Morning all, happy Saturday to you.
There were a couple of interesting bits and pieces from Mikel Arteta’s press conference yesterday. As we prepare ourselves for a busy summer in the transfer market, with a lot to do with incomings and outgoings, the manager was asked if his squad – as it stands – is ready for the dual challenge of the Premier League and Champions League (not to mention the cup competitions).
His response was very honest:
Today? At the level that we want, no. We didn’t have the capacity to do that with the Europa League. We have made a lot of good steps, strong steps in that journey. We have to continue. That never ends. We have to be better. The rest will be better. The demands will be higher. We have to start and live with those standards, improve and be smarter.
Obviously some of how we do that will be adding to the squad by bringing in players from elsewhere. The season hasn’t even finished and so many names are doing the rounds, and when you consider there are at least half a dozen players being linked with moves away from the club, it’s going to take a big effort to add the depth and quality we need. Some of it will have to be internal, and Arteta continued:
That doesn’t just mean signing players. It’s to improve our players. There are players we haven’t had the best out of this season. It’s our job to improve them because there are a few players who haven’t had the minutes or the performances and we have to seek for those players to give us a different edge. It’s not only about signing players. It’s about resources, staff and improving certain things that can be done better, more efficiently or smarter.
The players I thought of immediately were Emile Smith Rowe and Fabio Vieira. The former has had a very dispiriting campaign, obviously impacted by surgery, but since his return from that (and after a small niggle which kept him out for a couple of weeks), he has played just 99 of the 1260 minutes he was available for. Some of Arteta’s comments about him felt like a challenge, designed to elicit a response from him. Maybe he never got the response he wanted, or maybe it was because of how the season was balanced, but he just didn’t play.
That has led to speculation about his departure, which is completely normal in football. If it’s a case that a manager has lost faith in a player, then there’s usually only one course of action that follows. However, we know what Smith Rowe can do, even if he hasn’t done it this season, and when you think about players who didn’t get minutes, he’s basically top of the list for me. When you think about a player who could contribute in a positive way, you have the evidence of what he’s done before – even if I do share some of Tim’s concerns about how he might fit into this team now.
Similarly Vieira. We saw flashes of what he can do. That goal against Brentford was a very promising early-season sign, but like Smith Rowe and as the season went on, he didn’t play anywhere near as much as you might like. After starting the Bournemouth game ahead of Granit Xhaka (an interesting selection for various reasons), he has played just 79 of the next 900 available minutes. A £35m outlay on him last summer is significant, there’s no way you’d get anything close to that back now, and it strikes me he is another one who neatly fits into the category of someone who can do better and who can be improved.
Clearly there’s a physical element to this, and it’s not uncommon for a player to take time to get used to the Premier League and its challenges. He wasn’t helped by arriving injured, and at 22 time is definitely on his side. Nevertheless, his first season was underwhelming, no doubt about it.
So, it will be fascinating to see what happens with these two in particular. We’ve seen players like Gabriel Martinelli, Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and to some extent Eddie Nketiah improve under this manager and his coaching. Which isn’t to say that Smith Rowe and Vieira will replicate their trajectories completely, but if Arteta sees them as players he can count on, there’s work to be done as we prepare for next season.
The other thing I really liked was the story about a training ground dog, a chocolate Labrador called ‘Win’. I believe her owner is a member of staff who is there most days, rather than having a free-range pooch just poodling about (no pun intended) all day every day. Arteta says:
We always talk about family, and being connected. A big family like we are at the club, and I feel like we are a family, we need a dog to represent that family. I think there are still things at the club that can be done to connect with people. To be more caring with people, to show love.
The reaction from the players and the staff has been incredible, she is one of us. She is going to be on this journey with us together. It’s something that changes your mood like this [clicks fingers]. She gives you all the love and suddenly you feel the energy of the place. It’s just beautiful and to me those things are very important.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am very much a dog person. When the site began, we had Opus, the Arseblog Basset Hound, and right now I have two German Shepherds, Archer and Lana.
For me, dogs just make things better. I am 51 years of age, and I still get a bit giddy when I see a dog in a pub. Pub dogs are so great. And I just love the idea that this training ground dog will greet the players with a wagging tail every day they come in to work. Will it make any difference to our tactical approach to difficult European games next season? Absolutely not.
But will there be a dog there? Yes, yes there will, and it’s a scientific fact that a good dog makes any place 34.325% better. I read this in a research paper from the esteemed Dogologist Professor Godfrey Twatschlock, published in the Scientific Journal of Science, so QED as they say.
Or, indeed, ‘woof’.
The final thing for today is, of course, our trip to Nottingham Forest. We don’t have Gabriel Martinelli, so there’ll be at least one change to the forward line, you assume it’ll be Leandro Trossard, but let’s see. Beyond that, I can’t see much else different. As for the approach, we have to have the mindset that something mad can happen elsewhere – even if it’s extremely unlikely – and that has to inform how seriously we take this one. Forest will be up for this in their final home game of the season, and still need points to avoid relegation, so it could be a scrap.
Have a great Saturday in the meantime. I’ll catch you later for the match – and don’t forget we have a preview podcast for you over on Patreon right now.