BUILDING A BETTER SQUAD AND MORE MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS – Le Grove – The Arsenal Opinion Blog

My word does a lot of bad analysis happen in the space of a couple of bad results. I can’t control how people spew on the internet, but if you’ve been reading this site, you’ll at least have been prepared for bad results and shocks to the system.

Top 4, regardless of what you convinced yourself of, was always a stretch goal this season. The way we’ve dropped out of it with a whimper is the big killer because it felt like we’d come so far… but the fact we have been in the running this far into the season has been a big surprise to the majority of Arsenal fans. If targets changed, remember they changed… because we just improved why.

We have a young manager, we have a young team, and things were never going to be simple during this final run of games. This is a painful moment drenched in 15 years of similar collapses, but don’t believe the noise when people say we’re fucked. No club is better positioned to make it back to the top than Arsenal if we stay the course. The average age of our starting 11 is 23, moments like this help players grow, and our inadequate squad will be strengthened this summer so some of the problems won’t be there next season.

Arteta’s deserves to take the heat this week, no doubt. He galaxy-brained a starting 11 that could have been far simpler. The problem he’s dealing with now is that he gambled on being able to keep the same 11 fit all season and that was naive. I liken his approach to smoking, he’s been dropping 2 boxes of Marlboro a day and every day he’s been fine, the smoking could be classed as healthy up until last week… now he’s got lung disease and it doesn’t look like there’s much that can be done about it.

Tomiyasu was the warning shot in December. Arteta didn’t rest him and every issue he’s had since stems from that one calf injury. That should have been the moment he started to rotate his squad a little smarter.

We know Kieran Tierney is injury prone, he’s apparently not shy about sharing his issues behind the scenes, so it was nuts to give him every single minute. Even crazier we let him go for a Scotland doubleheader friendly.

We know Thomas Partey had a great injury record because most of the season in La Liga is like Sunday league football. They have about 6 physically imposing games a year. We also know that Thomas travels a lot and plays on terrible pitches. How hard did Thomas hit the Partey scene after his goals put Ghana in the World Cup? Who knows. But he came back from that momentous game a broken man, dropping a 2/10 performance, before hobbling off. Point here, Sambi is capable, some minutes should have been given to him, as should some starts. Sambi should have started Crystal Palace and it shouldn’t have been a drama.

Finally, if you are going to sell Auba and roll with two strikers, you have to keep both interested. I wrote it at the time. Eddie should have been given games because two things were clear: Lacazette isn’t very fit and was going to fade. Lacazette gave up on goals and having a motivated option off the bench would have helped. All the people saying Eddie wouldn’t have scored goals for us have no idea what they are talking about. He needs rhythm in the starting 11, if he’d been given it, we’d not be talking about our lack of open play goals.

As Matt Kandela from the podcast pointed out to me on the phone yesterday, Sambi Lokonga probably played within himself in the opening 45 minutes because he twice saw what happened to Nuno Tavares when he had a bad start. In the creative world, if you beast someone for taking chances on ideas or work, they will not come to you with ambitious work the next time, they will play it safe. No one wants to be humiliated. You can’t tell me that our younger players don’t fear that pre-halftime ax, Sambi was thinking about not making a mistake, versus how to break the lines with his runs and clever passing.

Arteta is talking about the beautiful opportunity we have to take top 4. On paper, it’s possible. If we beat Southampton, fans will start imagining the promised land. I think it’s over. I don’t think there’s enough belief in the squad that they can do big things against big teams without Thomas Partey in the middle. If we’re honest, most of us expect to lose against Southampton next week.

With that in mind, it’s worth looking to the summer, because Edu will have the feelers out already.

SQUAD DEPTH

The biggest weakness in the Arsenal squad at the moment is that we’re far too dependent on the majestic skills of Thomas Partey. Yes, I have seen people calling him average, but again, this is the weakness of the internet, there are a lot of bad opinions that manage to catch light. Partey is too good, his powers of anchoring our midfield cannot be replicated. This summer, expect us to try and find players that can make the loss of him, which is now a regular occurrence, a little easier to deal with. Tielemans is on the agenda, I suspect we’re looking at Renato Sanches, Ruben Neves might be a little pricey, but no doubt he’ll be of interest as he’s an excellent player. The midfield workload needs to be shared amongst dynamic players that are mobile enough to do the system justice.

GOALS GOALS GOALS

Arsenal will sign a striker. The constant chatter about Arsenal making a mistake by not signing one is painful. On the one hand, yes, we should have signed a striker. But the truth of the matter is a little more complicated.

Firstly, we did try and sign a striker: Dusan Vlahovic. The player went where his agent told him to go. Not much you can do there. But, bigger picture here, there is a hyper-specific profile of talent we’re going after because this purchase needs to work for us for 8-9 seasons. They are looking for someone that is tall, powerful, and fast. The player has to be young. The link-up play has to be good. Plus: Goals, goals, goals.

How many of those exist in world football right now? 4 or 5? How many clubs do you think sell their top-class talents in January? Not many. The money will be the same in the summer, so why would they ruin their season for Arsenal’s needs?

Waiting on a striker hurts, no doubt, but when we land a near-world class talent in the summer, you will be grateful we didn’t blow £20m on someone that can’t do the job. You have to always remember that Arsenal are not a financial superpower in football. Cash is finite, the over-investment that happened last summer won’t continue to happen, we have to get things right.

LEFT BACK

Do not be surprised if we bolster the left side this summer. Kieran Tierney is a top player, we all love him, but he can’t be relied upon. Every season, there is a huge chunk of time he’ll be out injured. If someone offers big money for him, I suspect we’ll shift him on. Great players are no good if they are on the bench. You need consistency at left back, that isn’t going to be Kieran, especially if we make Europe.

MANAGEMENT

Mikel Arteta will also need to address some things this summer. He’s too transactional with players. That is ok when you are winning because no one notices weaknesses in a system when points are going on the board. However, things don’t always go well. One of the biggest problems they had filming war scenes on Game Of Thrones is that idle horses get bored and start causing problems. Arteta has left certain horses idle at Colney, now he needs them, they lack focus, fitness, and connection. If we’re going to be successful as a club, he needs to have coaching staff around him that can deal with the human aspect of squad planning, and actually influence him to do things that don’t come naturally. My guess is that the only way that element of his game improves is if he decides to embrace it himself, because some of these problems he’s facing now seemed so obvious, I’m a bit shocked they have to be lessons.

There’s a big test case coming up: William Saliba. All the press seem to report that he’s been out of sight out of mind. Why? Ben White and Gabriel have been poor, Saliba is now a French international, why hasn’t Arteta been talking to him? If there’s a grudge, who at the club is showing leadership and making him sort it out? I don’t expect Arteta to be Whatsapping every single loan player, but I do expect him to have relationships with those that are smashing up a league every week.

So… a miserable day, a shit weekend, but as Colin Lewin said on our podcast, things are never as good as you think, and they are never as bad.

Amen to that.

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