Friday, January 27, 2023

Game by game …

Morning all.

There’s a lot of talk, given that we’re top of the table, about whether or not Arsenal are title contenders this season. That kind of chat is just inevitable, especially when you’re above a team as good as Man City – even this early in the campaign.

The world we live in drives that to a large extent. Everything is #content. Everything is mined until there’s nothing left. You can’t just have a quiet day when not much is happening because the way sections of the media work means there’s no value in anything other than clicks and hits. As far as they’re concerned, it’s better to churn out as much nonsense as possible than to do nothing. Rapacious editors won’t allow that anyway.

But this isn’t just a conversation exclusive to the click-farms. It’s happening on the established channels too. Match of the Day. Monday Night Football. Arsenal have surprised people this season, and that plays into it too. We’re the unexpected pace-setter, and after nearly a quarter of the season, I can understand why it’s being talked about.

One thing that was striking about the post-game interviews after the 3-2 win over Liverpool was the way the phrase ‘game by game’ kept popping up. I heard Gabriel Martinelli use it on Sky Sports; Ben White used it in one of his interviews (not the hilarious one for Norwegian TV where he claims not to have even noticed Liverpool were playing with four attackers, which is delivered in such wonderfully deadpan style).

Mikel Arteta was asked about what this team can do this season and said:

At the moment, enjoy where we are and again have even more determination to believe that we can play at that level, only when we go at that rhythm and play with courage that we played the second half and go step by step.

Step by step. Game by game. That is going to be the mantra around the training ground I’m sure. I remember when we beat Leicester away last season, which I think was the game when people started to think something was really beginning to develop with this Arsenal team.

Arteta insisted afterwards, “We haven’t done anything. We won a couple of matches. We are not where we want to be still. There are a lot of things to improve. Let’s keep humble, working hard and go game-by-game.”

This season won’t be any different. It means nobody gets carried away when we’re winning, and importantly – especially as Arsenal have had a tendency to lose games in twos and threes under Arteta – the inevitable defeats don’t derail the confidence and belief of the squad. This season it’ll be about how quickly we react when something goes wrong. The reaction to the Man Utd defeat is a real positive in that sense.

Objectively, you cannot look at this current Man City team and not make them clear favourites for the title. We’re above them now, but the season is long and they have a clear advantage in terms of depth, and experience of being at this end of the table from August to May. We’re in new territory here, for this team anyway, and that’s going to be part of the challenge.

Still, what else can you do but give it the best you can? When Edu did his media blitz during the summer, he referenced the gap between us and the likes of City and Liverpool – teams which have produced such consistency over the last few years. He said:

We have to be realistic – there’s City, Liverpool – that’s fine, I accept that. But also, you cannot accept that. Here, when you join this club, when you see our size, we cannot accept it.

You can’t argue with that, although it remains a tall order. I have a theory that some of Liverpool’s malaise this season is down to a kind of exhaustion from producing what they have in recent seasons, but with just one title to show for it. Imagine achieving 97 points in a league campaign and not winning it? It’s nuts, and surely demoralising.

But this is the reality of the Premier League now. Arsenal could achieve a record points total for the club, garnering more than the Invincibles, but still not come out on top. Which is why I’m with the manager and the players on this one. I’m not thinking about the title. It’s just game by game, and trying to enjoy what this side is serving up, because it’s good and it’s fun. And being beaten to the Premier League title by Man City won’t change that aspect of it.

It’s great to see us improving and making progress. The football we play these days is so much more aligned to what I want to see from Arsenal. And I look at this squad and find myself liking this group of players far more than any other in recent times. Is that enough? Obviously I’d like us to win things, to keep that trajectory going and win the big prizes, but I’m also realistic enough to know we’ve got a lot more to do to achieve that.

As a club we have to keep driving forward, to close those gaps even further, and who knows what might happen? But there’s something to be said for doing things the ‘right’ way, and to simply allow yourself to enjoy what we’re getting right now, even if it might only be good enough for second place.

Right, that’s it for this morning. Over on Patreon we have an episode of The 30 – looking back at the Premier League action this week. Mikel Arteta meets the press later ahead of our game against Bodo/Glimt tomorrow, so we’ll have all the news from the press conference over on Arseblog News.

Have a good one.

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