Gunner Thoughts

The “look what he has to work with” narrative has an expiration date

The “look what he has to work with” excuse has an expiration date and it’s fast approaching. Next season, it can’t be used for defending Mikel or Edu without carrying a definitive stench.

Arsenal have struggled this year. Even by the standards I held them to this year with an understanding of their incomplete overhaul, working rebuild, and inexperienced manager — the year as a whole has strayed from the course.

One the most frequent reasons you’ll hear a person give is, “look what he has to work with”. In many respects it’s true, in some regards it’s a little bit of a scapegoat.

As someone who has backing Arteta, and has been throughout his trials and tribulations this year, my patience remains intact because of the belief in my understanding of what Arsenal clearly seem to be attempting to do.

There is a reason that Arteta has received the early praise he has from experienced and successful managers. There’s a reason that some reports have come out that Arteta is on Barcelona’s board of potential replacements for Koeman. There are reasons that Arsenal have begun to reap the rewards of their steady progress since January. Yes, down to individual improvements from specific players and the emergence of a few creative, glue guys to bring things together, but it’s still Mikel’s system that is being tweaked and fine tuned in response to results.

You win and lose as a team. Except when you lose to Wolves. That didn’t feel like a team loss at all…

The other aspect is the squad overhaul. It went uncompleted over the summer, but the belief that this overhaul would be a one-window gutting may be one of the most foolhardy around. Arsenal have never been a team to pour out funds in a 13-player coup like Chelsea and they likely never will be. Never say never I suppose, football is heading in a certain direction.

I digress. The project was always one in which there were likely to be many stepping stones in between its beginning and end. While many frustrated fans will point out that Arsenal have spent over 15 years on this project, it feels disingenuous to lump them all together, even if the end goal is one and the same.

At their core, almost every sports project has the same goal, but they fail and are scrapped, personnel changes occur, leadership changes, and with it, a new iteration of the project begins — even when they borrow scraps from one another.

We as fans have the unfortunate, uninfluential role of riding along and taking the turbulence on as the passengers we are and finding ways to forgive the failures. But after all, forgiveness is the hardest part, and some fans have their breaking point. If not for them, for our own sanity.

What’s clear with Arsenal is that the aim of this project is to have the Mikel Arteta growth and experience aspect intersect with the team overhaul aspects to produce a team that is ready to compete with a coach ready to lead them.

In seemed silly to believe that he would be ready to flawless lead them right out of the gate in my mind, but one can understand the belief from some fans that that is unacceptable for this club.

You may not agree with it, nor believe in it, nor even want it, but it’s clear that the club believes this to be a long-term, sustainable and more successful route. I said my patience remains intact, and that is simply because I don’t believe there’s enough definitive data points to declare an answer.

Earlier this month I wrote that there is a lot of writing on the “Mikel Arteta In or Out Wall”, but it’s tough to decipher what it tells us. Are the shortcomings matters or inexperience or inability? Likewise, are the successes examples of growth and skill or luck? Arsenal will be forced into a decision, likely next season, and whatever the outcome, I genuinely believe there will be reason to say that the writing was on the wall.

However, the “look what he has to work with” narrative has an expiration date and it’s the start of next season. I fully believe that the team will still be incomplete from however you imagine a completed side to look, but it must be at a point in which that reasoning for failures is rendered inadequate. If it’s not, then it becomes a serious point of fault that lies at the feet of Edu, Arteta, and the club as a whole.

Regardless of who they get in, who they select, where they have to settle, and key areas they look to splash some cash, two summer windows and a winter window — two winter windows if you count the first weeks of Arteta’s tenure — is enough time to put this club in a position to expect better outcomes. The fact that their wage bill clears this summer, and was cleared this winter, only serves to drive that fact home.

There are flaws in this side, maybe not enough to justify 10th place — although I firmly believe they will finish a little higher than that — but weak links nonetheless. They have been identified, Arteta and Edu have begun to make their choices on players, they have had time to plan, and now what they put together is a reflection of their ability to lead this club.

So, for those that roll their eyes and groan every time they hear someone shout emphatically that Arteta has nought to work with and is polishing turds galore out here, take solace in knowing that your stance gets a serious bump in validity after this summer window. Every bit of Arteta scrutiny gets a bump in validity in my eyes.

Arteta gets to make a few mistakes this year, he gets an easier time given he is learning. Those that don’t want to give him that I find to be harsh and border on unrealistic. That doesn’t make their concerns or frustrations false, there are worrisome signs about whether Arteta is the solution, but standing with him this year into next doesn’t have to mean you believe with 100% certainty he is the future either.

I, myself, simply see the goals, see the positives and negatives, and am willing to give him this small margin of time to come good. I know thats frustrating for the fans that have to deal with those growing pains on a game-by-game basis, and that it makes the season feel unbearably long at times, but rest assured the day of reckoning is approaching and the “look what he has to work with” justification will hold no weight.

There is an expiration date on that excuse fast approaching, and if it’s not thrown out by fans, it will quite obviously carry a distinctive stench with it.

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