Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Back to it …

It seems like an odd thing to say on December 8th, but Arsenal have a game of football today. Normally, it wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary.

On this day in seasons past we have beaten Huddersfield 1-0 (Torreira, 83′); drawn 1-1 with Everton (Ozil 80′, cancelled out by a goal from Gerard Deulofeu 4 minutes later); and dispatched Partizan Belgrade 3-1 thanks to goals from Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri, despite a late red card for Bacary Sagna.

Today though, in a season interrupted, we face Lyon in Dubai in the Dubai Super Cup, the trophy every footballer dreams of lifting one day. Arsenal took a 27 man squad when they departed London, with the non-World Cup players and a significant cohort of Academy lads to make up the numbers.

They will be joined by some of the Qatar departees. I’ve seen reports this morning that Matt Turner is already there, and Granit Xhaka spoke after Switzerland’s exit to say he was going straight to Dubai to get back to work. He said:

Of course, emotionally it is not easy. But this is part of our business, part of football. You have to recover well. The Premier League is waiting and, of course, I wanted to be here longer than this. But we lost the game today and I am happy to go back now with the team.

I’m flying back to Dubai, going back to the team, and going back to the training and trying to forget the tournament now.

You can see how for someone like Xhaka, diving head first into Arsenal would be a way to help with the disappointment of going out of the World Cup, and going out in the way they did. That 6-1 defeat will certainly sting, but from what we know of him, I don’t expect him to suffer any kind of ongoing despondency. If anything, he’ll be determined to make up for it via his domestic commitments.

But every player is different, every person is different, and I saw it reported in the Japanese press that Takehiro Tomiyasu was going to Dubai rather than back to Japan. But he seemed particularly downhearted when he spoke after their penalty shoot-out defeat to Croatia. He said, when asked of his plans:

I don’t know. Hopefully, I can get a bit of rest. I need time to forget about football. I need a bit of time.

My performance was a disaster today so I am sorry for the team.

I can’t be proud. I am not satisfied about what happened.

Which again is understandable. He was very critical of his own performance against Croatia, and I suspect that the tournament as a whole is probably not what he had imagined, despite how well Japan did. The injury he picked up a few weeks before the tournament clearly had an impact. He’s a nailed-on starter when fit and there must have been some significant frustration for him to sit on the bench. To go to a World Cup and not be 100% is tough. He might still be struggling with fitness, and now he could well be in a place where he’s dealing with that, regret, and disappointment – for himself, and for his country.

This is where Mikel Arteta’s man management skills will be tested. We’ve seen in years gone by how the World Cup, or even the lack of a World Cup, can impact players long after the fact. Per Mertesacker, by his own admission, found it tough to get fully motivated again after Germany’s win in 2014. Andrei Arshavin went into a months-long biscuit eating funk after Russia failed to qualify one year. So, while someone like Xhaka might come back and be raring to go, it might require a different approach with Tomiyasu.

We still have players at the tournament too, and the circumstances in which the World Cup ends for them may well be something we have to deal with also. We worry a lot about the physical impact of it for obvious reasons, but we shouldn’t ignore the psychological aspect too. I can’t imagine any of the players whose World Cups ended this week will be involved today, they will need a bit of time, but perhaps we might see them when we face AC Milan next week.

Ok, let’s leave it there for now. No doubt we’ll hear from Mikel Arteta at some point later on, probably post-game, so let’s see if anything interesting emerges from that. And, of course, that all our Super Cup dreams come true.

Till tomorrow.

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