Plenty to talk about this Saturday morning so let’s get cracking. And the first and most important bit of news was the inking of a new deal for Mikel Arteta.
I think this is a good move, a sensible move, a move that shows that KSE and the Arsenal board are committed to the ‘Project’. The ‘Process’ is being well and truly trusted, which is evident to see. But it also shows that Arteta is invested in the long term too. Let’s not forget that there is lots of talk about Pep possibly stepping down when his contract runs out next summer and if they were minded too City could look to Arteta as the man to step up. So whilst doing this now doesn’t guarantee that he won’t want to talk to them next summer if that happens, I think the fact he has committed his future to the club for an additional two years beyond his existing deal, shows that he is invested and wants this to be a successful long-term era.
I think it also lays down a marker to some of those players who are integral to ‘the Process’, like Bukayo Saka, who’s contract runs out in two years from this summer. This move by Arsenal and Arteta is a clear indication that the club want this journey to continue for a long time and when going in to negotiations with players as important as Saka, the club can use this to show them that the man leading this Project is here to stay and that’s another reason why you should want to be ‘on the bus’ for longer than your current deal. Arteta pretty much said as much yesterday and admitted that a number of players had asked him in recent weeks.
I also thinking that the timing on this announcement in interesting too. Within a week of us getting Europa League football guaranteed, Arteta has put pen to paper, so I wonder if that was a particular milestone the club wanted in order to know that there has been progress under the manager. He said no yesterday but I find it hard to believe that it didn’t play a part in the decision making, maybe on both sides? We’ve had coming up to two-and-a half years under Mikel and if we’d have finished this season seventh or eighth and gone out of all competitions early, it becomes a little more difficult to say that we are going in the right direction. But the signings last summer were good, the group of players we have we all like, as well as the fact that we have in fact bettered our league form for the last couple of seasons. That’s now a fact. Last season we had 61 points. The season before it was 56. The season before that was 70 and the season before that was 63. We currently sit on 63 so if we can pick up three wins out of our next four – a tough as but at least we have a bit of momentum – then we have more points than we’ve had for five years. That’s progress and that’s why you’d say getting this deal done is a good move.
Overall, more than happy that Arteta’s contract has been extended.
I’m also happy that we appear to have no new injury news. Arteta said that they would see how White is feeling today, but hopefully he’ll be back and we can get back to a strong back line when we play Leeds. Holding was great against West Ham but that was a very different game to what we will face tomorrow against Leeds. They will hit us in transition and on the counter and Holding – as we all know – is a penalty box defender. He isn’t winning a foot race with the likes of Rodrigo. So my hope is that White is back and we can see the benefits of his distribution against relegation battling Leeds.
He also spoke about the importance of the relationship between players and fans, talking about how it is lifting the team as the season reaches a crescendo, which is helping to drive them forward. You hear managers talk about that, the importance of the fans, etc, all the time. But having been to a big chunk of home games and a couple of away ones this season, it’s only when you are there that you see and hear it for yourself. I’ve watched plenty of games on TV and thought “the Arsenal fans have been great today” but you never really fully feel that energy that exists until you are there. This isn’t me rubbing it in non-match going fans’ faces, merely saying that there is something intangible, in the air, at Arsenal matches right now and the players and fans are feeling it too.
The hope is that this can grow, rather than peter out. Champions League football will help, but we all – me especially – need to be prepared for it not to happen and still recognise that we are going in the right direction. We’ve stripped the squad right back so we can inject more quality players who also have the ‘likability’ factor too, so in my mind that is another positive to look at in the summer, regardless of what league position we finish in. The initial target has been met (European football) and now the club needs to start preparing for life with that competition back on our radar.
That’s it from me today. Match preview tomorrow from a sunny Cologne so I will catch thee in the morrow.