Thursday, April 25, 2024

“There is something going on here”

I mentioned yesterday that in Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, Arsenal have the first two in the top five U21 players for goals and assists in the Premier League this season with 13 and 11 respectively. That Gabriel Martinelli is in fourth, behind Phil Foden, tells you a lot about the future of our attack.

The increased contributions from Martin Odegaard have been very welcome too, but at 23 he’s a grizzled veteran in comparison with the other lads. The Norwegian’s comments after the Watford win were certainly interesting, saying:

The togetherness is something special here. I’ve never seen something like this in my football career and there’s a lot of competition but still people just want the best for the team.

There is definitely something special going on here and I feel like everyone really wants to get the club back up to the top, so that’s the feeling behind it.

I know we still have some way to go this season (there’s the Arsecast Extra caveat), but I do find it fascinating when a player talks like this. It’s easy to feel good when you’re winning, and our position in the league table has got to be hugely encouraging for them, but I think it’s worth mentioning the role of Mikel Arteta in how they view our current situation.

He has made some tough decisions, some difficult decisions, and for many, some very unpopular decisions, but when he says he has done so with the best interests of the team at heart, I think he has to be taken at face value. Right now, we’re a side with momentum, in a league position that seemed downright fanciful at the end of August, full of players we actually like who we can very clearly see have the potential to improve and develop both individually and collectively. Players who seem genuinely happy and on-board with what’s going on and who, crucially, have never done anything but respond positively to the decisions Arteta has made which haven’t always gone down well with fans.

I do think there are reasons for fans to remain cautious. Our two 8th placed finishes are certainly a factor, not to mention that Arteta himself is steadfastly refusing to let anyone get carried away with what’s happening. He is in one game at a time territory, focused on constant improvement – as we saw with the response to the Watford win – but maybe we can topple over into cautious optimism without getting carried away with ourselves. The sense of excitement and potential ‘achievement’, which a top four finish would be, has to be part of the experience of the final 13 Premier League games, and there’s no question – to me at least – that this is much more Arteta’s team than ever before.

I also thought the manager was very interesting when outlining what he’s looking for in a striker when the transfer market opens again in the summer. We all understand how vital a piece of the puzzle this is, and what an important signing it is going to be.

It’s possible to appreciate the role Alexandre Lacazette is being asked to play, and his contribution of late when it comes to facilitating others in their goalscoring, and still recognise that this is an area where we can make a step forward with the right signing. Speaking to Sky Sports, the manager talked about the first quality he wants from the new striker:

He puts the ball in the net, that’s priority number one! Goal threat. Any successful team needs enough goal threat in the squad. Without it, you have nothing. You can play good football but you need enough goal threat in the team.

Would the Watford game have been quite as close if Lacazette’s goalscoring instincts were as successful as his ‘creative’ ones? I don’t think so, and I don’t say this to be critical because his contributions to two of our three goals were excellent, but it’s fair to say his shooting boots have deserted him for now. It’s 3 goals in 23 Premier League appearances this season, and if we’re looking at how to make another step forward next season, this is the major upgrade we need to make (with a central midfielder not too far behind).

But it’s also clear that Arteta wants to maintain some of what Lacazette gives the team as well as adding that goal threat:

The other thing is that he has to complement the other people we have, personally and on the pitch, and for that, we need the right profile.

It should be no surprise to anyone now that the character and personality of the player is going to play a part in our potential recruitment. Whether that makes it more difficult to find the right guy, I can’t quite say. Perhaps they already know exactly who they want so the issue is moot, but if they see someone with the talent but who is potentially not the right fit for other reasons, how far are they willing to go there? Will it even be a classic striker, or maybe a more modern ‘forward’ who can play across that front line? I’m fascinated to see who that player is going to be, and I suspect our chances of landing that signing will be greatly increased by the attraction of Champions League football next season.

Basically, where we are right now is exciting, and as much as I don’t want to get carried away or anything like that, the prospect of these final months of the season meaning much more than ‘Can we scrape into 6th?’ or ‘Can we not finish 7th because nobody wants to be in the Europa Zenith Data Systems Papa John’s Ned’s Tyre Shop trophy?’ is something to relish, and maybe we have to let ourselves do that.

That’s it for this morning. If you haven’t had a chance to listen yet, the Arsecast Extra is below. Enjoy, more from me tomorrow.


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