If Brexit provides us with one thing, it is the affirmation of Samuel Johnson’s view that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. And that politicians are chancers who write unnecessarily long resignation letters carrying words like “good conscience” which we know is something an MP doesn’t have. And that lying to Parliament is just ‘misinterpreting facts’ not a breach of the Ministerial Code.
A recent pronouncement declared the FA aim of reducing the number of non-homegrown players in each Premier League squad from 17 to 12 after Brexit. It’s underpinned by the spurious logic that this will improve the standard of English players and thus the national team. But when the head coach of the national team relies on Luddite tactics…
For Arsenal, it’s not so much an issue with natural wastage solving the problem. That’s before Unai Emery tackles the question of who is surplus to requirements through ability.
Despite his words recently that January isn’t a transfer window he likes, Raul Sanllehi is, you feel, likely to have a busy month. Last year we were brassick yet found £50m down the back of Ivan’s sofa to buy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. You sense that despite the AST’s ‘educated guess’ of £40m in the kitty, there’s a bit more cash swilling round if it’s needed. And it is.
Aaron Ramsey could lighten the load with a move that raised some funds, even if he’s not obliged to do anything like that. It’s weird how easily that flip spins so easily off the tongue. We know you don’t have to help us and it may cost you a few million quid, but do us a favour, eh?
Such are the fripperies of being a football supporter but when we have few saleable assets that we want to lose…
You Snooze, We Lose
It links to where we are now as well. Unai Emery’s squad is very much a work-in-progress. The strengths and weaknesses are well-documented: shoehorning Lacazette and Aubameyang into the attack, slow starts and wonky defending.
The introduction of Lucas Torreira solved a major problem. The midfield is much more solid. In keeping with the other members of the squad, the Uruguayan and Granit Xhaka are fitter than we’ve seen in previous squads. Not just physically but mentally. The sinking feeling following each goal conceded isn’t surfacing. It feels like the squad believe they can win, even if they go a goal down. Which is different from last year.
Last year, drawing three on the bounce in the Premier League was a crisis; now it’s a blip. What a difference a long unbeaten run makes. The next test for the squad is how they react to defeat. While the last defeat found salvation in the subsequent 16 games, the second-last defeat wasn’t met with such good fortune.
It’s not so much about losing because every team does. The question arises because it will happen in a big match. Even Bournemouth after the international break is a big match given our respective league positions. It’s followed by Vorskla (big because of winning EL group), Manchester United and Tottenham.
There’s no time for recovery in between those matches so we’ll get some indication of how deep the self-belief runs in the squad. The intangible in all this is that the manner of defeat plays a significant role. A thumping is easily dismissed as a ‘one-off’ while a close defeat is ‘one of those days’. But anything in between is harder to shake because it says ‘not good enough’. That is the issue to overcome.
Anyway, who says we are going to lose…
The Biggest Success Story
Emery biggest achievement isn’t on the playing side, however. It’s in winning over the majority of the fanbase. He’s come in with as difficult a start to his reign as you could imagine and come out the other side.
A change to the way we play without a huge turnover in playing staff. We feel closer to the top four than last season. I know we’re sitting closer to them but you know what I mean. Last year, we knew early on the season wasn’t ending well. Now, it feels like we have much more of a chance of achieving something.
We’ve become difficult to beat – downright impossible for sixteen teams – as Emery transitions us out of ‘Wengerball’ into a new era. All without resorting to ultra-defensive tactics.
But Unai knows there are issues to resolve and is setting about resolving them. He may not get it right first time, every time but he is getting it right eventually. And doing so without seeing belief he is the right man for the job evaporating like a mistimed Mustafi slide.
No small task given the febrile atmosphere surrounding the club last year. But he’s still got a big task ahead.