We made it. Some how, some way, we made it. Today marks the end of what has probably been one of the most challenging years worldwide in over 50 years. Possibly since World War II? I don’t know, maybe there’s an argument there.
With this final day of the year it’s safe to say that starting tomorrow Arsenal will be a completely new team. New year, new you… right?
Okay, okay. Sadly that’s not likely, but Arsenal ended the year with a win to make it two in a row. A modest high note to end on for a team that has struggled so much this year.
However, these two wins have shown what hungry, energetic youth can do when that youth has an ability to blend workrate and technical quality. Together, they have begun to draw out the start of a blueprint for success. An unfinished, incomplete blueprint, but one that needs the time and effort to be developed.
To say that just youth won these matches for us seems to minimize and diminish the role the other six or seven players on the pitch played. They were an incredible catalyst for many aspects of Arsenal’s play but well placed veterans certainly had their role. Look at the four goal scorers over the last two games – Lacazette, Xhaka, Saka, Lacazette.
The chances were worked and created by youth, helped and finished with quality by a bit of experience. Saka being the star boy that is managing to do it all at the moment, although even he is starting to fall into the category of ‘match experienced’ as he is now over 60 appearances for the first team.
The point is, Arteta and Arsenal are cooking up something nice when they strike the balance between veteran and youth within their squad. Now they simply need to use that foundation, tweak it for comfort and fit, and inject a bit more quality in key areas. As we head into 2021, that needs to be vision of Arsenal FC from top to bottom.
Over the next few weeks and the second half of the season, Arteta will likely face a few trying times that will test his fortitude. Luiz will return and at some point likely make a run back into the side. Willian will come back from his illness and look to inserted back into the lineup. The attacking front as a whole will become a bit crowded as Willian, Pepe, Reiss Nelson, and Saka all contend for the right wing; Aubameyang, Lacazette, Nketiah, and maybe even Balogun will will vie for the central role; and Aubameyang, Reiss Nelson, Pepe, Willian, Martinelli, and Saka are all potential players on the left wing.
Tough choices are going to be made and some veterans are going to be turned away if Arteta sticks with the course. It may be difficult early on, but I truly believe it the club as a whole will reap the benefits of sticking with this foundation. Why? Because the kids themselves don’t necessarily need to be brilliant for Arsenal to get results with it.
Take Emile Smith Rowe for example. He has been very, very good in these last two games, but to be very good he hasn’t needed to play absolute blinders where he is covering the most distance, pressing the most, creating 8 chances, having a few shots, and tallying assists. He has simply needed to play within himself, stay organized and active, and play his role.
Martinelli as well. His pressing has been great, his energy and movement is lively and infectious, but that’s simply his game and he is great at it. He hasn’t needed to have 5 shots in each match, scoring all the goals, and going on mazy dribbles to impress.
Saka is a slightly different story, that kid is excellent. But I believe that as he is finding his footing on the right wing and continuing to showcase just what he is capable of, he has had a great platform around him in the last two matches to do his thing. Bellerin has been very nice behind him, Emile Smith Rowe helped work him into the game a bit more in the second half versus Brighton, and Lacazette made his work count with the goal.
For me, that’s a lot of why this plan has worked so well, and why so many have been wanting to see it. These three offer skillsets that few else in the side offer, while the rest of the side is capable of creating a platform that allows them to flourish. It’s far from a finished product, but continuing to give them those opportunities while tweaking the platform is the next step. Easing away from reliance on aging players with little to no future at Arsenal needs to be a top priority.
That means resisting the temptation to fall back into bad habits that formed early in this season and forcing yourself to play for the future — for better or worse.
Certain aspects in the coming weeks should really benefit the side when it comes to feeling more secure in the choice to allow more minutes for Martinelli and Smith Rowe and other youth. Possibly none bigger than the return of Thomas Partey. Never the biggest fan of “he’s like a new signing”, but given that Partey has been hurt for most of his time at Arsenal so far and we have seen little from him, he will be like a new signing. Injecting his quality in the midfield to support Smith Rowe is mouth watering.
Which moves us into the January transfer window. Everyone wants Arsenal to rebuild and revamp this side with quality, but I don’t think anyone wants them to force it or rush it to the detriment of what we have seen in the last two matches. I’m talking about moves like Eriksen and Isco and the ridiculousness that was Diego Costa rumors. If those are loans that Arsenal are going to explore, which makes a little more sense, Arteta must remain dedicated to the plan at hand, because my horrendous nightmare is another 3 months of forcing a “Willian Mk 2” into the fold and hampering Smith Rowe’s growth.
If there is a player on the market that is a long term solve, and the funds are there, get him. No questions asked, get him. Obviously names like Aouar, Buendia, Bissouma, or Soumare come to mind pretty quickly, but if they aren’t available during a window that is tough to make things happen within, leave it off. Stick with this blueprint. Forcing some move and chucking your lot in on Eriksen being the guy that is going to bring us back into 4th this year seems ill advised. I’m not even sure there is someone who can offer us that.
It’s why I was pleasantly surprised to see the news that Kolasinac is being loaned back to Schalke as our first news of the window. Arsenal need to move on deadweight and sunk costs, almost as much as they need to bring in new blood. The window will be an incredibly interesting spectacle for Arsenal and I can’t tell if I am excited for it or nervous to see what Edu has in store for us. But I believe it will tell us a lot about their intentions and plans for the side — short term and long.
All I can hope is they follow through, stick with this is, inject the quality as it returns, and see where this youthful influence takes us this season, and how far ahead it can launch us for future seasons. It’s a new year and the future feels bright for what feels like the first time in a long time.
Next challenge, breaking down Big Sam. It will be incredibly tough for this Arsenal side, but it’s the type of challenge they need to rise to. Enjoy your new year!