As Monday’s go from an Arsenal fans perspective, we’ve had worse, haven’t we?
Five points clear at the top, a high performing team who have delivered us a concrete lead that will go in to the festive period, players who have stepped up from last season and new signings (as well as ‘Like a New Signing’ ones too – Saliba) that have vastly improved the first XI, means that we now go in to this hiatus of domestic football in form, happy, with confidence and belief in our team. It is such a nice feeling.
And to watch United’s last gasp skanky winner yesterday evening, having been second best all through the second half against Fulham, I felt very little irritation because we have performed to such a level this season that right now what they do doesn’t concern me. And if you’d have asked me that at the start of the season – that I wouldn’t be too irate at a last-ditch skanky winner for United because of the great form of The Arsenal, I’d not have believed you. But here we are and here we sit, proudly atop of the Premier League having quite clearly been the best team in the league so far after 14 games. We may still be at least five games from the halfway point in the season, but as it stands, the way this team has been playing, this feels like a massive milestone achieved and there aren’t many Arsenal fans out there who you will find who won’t be happy with what we are doing. Well, apart from the odd one or two who like to profiteer from making money through misery, but we’ll leave them and their rage alone because we don’t need it right now. What we need is to continue feeling positive about a team that is gelling, playing well, looking every bit like one of the ‘big boys’ in the division.
And we really do. I can’t remember the last time I would go in to games thinking “yeah, we should win this one today”, but in the last few matches I’ve certainly felt like that about The Arsenal. perhaps the Chelsea game I wasn’t so sure about, but that’s because in my head I was playing Chelsea the club and recent history in terms of success, rather than the current Chelsea that is really struggling to put any kind of form together. But for the other games like the Wolves game, Nottingham Forest, or the Southampton game for example, I have gone in to it expecting Arsenal to win. It was therefore a bit of a shock to my system when we drew against Southampton. I almost saw it as a slight from the footballing gods, such is the way we have been playing, but it just serves to underline how imperious we have been that I even had that feeling of being affronted by Southampton that we didn’t just turn them over.
Honestly though, I think it must be at least 15 years since I’ve felt anything close to this going in to each game so far this season, such is the belief Arteta and his team have instilled. Of course as fans we aren’t talking up a title charge just yet and of course we all know the season is long and there will be more defeats on the horizon, but so far it has been so good and we just need to keep riding the happy train because you just don’t know how long it is going to last. We’re all happy right now and have a good five weeks of being rather smug sitting atop of the league, but for Arsenal and Arteta there won’t be as much time to smile and dwell on that. As fans we can, but he and his players need to almost complete a bit of a reset again and start as if they are going in to a pre season now. And that is something I think he’ll be very mindful of.
Elite sport is relentless and challenging. There will be some of those players who will be feeling the mental fatigue of the schedule so far and will welcome the break, but the fact that it will be a case of “10 days off again lads, then we’re back in pre season training in Dubai” or wherever the club are going for their warm weather training, will still feel like a tough one for some of them I think. It’ll be tough for Arteta too, as he needs to find a way to keep motivation and a sense of momentum at a time in which it is going to be quite a challenge. There are at least 10 players heading off to the World Cup from our squad I believe and that means that almost half of Arteta’s 25-man squad will not be able to take part in any kind of ‘second pre season’. It means building the camaraderie and togetherness that we saw in the actual pre season in June and July, will be a little more difficult. Then, with the international players, he will need a way to lift most of them, because most will come back with the disappointment of being knocked out of a World Cup. Only one team can win it and if it is Brazil, then Saka, Ramsdale, Partey et al will all need support. Arsene Wenger used to talk of how it was such a challenge for some players to come back after such a disappointment. Well, in this instance, they don’t even get a few weeks off to reset. The World Cup final is on 18th December and on the 26th December we start the Premier League. That’s just eighty days later and with players from England, France, Brazil all potentially involved if those teams go deep in the competition, there will be little rest time at all before those players need to pick themselves up again.
So how does Mikel Arteta keep the momentum going from this fantastic run? How does he maintain the positivity when some may be so disappointed? How can he keep everyone together when they are physically not together?
I’ll be dammed if I have a clue. It is not an easy puzzle to solve and I don’t envy him in trying to do so, because when everything resumes at Christmas he may find that as a result of the delay, expectations amongst fans and the media may have risen a lot compared to even now. I’ve watched a few bits and bobs in the media and they are all starting to talk up the title challenge. As a fan base we may all have been keeping our feet firmly on the ground, but absence makes the heart grow fonder and we may find that it also makes us project glory a little more than we might have done.
I guess for now Arteta can also take a few days to recharge and hopefully he does that, before coming back and getting his head together with his coaching staff to help answer the question: How do we bottle what we’ve just done, before re-releasing it on Boxing Day?
Catch you all tomorrow with some more thoughts.