Every fan wants to see their team find success in the most obvious and blunt of fashions: wins on the boards, seated higher up the table, trophies in the cabinet.
Arsenal are no different, but as a young team undergoing what was almost universally agreed upon as at least a two-year overhaul, looking for success and finding growth has often come in the details and from smaller wins.
In that sense, Arsenal have a few that I think people are pretty proud of: Bukayo Saka’s continued growth, Emile Smith Rowe’s play, the defensive record, the stark improvement in set piece defense, some of the wins against big clubs, and probably a few others you can think of.
Those small wins won’t be enough to have anyone declaring the season a success, but there have been moments and aspects that stand out as signs of a growing team. Yesterday’s match against Wolves has put that growth to the test, and offers Arsenal and Arteta a real opportunity to show immense maturity and poise.
While I would love for the argument to continue on for another 24 hours, as I hear the phrase ‘letter of the law’ a dozen more times, everyone needs to find a way to move on. At the very least it needs to come from the players. Arsenal are appealing the red card of Luiz, which should lead to an interesting moment — regardless of the outcome — but as a team, they need to put it behind them.
Every campaign has its trials and tribulations. Even the most flawless seasons have moments that challenge a team. The Invincibles are Arsenal’s golden team, but they had their run at the end of March and start of April that saw them draw to Manchester United in the League, followed by losing to them in the FA Cup, and then being knocked out of the Champions League at home against Chelsea just three days later.
Their response? To bounce back with a resounding 4-2 win over Liverpool, including an iconic Henry hat-trick of course.
The ability to face adversity and respond is a quintessential aspect of successful sports teams in every league, every season since the creation of sport… probably. But, it’s an aspect that one could argue Arsenal have yet to fully learn.
Of course, good teams limit these spells and naturally reduce the number of times they have to respond to this level of adversity, which also makes them a great team, but the resistance they show in the face of hardship is a learned trait. It’s a mentality that winners have and teams come together to adopt. It’s Arsenal’s turn to demonstrate they have it in their locker and display a moment of development.
It’s not a skill I think Arsenal have shown a great deal of this season. They have responded well lately going on a nice run of games, but allowing themselves to go almost all of December without a win in any competition, and going November and December without a win in the Premier League, is enough to tell you they have a ways to go.
The team is young, the coach is young, some of his coaching staff is even younger, but there are veterans there that will need to lead — even if some of them haven’t come through for the team consistently in terms of performance.
What happened against Wolves was terrible. It just really shouldn’t happen, and refs should be empowered to see the context of the game, interpret the rules, and come to the right decision on a consistent basis. If they can’t? They shouldn’t be a referee at this level. However, with Aston Villa and Leeds coming up, it’s Arsenal that need to now regroup, recover, and respond.
It’s was extremely fitting that yesterday was the due date for changes to Europa League squads. It’s a sharp reminder that feeling sorry for themselves isn’t an option. As far as Arsenal’s changes to the squad:
In: Gabriel Martinelli, Martin Ødegaard (Real Madrid, loan), Mat Ryan (Brighton, loan)
Out: Sead Kolašinac (Schalke, loan), Matt Macey (Hibernian), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (West Brom, loan), Shkodran Mustafi (Schalke), Joe Willock (Newcastle, loan), Rúnar Rúnarsson
The Europa League stands yet again as a real opportunity for Arsenal. Everyone wants to win the whole damn thing and qualify for the Champions League, that’s a given, but it’s also a real opportunity to get many in this squad accustomed to the pressures of two-legged knockout stage competitions. Even more dire is the fact that Arsenal’s opening clash with Benfica may become a single-match elimination round.
If that’s the case, Arsenal have even less time to adjust themselves and respond to this recent adversity. One poor match, one moment of letting themselves down, and they wouldn’t get a shot to make up for it. One and done. Season’s campaign over. Wave goodbye, there it goes!
Somethings in sport are always going to be out of your control as a player or coach. Things like rulings shouldn’t feel this out of control because everyone is aware of them, but as we saw, you never know how it’s going to be interpreted, and once it’s done, it’s done.
We are presented with another opportunity for this team to grow. Regroup, recover, and respond with a little fire. If Arsenal play against Aston Villa the way the did in the opening 45 minutes of that Wolves match, they will win games. If they improve their efficiency in front of night to top it off, they will win emphatically.
Definitely something I will be keeping a close eye on.