Sunday, January 29, 2023

Friday bits: Fans, Europa Conference League, new away kit

Morning folks.

It’s an Arsenal free weekend. On the one hand that means no football. On the other hand, that means no football. I think I’m just about ready for this season to end, but next week we play Crystal Palace on Wednesday and then finish out the campaign against Brighton at home. Both of those games will have fans present, and even though the numbers will be limited, I predict they will be a stark reminder of what we’ve missed since all the Covid-19 restrictions began.

I love football. I love the game. But the ‘product’, if you want to call it that, is not the same without supporters. Actually, a better word is experience. Whether you’re in the stands or watching at home, the football experience is completed by fans cheering, shouting, singing, making assertions about the onanistic habits of the referee, and so on. What we have at the moment is sandwich without a filling. The bread is important, but without what you put in the middle, it’s just sustenance, not something to be enjoyed.

Our win over Chelsea raises the possibility that we could finish above Sp*rs, which would be quite funny in one way. In a season when we’re scratching around for things to enjoy, that’s something. Not much, but something. However, if that were to happen, we’d more than likely finish in 7th which would mean qualification for the UEFA Conference League, and I’m not sure that’s something to celebrate.

It is European football, of sorts, and there’s an argument that we can’t be too picky to turn our noses up at it. I can see that, but I’m not sure I agree. First, we don’t even qualify for the tournament without a play-off, taking place over two legs on the 19th and 26th of August. The new Premier League season kicks off on August 14th, so immediately you’re distracted by other games when the domestic season is what matters most.

That is how this team will be judged. Nothing we do in the Europa Conference League will have any impact on the perception of the manager’s performance. We could win games 5-0 week after week and nobody would really care because, frankly, who gives a fish’s tit about the Europa Conference League? It’s the Audi Cup of European competition. It’s sub-League Cup stuff when you’ll be facing the best that Andorra, Luxembourg and the Democratic and Highly Sensual Republic of Karl have to offer.

Even if you were to keep the ‘first team’ players out of it, and use it exclusively as a way to develop the young, emerging talents at the club – which would basically be the only positive aspect of this – it still requires the manager and his staff to prepare for midweek games, travel to away fixtures, and all the rest. If we’re looking at a season out of Europe as a way to concentrate more fully on the league, to spend five days preparing for games on the training ground, working on tactics etc, it still needs the manager to be there and not on the sideline in a 3000 capacity stadium in the third largest village in Pilchardania.

I don’t know if there’s a way, or even if it’s within the rules, to hand over the team to a different coach for this tournament. It doesn’t feel like it should be, the manager is the manager after all, for better or worse, but it might be worth exploring if this is something we do have to contend with. The last thing I’d say about this is that having to wrestle with this predicament is a mess entirely of our own making because of how bad the Premier League season has been, so que sera, sera.

Yesterday I referenced Mikel Arteta’s post-match interview after the 1-0 win over Chelsea in which he was fuming about the way certain comments were reported in the press. At first I was a bit confused because I saw that pre-game press conference, and he said exactly what was reported, but I went back to have a listen, and I do think there’s been a genuine misunderstanding on both sides.

It’s fair to say sections of the press can be mischievous at times, and as always one or two have taken this to places it didn’t need to go, but there’s a pretty simple explanation laid out in this Twitter thread below (click through to read):

Arsenal’s away kit for next season can be seen here. I like it. Honestly, I know we’ve had some monstrosities down the years, but if our actual game was as good as our recent kit-game we’d have won the Champions League already, and the final hasn’t even taken place yet.

For some extra reading this morning, Tim takes a look at Joe Willock and the summer decision about his future.

Right, that’s about it for this morning. I’ll leave you with a brand new Arsecast, chatting to James Benge (@jamesbenge) about the Chelsea game, Emile Smith Rowe who needs a new contract and a new number, summer plans, Mikel Arteta’s press dealings and lots more. All the links you need to listen and subscribe are below, more from me here tomorrow.

Until then, take it easy.


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