Saturday, September 23, 2023

Thinking about caviar …

The thing about this hectic October schedule means that time between games cuts down on the amount of basking we can do, but I sincerely hope this Monday morning everyone is still feeling the warm glow of Saturday’s derby win.

Yes, there’s a long way to go this season, and we have some bigger fish to fry – starting next weekend against an unusually leaky Liverpool – but that was still a win of some significance. Let’s not forget that they could have gone above us if they’d won, instead we extended our lead over them, and stayed top of a league in which Man City look absolutely ridiculous.

I realise that football is not a game which awards points or prizes for artistic merit, and there’s no one way to play, but week in, week out, I’d much prefer to watch a team that is trying to be positive and proactive, than one which is simply set up to react to very specific in-game situations. They were horrible to watch as a rival fan, and I can’t imagine it’s particularly fun for their supporters either. Not that I care, obviously, may their suffering be eternal etc etc, but when I think about what we’re trying to do, I can get behind it quite easily.

This side has come a long way, and we still have some distance to go, but I do think there’s something fundamental about the kind of football we’re trying to play that has helped build the connection between the fans and the team. Arteta has worked hard at this, spoken about it often, but for me it’s also connected to the way we’re doing it. Arsene Wenger’s famous quote about caviar and sausages was quite prescient in its way, and in some ways we’ve spent years chasing the dragon of the Invincibles and what came before – teams who were just as exciting and effective, and who won things along the way.

We loved the caviar, the sausage was ok, but there were periods where the sausage was on the turn, before we ended up with some thin gruel. It keeps you going, but that’s about it. It’s essentially the cyclical nature of football. One era’s dominant team is then next’s also-rans, it’s a story as old as time, but the question has always been, when you go through that, what do you want to become?

Let’s not make any bones about it: there have been tough times to get to this point, under Wenger, Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta. There are clubs which would have reacted differently to poor spells under the current manager, and in the football culture we exist in, not unreasonably so. It wasn’t just results, it was the way we played, and I’ll admit at times I found it confusing.

It was so functional, pedestrian at times, lacking in the kind of attacking intent and cutting edge I expected from a man who played as an attacking midfielder for most of his career; who was educated at La Masia; who played for Arsene Wenger and worked with Pep Guardiola. Early on in his tenure he talked about his desire to play 4-3-3, which made sense, but it has taken us a long time to get there.

I genuinely think that Arsenal fans, even those who will sing about 1-0 to the Arsenal and remember and relish some of the successes when George Graham’s team became much more about defending than attacking, prefer to see a team like the one we saw on Saturday. If Wenger revolutionised the club when he arrived, timing was part of it, but another aspect was creating a football identity that was something to be proud of.

There’s always a balance, and sometimes it went wrong, but it was about being dominant in attack, about scoring goals, about controlling the game and the best Arsenal teams of my lifetime played like that. Time moves on, the game changes, but the desire to see that kind of football again remains. If not quite the holy grail, you associate success with that style, and when you’re craving a team that can compete properly, you long for what brought that about previously.

Hence, the way we played against Sp*rs in the derby connects. The result is the most important thing, naturally, and if we’d scraped a scabby 1-0 I’d be delighted, but as I said, the belief in the project, the growing trust in the process, comes from the manner of our performances. What we want to do, how we want to do it. I honestly think it would be more difficult if you had a coach who was more or less effective in terms of results, but whose outlook on the game was at odds with this collective itch we all need scratched.

I enjoyed Edu’s comments to Amy Lawrence after the game (£), talking about what has happened of late:

“Once the squad was rebalanced, it was time for the next step,” Edu says. For emphasis he started to make a sprinkling action with his hands: “Add quality… Add quality… Add quality…”

I’m all for sprinkling more quality on this squad, because the platform is now there to do that effectively. Any derby win is a good win, but after the pain of losing out on Champions League to them last season, revenge wasn’t just a dish served cold. It was a reminder that if we stay on this path and continue our progress, there’s potentially caviar in the future.

Right, that’s it for this morning. James and I recorded the Arsecast Extra last night, so all the links you need to listen/subscribe are below. Have a good one.


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