Sunday, July 21, 2024

Non-stop

Morning all from a very grey and wet Dublin, where the sorry excuse for a summer continues.

I bet they don’t have this kind of weather in Marbella, which is where Arsenal have been doing some pre-season work. Obviously this involves the players who haven’t been involved in European tournaments this summer, whether it’s the Euros or the Copa America, and I thought Martin Odegaard’s comments about that were quite interesting.

From our perspective as fans, it’s good that he, and others like Ben White, Jurrien Timber and Gabriel Jesus, haven’t spent the summer training and playing intensely competitive games, but the player’s mindset is different. The captain says:

I wanted to be in the Euros and I’m disappointed that we didn’t qualify, so I’d prefer to be there but that’s the situation. Rest is always good with the amount of intense games we play and how tough it is to play football at the biggest stage. It’s really demanding so it’s a good thing to get some rest, but I would prefer to be there and play.

The discussion about player welfare, the demands placed on them by club, country and – when it comes to the biggest stars – the associated requirements to be omnipresent as an amalgamation of footballer, human being, and brand – is one that will never end. The genie is out of the bottle, the horse has bolted, when there’s more there is almost never less, and I think we need to just accept the fact that professional football is basically an 11 month a year job. If they get 4 weeks to themselves, they’re the lucky ones, because domestic leagues, European competitions, internationals, pre-season tours and all the rest mean it is now essentially a non-stop profession.

On the Arsecast Extra yesterday we had a question about whether it might be a good idea to delay the return to action of players like Bukayo Saka, Declan Rice and William Saliba because of how far they have gone at Euro 2024 (not to mention the extra-time shenanigans they’ve been involved with too). The answer to that is, of course: yes. It would be a good idea to allow them a break to relax for a few weeks, to recharge their batteries (physical and mental) and to ease them back into action. Arsene Wenger often spoke about the need to be mindful of players who have been at international tournaments, and how time off was important.

The reality, however, doesn’t allow for that. There’s over a month between the final of Euro 2024 and the opening Premier League game. Two weeks off (where they’re not going to go on the piss and eat fish and chips before arriving back to training looking like Norm from Cheers), and then another two weeks to get them ready for Wolves. Look at our opening fixtures this season too. I hope we add some quality and depth to the squad before then, but you can’t play those games without that trio. I mean, you CAN, but you wouldn’t want to. And so the cycle continues.

Odegaard again, on last season:

It’s easy to look at one game but I think you have to look at the whole season. We didn’t have the consistency to win it and we have to earn it and we know we can improve, get better and that’s what we’re working on. We were so close but we’re going to come back even stronger now I’m sure.

This follows from comments made by Mikel Arteta last week too, the manager saying:

When you are analytical and you gather all the stats and everything the team has done over the past 11 months in the Premier League, we should have won it. That’s what the stats say. The reality is that we didn’t so there is something that is there that we haven’t managed as well as Man City or other clubs in the past. I think we understand where those margins are. I think we have come very far. We have been really consistent now in the past 24 months in terms of performance and the levels that we want to hit. But those margins are super small. One thing is to get the 90% that we want and actually the 10%, 5%, 1% is what defines success and winning major trophies. Now we have to continue to do all the right things that we are doing and just make those small margins that are going to be able to win the tournaments.

In itself that’s challenging enough, but he’s also got to deal with achieving that in a tournament summer which has an impact on many things, including his players and the recruitment side of things. He could find himself working with Bukayo Saka and Declan Rice who are walking on air after England win it, or two players who are exhausted by how much they gave to that cause only to fall short. The same might apply to William Saliba, whose France side are in action against Spain in the first semi-final tonight.

Nobody ever said it was gonna be easy, but on top of trying to improve on what we did last season – one in which we won more games than any Arsenal team has ever done in the Premier League – these other factors will test Arteta and his management skills. All I would say though, is that this is the sort of stuff he relishes, so we’ll just have to wait and see how it pans out. I suspect it might be a more complicated season than last, but I also think that will apply across the board, and not just to us.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now. Enjoy the game later.

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