Sunday, September 24, 2023

This season’s Emile Smith Rowe

Good morning, it’s the Easter bank holiday weekend and I’m hoping that like the big man JC, Arsenal can rise again.

Frankly, I don’t know what Mikel Arteta is going to do ahead of Chelsea on Wednesday, an onerous task that lies ahead of us this week. Then again, maybe this is the kind of game we need given that we’ve played against three sides who ‘on paper’ we should definitely do better against. Oh, and ‘on pitch’ we should do better too.

I suspect there will be comparisons made to December 2020 when, after seven Premier League games without a win (5 defeats and 2 draws), Chelsea visited the Emirates. The surprise inclusion of Emile Smith Rowe helped spark a 3-1 win, and we endured only five more defeats for the rest of the season – 23 games. That game was a kind of turning point.

But who is this season’s Emile Smith Rowe? I don’t think there is one. When you look at the Arsenal bench there doesn’t seem to be anyone there of an attacking persuasion that the manager deems ready. Even on Saturday when we were chasing a goal against Southampton, he didn’t throw on Omari Hutchinson as a kind of ‘Hail Mary’, just to see what might happen. As such there’s basically no chance that he could start at Stamford Bridge, so a solution has to be found from what we’ve got.

Also, you can have a turning point when you’re playing the 15th game of the season, not so much when it’s your 32nd. I took at the look at the league table just there. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be but it’s still a bit depressing when you think about the points that have gone begging in recent weeks.

One of the things that had been interesting about this season was the pattern of poorness, for want of a better phrase. We’ve had our ups and downs this season, but the disappointments came in twos. Palace and Brighton, United and Everton, City and then Burnley. But then you remember this is now the second time this season we’ve lost three in a row in the Premier League too. I know we did our best to put the first three games of the season in a box, but like some kind of evil clown stuffed toy that you stuck in the attic because it was too horrible to look at, it’s back, sitting on the bed staring at you with its dead, lifeless, shark eyes and it brings back all the terror and you’re not really sure how it got there.

It’s been almost a feature of Mikel Arteta’s time at the club: a series of peaks and troughs during which belief in him and the team has fluctuated quite significantly. To be fair, and I know this is not necessarily what people want to hear after the last three games, there was a good reason why we were dreaming of the Champions League. It’s not as if we got a cheat code or awarded points by default, we earned them – often the hard way, but points are points.

I guess that is what the manager has to try and remind his players of ahead of Wednesday. Belief and confidence will be low, but they got themselves into a very good position and while it certainly feels like it’s unraveling far too quickly, they have to find a way to lean into that again.

I think what makes this current slump feel so bad – for me at least – is that I like this team, and I like these players. I can recognise we’re a few pieces short of the puzzle, but generally speaking the journey has been fun this season. That’s in stark contrast to what has come before with players you know aren’t really invested in the club or its future, and that’s not the case with this group. So when they fail, when results are bad, I feel bad as a fan, but there’s a secondary kick in the guts because I want them to do well too.

Step forward this season’s Emile Smith Rowe, and I hope it’s Emile Smith Rowe.

Finally, sad news over the weekend about the club’s former head scout Steve Rowley who passed away at the age of 63. He worked alongside Arsene Wenger for so many years, helping to bring in great players who made significant contributions to the team:

I thought Danny Karbassiyoon had some lovely words on Instagram. Condolences to his friends and family, and may he rest in peace.

Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra later on this morning so keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Pod should be out by lunchtime. Until then, take it easy.

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