough in the goolies to make them straighten their backs, grit their teeth and this week in training work three times as hard to get themselves prepared for the visit of Newcastle on Saturday. We have a week for the players to analyse what went wrong, what can be improved upon, reflect, then action. There is no European distraction and so my hope for this week is that we get an Arsenal team that is angry with its performance and that shows by them turning up and beating Liverpool.
That is the only way that those dissenting voices in the media will quieten down. If we play well against the Geordies, score goals and pick up three points, then you can look at the Liverpool game in isolation. But if we fail to respond against one of the teams down their at the bottom of the league, then doubts will start to crawl in to our minds as fans. Right now we can all take away trips to City and Liverpool in the isolated context that they sit within (well, I can, anyway), but unless we see the same response Liverpool showed against us after they were defeated at the London Stadium, the rumblings will start up again.
Perhaps as well the result will be an opportunity for Mikel Arteta to recognise that he needs to shuffle his pack a little. He maintained the same side that won against Leicester and bar Partey the one that played against Watford. But perhaps it will be an opportunity to bring back the likes of Tierney, maybe the likes of Odegaard too, as well as Maitland-Niles in midfield, given that Sambi apparently had a bit of a downer in the Liverpool game. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that a young player has suffered a bit and as long as he is managed properly and told not to worry and that he’ll be back in the team soon enough, taking him out of the firing line might be a good idea. It’s the same with Tavares, who it appears also had a poor game, but that’s ok because we can bring Tierney in and you can tell Tavares he has done an excellent job, he will continue to get chances, but it is time we brought KT back in to the fold. That’s what healthy competition is about and I don’t think it would be bad for anybody if those two kinds of changes were made.
This period between now and Christmas is crucial I think. There are some really tough games coming up. Newcastle are fighting for their lives, but after that we go to Old Trafford and by then United will have a new manager installed. They are sure to get that ‘new manager bounce’ and added to that is the fact that we hardly ever win up there, no matter how crap they are, means it will be a huge test. We then have Everton away just four days later, followed by Southampton at home and then West Ham at home four days after that. Those are all really tough games I think and if we are looking at having 12 points from that haul of 15 then I’d be looking at it and saying that we’d done a fantastic job, but that will mean winning at least one of those away games and I’m not looking at those and thinking that we’re going to guarantee ourselves wins with any of those away fixtures.
This is where the season could very well start to be defined for us; is it one in which we challenge towards the top end of the league, or bumble along as a mid table side? That’s what we’re about to find out.
Catch you all tomorrow.