A Sense of Hope–For the FA Cup Final and Next Season?
It’s a lot to ask of one man, but I like the new manager, and, for me, he’s saying (and doing) pretty much all the right things. Other Gooners will point out that results have been mixed and that we’re really not going to finish a whole lot higher than we might have if Unai Emery had been able to see out the season.
In fact, 8th is our limit–and we need to win our match AND have Burnley (hosting Brighton) and Sheffield United (at Southampton) drop points–so, 10th is our more likely finishing place.
Tenth place. Wow. How did it come to this?
Can we say that we’ve hit rock-bottom and have no where to go but up? Or, maybe we can blame everything on the global pandemic and put an asterisk next to this season. (And, as such, *Liverpool* are only *PL Champions* and sure to finish at least 40* points ahead of us*; and, tomorrow, *Chelsea,* *Manchester United,* and *Leicester City* will be competing for those final two *Champions League* positions…)
I don’t believe that such qualifications can be made and I’d argue that it’s about a systemic rot at our club that begins at the top. This post, I think, sums it up nicely. We have owners, I believe, who value the bottom line more than anything and they’ve hired “football” men who are equally focused on such things. Of course, their pounds and pence (we say dollars and cents over here…) calculations would surely be enhanced if we could get our brand back near the top of English (and European) football, but there seems no willingness to “speculate in order to accumulate” at least in a comprehensive manner akin to other owners, notably, gas and oil magnates at Chelsea and Manchester City and even more speculative American ownership groups at Manchester United and Liverpool. Arsenal used to be part of a “Big Four” group of clubs at the top of English Football. No longer, I fear. And now, with ManCity only getting a wrist slap for their Financial Fair Play violations/cover-up, Arsenal appear that much more on the outside looking in.
At least we now have a manager who seems willing to take responsibility for what we produce on the pitch. Mikel Arteta has stated that our Premier League finishing position is simply not good enough. We still have a route into European Football–and a chance to lift a trophy at next Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley–but first we must see out the PL season in our own (empty) stadium vs relegation threatened Watford.
In midweek we faced a similarly desperate Aston Villa team and were beaten 1-nil. Many are blaming a let down after two nice wins vs the best teams in English football, ‘Pool and ManCity. Still, the lack of creativity and inability to make chances after going down a goal does not bode well for being able to dominate the “lesser” clubs. It’s one thing to be able to play committed defensive football–and nick a goal or two at the other end on the break or by forcing mistakes with a forward press–and another thing entirely to be able to break down parked buses and get full points against the clubs Arsenal have traditionally expected to beat.
Watford are one of those clubs, though we have struggled against them in recent seasons, i.e., since they last achieved promotion to the Premiership.
We should have plenty of motivation to beat the bees (or hornets or whatever sort of insect Watford’s kit resembles) and do what we can to send them back down to the Championship. In the reverse fixture, back on 15 September of last year, then-captain Granit Xhaka admitted to Arsenal being “scared” of Watford as they erased a 2 goal lead and looked the only team able to win the match. We did manage to draw the game and take a point, but it was an admission that our football had turned fearful under (then) manager Unai Emery. Things would go lower (MUCH lower) and Xhaka would lose the captaincy (with Emery soon to also lose his managerial post) but it was another example of Watford captain Troy Deeney’s earlier and (in)famous comment about “Arsenal lacking cajones” after an even worse result (a 2-1 loss at Vicarage Road) back in 2017.
So, tomorrow’s match is an opportunity to put Deeney and the rest of his team in their place and do our part in sending Watford down. It’s also an(other) opportunity to prepare for the cup final against a motivated squad. There are two ways Arteta might use this chance: 1) play his best first 11 and use the game (or maybe the first hour or so) as a dress rehearsal for the final, or, 2) rotate the team and protect his stars for the (far) more important match next weekend. I believe he’ll go with the former idea and put out an 11 that could be repeated at Wembley, something like this:
Of course, I could be way off base, and, as always, your guess is as good as mine. There could also be some injury niggles or other fine tuning which might suggest a bit more rest for some and a bit more playing time for others. With the squad likely rounded out by guys like Macey, Cedric, Sokratis, Kolasinac, Willock, Nelson, Saka, and Nketiah, Arteta could certainly choose a more mix and match approach.
How do you think the manager should approach this game? Who do you think should start (and/or who should be rested and saved for the cup final)?
More generally, what do you think about the (PL) season we’re finishing up? Is it a blip, a rock-bottom off of which we’ll bounce and head back upwards (and maybe a function of Arteta correctly putting the FA cup at the top of our priorities), or are the problems at our club more profound?
In other words, have at it in the comments below. I’ll be back tomorrow with the (actual) line-ups and an attempt at a live-blog. Let’s try and finish out the PL season, grateful that we’ve got a little something (a cup final, in fact) ahead. A solid result (a win and some goals) would be nice, but (perhaps?…) the need for a performance that also bodes well for the future, both next weekend and next season, also seems critical.
Go on then…