Throughout the course of Project Restart, I have been pretty outspoken about my belief that the timeline has been rushed, words versus actions have differed in the messages they send, and that the return to matches will see football return as a, possibly fitting, shell of itself. However, simply because I feel that way does not mean that a return is right or wrong, nor that my verdict on the situation is how the world will progress.
Regardless of how I have felt about it all, there is little doubt in my mind that giving Arsenal more time on the training ground with Mikel to work through aspects will do wonders for the side and young manager. Uninterrupted time with the team is something that Mikel has not been able to come by since being hired in in December and thrown to the Premier League wolves in a trial by fire that has demanded he be ready for another game every three days. But he has risen to the challenge, become a leader of the pack, and the rest of the team is falling in line with his vision.
Players getting behind the manager’s vision and instructions was something that Unai Emery couldn’t make happen and no doubt played a large part in his downfall, even if he has plenty of alternate thoughts on the matter. But Mikel’s success in this area has not only benefitted the team in producing better results on the pitch in matches, we are seeing successes on the training ground where it all starts.
Unanimous vote to move to phase 2
While this is not a success for only Mikel and Arsenal, David Ornstein has announced this morning that clubs have unanimously agreed to progress to phase 2 of Project Restart’s training plans. Phase 2 will see clubs return to some degree of limited contact within training sessions and offers another step toward resuming the 2019/20 season.
More details on this announcement to come shortly, and an important meeting will be held tomorrow where clubs will discuss start dates, fixtures, curtailment scenarios, and broadcast rebates. Stay tuned!
Calum Chambers return
Yesterday’s training sessions had a pleasant side story as Calum Chambers returned to light training as a part of the rehabilitation from an ACL injury. While there is no chance that he will be available to return within this season, assuming this season does not go until deep into next fall, this is an opportunity for him to work toward his goal date of September. Simply taking part in some fitness work by himself – jogging, stretching, etc. – Chambers was back at London Colney and back to work.
It will be an interesting summer for the 25-year-old who no doubt will be fighting for any bit of playing time. There has been speculation that his name may make its way onto the transfer list in Arsenal’s plans for an overhaul, but that is easier said than done given he currently is “damaged goods”, to put it frankly. This may offer him one last year and opportunity to stake a claim within the team, but for now, it’s nice to see him working his way back from injury.
Matt Smith getting attention
While Project Restart and a return to training is mostly about teams getting back into some form of shape to complete this tumultuous season, it has also provided opportunities for coaches to work more one-on-one with players that normally may not get this kind of attention. With youth seasons over, and a season that could quickly see the Gunners with little to play for, Arteta giving an opportunity to young players to test things out may be a very real outcome.
One of these players is Arsenal youngster, and up and coming star, Matthew Smith. At 19, this Arsenal midfielder has caught the eye of coaches at London Colney and is now getting some attention from Mikel Arteta, given the small sided sessions. Having impressed at the U23 level, and given any remaining schedule will see a large congestion of games, there is a real chance he could be given some match time. At the very least, with 5 substitutions now being available to managers, the opportunities to be brought into games is very real. A perfect example of how managers and Arteta may use Project Restart to work on things for the future, given the upcoming reliance on youth that is likely. He is one to keep an eye on and someone that will look to put his best foot forward, no pun intended, to carve out a space in a midfield that needs drastic changes.
William Saliba quotes
The Athletic’s James McNicholas, wrote a piece about what St. Etienne’s manager Claude Puel had to say on Saliba playing in the Premier League, and to put it simply, the statement was: “He is ready”.
The French league’s season has been ended and while Saliba won’t be allowed to return and play in matches this year, I imagine fans and Arteta will be very excited to welcome him to London Colney and get him acclimated with the team, its vision and expectations, as well as training itself.
I, myself, have been trying to temper my expectations of the young, star prospect, but it is certainly hard given the extreme need Arsenal have for improvements in the backline. Hearing quotes from Claude Puel like, “He is a young player but with a lot of maturity in his play. Also, in his life. He is a player with a good feeling and spirit,” make it difficult.
He is a center back that can pass, wins just under 2 tackles a game, makes almost 2 interceptions a game, and commits little to no fouls. With a 6’4” frame he is a threat out of the air and if partnered with the right companion, could easily be the new anchor in the Gunner’s lineup.
In addition to these callouts, we have seen Aubameyang and the rest of the team return with smiles…and some suspect hairstyles. It’s positive signs, positive vibes, and until there are positive COVID tests, it’s positive sessions for Mikel and the squad. Stay tuned for an update on Phase 2 of Project Restart when more information is released. Stay safe, stay well.