Thursday, February 29, 2024

Home again – some thoughts on the Premier League season

Morning all, I’m back in Dublin and in the familiar surroundings of my office.

I’m sure I’ll have more considered reflections on the weekend and the season as a whole, but right now I’m just concentrating on getting my voice back. If you listened to the Arsecast Extra yesterday you’ll have heard it was a bit rough around the edges, to say the least, and it’s a bit better today but not much.

There was so much talking, and then being at football makes me shout at stuff and I think after so long away I lost some vocal cord muscle tone or something. I need to work on that. Screaming exercises at 5am as I try and exist in a clean and healthy way for the next few weeks should go down a treat with the neighbours.

So, that’s another Premier League season done and dusted, and in truth I have mixed feelings. I’m glad we’re back in Europe which was the target set at the start of the campaign, but obviously disappointed not to be in the big competition. It feels pretty redundant to say that the disappointment is compounded by the fact we lost out on 4th place to that lot, but nevertheless when I think of the season as a whole, I have to say I enjoyed it more than many in recent times.

The fact we had something to really play for, even if we didn’t get there, produced a level of emotional investment that has been absent, and I don’t just mean over the last couple of years. The likeability of the team and the players felt like a great development, an important one too. I can get behind players like Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale much more easily than players like David Luiz and Willian. I don’t think I need to explain why that is the case, do I?

Just to be clear, I’m not telling anyone else how they should think or what they should feel. That is entirely a personal thing. All I can say is I see potential and lots of room for improvement because we finished 5th with a big hole in a key position for most of the season, and with key pieces missing right towards the end. I genuinely think we’d have got over the line if Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey had been fit, and as the manager, his staff and the technical director sit down to assess the season in the cold light of day, I feel like those two players demand some discussion. It’s not about their quality as players, but their issues of availability.

I know others have made this point better than I have, but the return of fans was also a significant factor. Thinking back now to the games that were played without supporters, basically a season and more (?) or behind closed doors games, it’s just so far removed from what the experience should be. It felt surreal but utterly stale, the most bland version of the sport there could possibly be.

The final point on this short assessment of us is that I think there’s a lack of complication which makes what we have to do this summer pretty clear. I’m not saying it’s necessarily easy, but I doubt there are too many people scratching their heads and thinking ‘How on earth do Arsenal make the required improvements?’ (maybe Gary Neville is).

Tomorrow, I’ll do our traditional end of season squad assessment post with player ratings and so on, and I also have to apologise to the Players Ratings junkies over on Arseblog News about the lack of ratings for the Everton game. With the weekend the way it was, it just fell through the cracks a little bit, but we’ll be back next season don’t worry. Perhaps we might even do a pre-season game to make up for it.

As for what else happened in the season, the fact that Man City won the title left me completely and utterly cold. In the stadium on Sunday I overheard Sky Sports coverage which said ‘Phil Foden is only 22 and this is his fourth Premier League title’ and I thought ‘Really?’ and ‘Meh’ at the exactly the same time. ‘Mehly’, I dunno.

I think part of is just that I have no history with Man City other than being slightly on their side during the years when United were our big rivals. The enemy of my enemy and all that, but they went through some difficult years and were out of sight for quite a while too. But obviously big part is just how their success has been built. It’s been smart, it’s been intelligent, they’ve brought in the best people, but it is the absolute pinnacle of sportswashing and as such it just feels like going to an auction and trying to outbid Jeff Bezos for an item you really want. At some stage you have to realise you’re pissing in the wind, and that’s a reality that we may have to reckon with as Arsenal fans.

Obviously I’m not a Liverpool fan but I would have preferred then to win the title, and not just because it would have been fun to wave at the Everton fans below us. I’m not saying it’s ‘pure’, but it feels like if they could do it then there’s a chance for clubs that aren’t the playthings of a nation state. To achieve 92 points in a league season, to go through 2022 without losing, taking 51 points from 57 and not winning the title is remarkable really. And not necessarily in a good way.

In terms of relegation, Norwich and Watford have been gone for a while now, and Burnley went down on the final day. The financial implications of that may prove extremely damaging, and it’s not that I’m going to miss them, but the murky deals that relate to club ownership don’t just happen at the top end of the table. Leeds survived by the skin of their teeth, but having taken 6 points from them this season, I’m looking forward to doing the same next time around.

Right, I’m gonna leave it there for this morning. The podcast is below if you want to get stuck into that. Till tomorrow.


This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL

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