Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Mikel Arteta and the fixture schedule comments

Morning all, a quick Friday round-up for you (it’s a bank holiday weekend here in Ireland!).

I’ve seen some interesting discussion about Mikel Arteta’s comments about the fixture schedule as we play early Saturday after playing late Wednesday – a situation which has been replicated down the line when we face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge the host Man Utd at the Emirates on the Saturday lunchtime.

After the Liverpool game, he was asked about how the players might cope physically with the ‘tight turnaround’ between games. He said:

Thank you so much to the Premier League for putting the fixtures like this, it’s very, very helpful.

And when asked if he’d made representation to the Premier League about it, he continued:

It’s not fair what they’ve done. It’s always Sky or BT, this or that, but the only one that is affected is Arsenal and the only thing that I care about and what we care about, is Arsenal and for Arsenal, it’s not fair.

Audio here.

I think Tim made a good point, as some fairly high profile journalists scoffed at what they saw as Arteta complaining about the number of games:

Clearly, this season of all seasons, how many times we play is not the issue – but I think I can understand why any manager might be a bit annoyed that when your fixtures have been rescheduled, you’ve been given the smallest possible gap between games on two occasions as part of the run-in.

I get all the stuff about how clubs sold their souls to the TV companies and the Premier League. If they’re happy to take the money then they don’t have any right to take umbrage with anything. Which is fine, I guess, but you have to look at managers as distinct from the institutions themselves. The various owners and boards do the deals, accept the terms, and wait for that sweet, sweet TV cash to come rolling in. They hire managers and coaches to do the rest of it, and you could say they understand the terms and conditions when they take the jobs.

For example, Eddie Howe knew where the Newcastle money was coming from when he took the job, hence the reason he’s been asked a lot of questions about it of late. His gormless ‘I is just a simple football lad so I is, and all I knows is football’ shtick isn’t really good enough, but I guess he’s thinking if he keeps it up eventually the questions will stop. I hope they don’t.

Mikel Arteta, having played in the Premier League for most of his career, then worked as an assistant at Man City before taking the Arsenal job, won’t try and convince anyone this isn’t something he’s not fully aware of. But as a former player in the not too distant past, someone who has been subjected to the whims of broadcasters in the name of entertainment at the expense of ‘sport’ (for want of a better word), he’s as well placed as anyone to raise legitimate concerns if he has them.

There’s another school of thought which says if Arsenal had a bigger squad and were more capable of rotation than we are right now, this wouldn’t be as vexatious for Arteta – and I think there’s something to that. We have maybe two players we can realistically bring and two players we can possibly rest from this current group, and that’s not great. Again, this is something Arteta knows as well as anyone.

So, why did a normally taciturn manager who rarely says anything that might spark controversy jump on this issue? There might have been an element of frustration, as Andrew Allen suggested in the Arsecast yesterday. That immediate sting of defeat to Liverpool coming with the reality that he doesn’t have a nine day gap to work with his players ahead of Villa. As he said, they sleep, eat something nice, then travel to play a decent side early on Saturday.

Maybe too he is genuinely concerned about player welfare and wants to raise this issue as a wider concern for the Premier League – but I don’t think he would care enough to raise such concerns if direct rivals for the top four were handed a similar schedule. He might, as I would, even enjoy that.

I just can’t help but think this is in some way part of galvanising his team and the supporters after a defeat. Not quite the classic deflection tactics managers have used in the past where they go off on some minor issue to take the focus off their team’s failings. After the second goal went in on Wednesday, the home fans were LOUD – even if most people probably knew the game was lost. At the final whistle, where once a smattering of boos might have greeted the result, there was an outpouring of support for the team.

Arteta has spoken consistently about the connection between fans and the team, and how important it is. He has cultivated that throughout this season, so for me it makes some sense that a manager who is usually so, so, so careful with his words, is using this as a way to just maintain the levels of us against them which have been part of this season. From red card decisions that have gone against us, to brutality inflicted upon some players without the requisite punishment, it’s been a part of how said connection has been built.

He knows TV scheduling is a ‘fight’ he can’t actually win, and I’m sure he knew his words would be twisted a bit by sections of the media. However, his intended target wasn’t really the Premier League, or Sky or BT, it was his team and Arsenal fans, hence the use of phrase ‘not fair’. That sense of injustice, slight and all as it might be, could be the half a percent you need to make the difference in a Premier League game – let’s hope it can do that tomorrow.

For extra reading this morning, Tim’s column is on Gabriel Martinelli and his progress this season.

The Arsecast is below, as we did a post-match pod yesterday in place of the regular Friday one, and we’ll be previewing Villa over on Patreon later. For now, take it easy.

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