Monday, July 22, 2024

Settling dust, waving, complicated simplicity

Good morning.

The dust is settling on the 2022-23 season, but there’s still a bit to talk about. The traditional end of season player ratings will be posted here tomorrow, and now there’ll be the analysis of everything  – from what happened on the pitch to what players are posting on their Instagram.

“Is Kieran Tierney’s wave one of simple appreciation or is it one tinged with a bit of goodbye? Aren’t all waves at least partially a recognition of some kind of departure?”

I liked Edu’s interview with ESPN Brazil who talked about going up one more level, and I think we can all understand what we’re looking for there. Not just a very good team, but a very good squad. He’s got a lot of work to do this summer but I can guarantee you he’ll be relishing this more than any other off-season since he’s been here.

Building is difficult, complicated, time-consuming. Solving problems isn’t always easy, especially when some of those problems are very much of your own making. The reality of football is that there are always going to be situations that are demanding. Whether it’s a player who is a pain in the arse, an agent who is even worse (and that goes for outgoings and incomings), another club sticking their nose into your business when it’s not wanted, the vagaries of the market itself, there are myriad issues to contend with.

That said, when you have made progress and laid the foundations for the future, it should be easier to identify what’s needed. Edu says:

Now it’s time to understand where we can boost the units, so that the team can improve and go to another level of performance. And I think there is another level, we have one more level.

We believe that we have a level to improve in terms of performance. And now make a good transfer window, understand the need, to get right the athlete, the characteristics, the mentality of the athlete that we want, to once again raise the level of our squad.

On the one hand, I think it’s more difficult to make progress after you have improved the way we have. The margins are smaller when you’re trying to do better than 84 points, 26 wins, and scoring 88 goals (just 6 fewer than Man City who have an actual goal machine up front). The obvious thing is concede fewer, and that will be where some of the focus goes I’m certain.

But on the other, I think it becomes much easier to identify the players who can help you try and get there. The talent pool gets smaller, so you’re not having to scour the market the way you might otherwise. Is it easier to get those players? That’s a different story. Competition for the best players is rife, but you’re not scratching your head wondering if this guy or that guy can do the business.

An aspect of this summer that I am genuinely very interested in is the internal solutions we might have in mind. I think everyone is expecting us to be busy in the market, but in order to get this squad as deep as we want, we are going to need to improve on what we already have. There are question marks over some of the obvious candidates. I wrote last week about Emile Smith Rowe and Fabio Vieira, both of whom had underwhelming seasons for different reasons, but whose profiles are such that you have to consider them as candidates.

Will the slate be wiped clean at the end of this campaign so they can go again and do better? If not them, then who? It’s something that Mikel Arteta has acknowledged and spoken about more than once, so I’m curious to see how that might play out. When you look at how players like Gabriel Martinelli, Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka, Ben White, Big Gabby, and others have developed under Arteta, it’s part of his work here that doesn’t always get the attention, so let’s see what happens.

The final thing I’ll mention is mentality. It’s something the manager has referenced, instilling a culture where every game at this football club is a game to be won. Easier said that done, obviously, but that’s the mindset. Edu says:

In the past, we celebrated the fourth place, the third. Today, we are frustrated with the second.

Each season brings its own level of expectation. I expected Arsenal to be better this season, but not to the point where we’d top the table for most it. Next time around, those expectations – based on what we did and how we did it – are going to be higher again. That means less wiggle room when things go wrong, but this is what Arteta wants. These are the challenges he has set for himself and his players, because to bring the trophies and success he talks about, that’s just how it has to be.

Like I said though, it’s all ahead of us. There’s plenty of time, undoubtedly there’ll be some down days too, but we’ll work our way through it as always.

For now, I’ll leave you with a brand new Arsecast Extra, recorded with James yesterday evening. Happy listening.

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