It’s Chelsea away tonight, a somewhat daunting fixture given how good they’ve been of late. As I said yesterday, with an FA Cup final on Saturday and a Champions League final coming up, it’d be useful for us if their full focus wasn’t on this one. That wouldn’t make it much easier, but it might help a little.
I think Mikel Arteta will pick a strong team. As much as people want to see young players and the next generation get some playing time before the end of the season, I don’t think this is the game to do it in. So, I imagine we’ll see starts for Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and probably Alexandre Lacazette who all sat out West Brom from the start.
The manager wasn’t forthcoming on any injury issues beyond David Luiz, so we’ll have to wait and see if Granit Xhaka and Emile Smith Rowe are available. Other than that, it’s quite telling that my over-arching feeling about this is that I hope we can be competitive, and if it’s bad it’s not as bad I think it might be. Chelsea have been so strong of late and we … well … we have not.
Asked what he wants from his side in the final three games of the season, Arteta started out well enough but as he went on he kinda realised the existential pointlessness of it in the grand scheme of things:
I think it is the pride in the shirt that we wear, and that we want to win. And winning is going to put the team in a much better position in the table, which is going to make us … the chance to finish where is mathematically possible, but it doesn’t depend on us at the moment.
Later, in a somewhat terse embargoed section of his press conference, he was asked about if his players had ‘given the maximum, and rather pointedly said:
With the majority of them, yes. Some of them can get to a certain level and you cannot push them any further. You want to evolve them but it’s not possible.
And later, when pressed on why results haven’t been better, if most of his players have given their maximum, he said:
It’s difficult to judge where we should finish and where our realistic level is. When I said the majority, I didn’t say all of them. Some have some big contributions to make to those results.
It’s a very dangerous line to tread when you start to put things on the players. Even if, and I suspect most would agree, that there are issues with some individuals who haven’t played as well as they might have, or whose effort has been questionable at times. There’s a whiff of a certain manager that springs to mind, and that’s not good.
I understand Arteta being under pressure, and feeling that pressure, but ultimately where we are and what we’ve done as a team this season falls on him first and foremost. I would absolutely acknowledge we have to do a lot to this squad of players, and that changes in personnel are crucial to any progress we might make, but at the same time I still think this team should have been capable of taking more points.
0 from 6 against Aston Villa. 0 from 6 against Wolves. 0 from 6 against Everton. 1 from 6 against Burnley. Scraping an injury time draw against almost relegated Fulham. A 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace at home when we were out-shot by the visitors. Even a few points from those games would mean this season is still alive in European qualification terms. Add to that a badly managed European semi-final in which we had just three shots on target over two legs, and it’s not all down to the players, is it?
I’m sure Arteta isn’t incapable of introspection and looking at his own part in this; he’s clearly got some issues with certain individuals, and that’s also fine, but keep it in-house and deal with it in the summer in the most, dare I say, ‘ruthless’ way by getting rid of them. Don’t start doing it in public because that is never a good look, regardless of how justified you might feel.
He spoke pretty openly about the summer too, and how much work there is to do. He and Edu have been meeting regularly, and it seems that the new Director of Football Operations, Richard Garlick, starts his job on Monday. It’s unclear exactly what his role will be, but another executive on the team to ensure we don’t do any more nonsense like fail to complete paperwork for a player’s loan move to go through will be useful. They have so much to sort out though, and everyone knows it, but this is very much a case where actions should speak far louder than words, and for a guy who usually communicates so well, this was a genuine misstep from Arteta.
In the Guardian, Nick Ames has a piece in which the futures of a number of senior players are up in the air. They are Hector Bellerin (no real surprise); David Luiz (also not a surprise); Bernd Leno (not really a surprise but also not our biggest issue in my opinion); Granit Xhaka (a bit of a surprise considering how much the manager likes him); and Alexandre Lacazette – although the door remains open for him for some reason I don’t really understand given his contractual situation.
Arsenal as a football club can no longer accommodate comfortable players who are happy to see out their deals. Either extend them or move them on. This summer those with just 12 months left are Lacazette, Elneny, Chambers, Guendouzi, and Nketiah, with Leno and Xhaka at the two year mark where, nominally, their transfer value is at its highest.
I genuinely think there are about five or six players in this squad who are absolutely untouchable, un-transferable, and beyond that we should be open to any offers and any chance of improvement. I know there’s only so much you can do in one summer, and there’s a realistic level of business, but there is a mountain of work for this club to do. On the one hand the idea of significant refreshing of the squad is exciting, but it’s difficult to feel massively encouraged based on our track record – recent and otherwise – of transfer business and decision making. Still, it’ll all come out in the wash sooner rather than later, so let’s see.
Catch you later for the game.