Given we don’t play until Monday, all the match preview stuff can wait until then, but for those looking for updates on fitness, injuries, and players like Bukayo Saka, Aaron Ramsdale and Takehiro Tomiyasu, Mikel Arteta provided the latest at his press conference yesterday.
On the podcast today, there’s some discussion of the comments Gary Neville made about the manager yesterday, suggesting that if we finish fourth he might consider leaving because he’ll think ‘That’s the best I can do’. A bit weird if you ask me. Defeatist, and as a concept it just doesn’t make much sense, because of all people Gary Neville should know fine well that success in football can be cyclical. There are leagues, like Spain and Germany, where the title winners are more or less pre-determined. You know it’s going to be Bayern, and generally speaking Real Madrid and Barcelona do it in Spain with the occasional ‘wild card’ like Atletico Madrid or Valencia (in the now somewhat distant past).
There is a danger that things in England are going that way, but let’s not forget that probably the greatest era in Premier League history came when – realistically – only two teams could win the title: Man Utd and Arsenal. United were a behemoth, winning trophy after trophy, dominating at times, but … look at them now. Look at the absolute state of them.
Liverpool have demonstrated that with the right coach, some patience, perhaps some good fortune along the way, but with smart recruitment, good decisions, and consistency, it is possible to challenge against the sides built by bottomless pits of cash. Every Chelsea trophy under Roman Abramovich should come with a gigantic asterisk, while City have been much smarter about their sportswashing but to an extent the same thing is true. Things can change, you never quite know when.
So, if you’re Mikel Arteta and you come to Arsenal in 2019, you find a club that is basically broken, a squad that is horribly imbalanced, with big personalities and even bigger egos, lacking in quality, devoid of strategy or any kind of coherent plan, the football side of it run by a former Nike business man whose decisions about the most crucial aspect of the organisation are not particularly good (being diplomatic), a schism of epic proportions between the supporters and the team based on years of stagnation and decline, and you work really hard to fix those problems, dealing with all kinds of issues – not least of which is a worldwide pandemic and the consequences of that – why on earth would you struggle through all of it just to walk away when it was about to get good?
You embark on a very obvious rebuild of the squad, recruiting players in their early 20s, promoting Academy teenagers, looking to grow and develop something, and you give up because it’s ‘too hard’ because other teams are good? That doesn’t make sense to me, but then I suppose we’re talking about a man who said last summer he couldn’t see what Arsenal were doing in the transfer market when it was blindingly obvious to everyone what we were doing.
Arteta has made big decisions, some of which have been very unpopular at the time, he’s weathered some fairly serious storms, but we’re in a decent position and there has been very obvious progress this season whatever happens. It’s also really easy to see how Arsenal can get better. There are key positions to be filled in the transfer market (we all know what they are), and the age profile of most of the squad tells you that there is so much more to come individually and collectively. The ingredients are good, the recipe is tantalising, now it’s about cooking it up.
Obviously top four isn’t secured. There is a lot to do and I don’t think we should take anything for granted. Nevertheless, if we get there, the idea that a manager who has worked his hole off to get achieve that – against pretty much all expectations too, I should add – would just pack it in is absurd. And go where? It’s not like the job at any of the three clubs above us right now is available, so anything else is going to be back to the drawing board stuff and to do what? Build something, make progress, then walk away again because there’s only so much he can realistically do? No. Just no.
Whatever you think about Mikel Arteta, he is very clearly an ambitious young manager, yet Neville is essentially suggesting he’s a quitter. He hasn’t been paying much attention, has he? There are some who will suggest Neville’s comments come because he’s worried about Arsenal’s progress as his beloved Man Utd consolidate their period of torpor, but while that might be at play, I don’t think it’s anything quite as Machiavellian as Neville trying to undermine Arsenal for the benefit of his old club.
I just think he blurted some stupid nonsense out without giving it any real thought. I suspect if he thought about it, he’d probably agree that he should have chosen his words more carefully. There’s probably a lesson there.
Right, there’s plenty to listen to in the podcast besides that, so all the links you need are below. Have a great Friday.