No football matches doesn’t mean no football content, right? You have to get your fix somehow. Two weeks without good football? Never. And sorry, but the UEFA Nations League wasn’t exactly good football. Of course our Arsenal players were outstanding, call me biased I guess. But for the most part it was players going through the motions, a few good plays, and trying to stay healthy for the return to club action and the World Cup in the winter. Absolute snooze.
Which is why I turned to the fantastic documentary on Netflix surrounding Figo’s famous – or infamous depending on who you are — but nonetheless historic transfer from Barcelona to Real Madrid. It’s a fantastic documentary, truly, if you’re a football fan and love a great documentary about the history of the game. It’s a really good watch. But there is one part early in the documentary that really stood out to me and motivated today’s blog.
It actually comes from an interview with Pep Guardiola who was on Barcelona when Figo was. He commented on one aspect of Figo, besides him being astoundingly good, that stood out to him: when the going got tough, Figo demanded the ball and stepped up to make stuff happen.
It’s a quality that separates a star from a superstar, and a young prospective talent that can produce within a succeeding team from one that has matured and creates their own success. And when you look at the best players around the world, the ones admired by fans of every other team, and their own, they almost all share this quality.
Arsenal restart their Premier League campaign with a tough matchup against Spurs which will start, probably, the toughest month of their season. The fixture list got a little easier when Manchester City was postponed and replaced by a Europa League group stage match against PSV Eindhoven, something Arsenal fans may be thankful for in a few weeks — and again in a few months when they play a City side with fresher legs — but the fact remains this month will be an onslaught.
Nine matches in thirty days — 5 Premier League, 4 Europa League:
- Tottenham (H)
- Bodø/Glimt (H)
- Liverpool (H)
- Bodø/Glimt (A)
- Leeds (A)
- PSV Eindhoven (H)
- Southampton (A)
- PSV Eindhoven (A)
- Nottingham Forest (H)
There is a bit of fortune that many of these are in the Europa League which will naturally allow for some degree of rotation, but with a thin squad and a few players carrying existing niggles, further injury could present a real problem. Even without any injuries, this month will prove to be a challenge for this side. That’s a lot of fixtures, all in rapid succession, with little time to regroup — for better or worse — if there were a bad performance.
But when the going gets tough, someone will have to demand the ball and make plays happen.
Arsenal have controlled their matches for immense stretches. They haven’t been flawless, they cede a few things here and there or take their foot off the gas when they need to put things away by continuing to push forward full throttle, but they’ve shown an immense amount of maturity in how they dominate across ninety minutes.
However, it could be safe to assume that this month will be a challenge on a new level — or at least a different one. Navigating a lot of minutes, keeping energy up, maintaining our sharp edge; it’s not an easy task, but one that could show us just how far Arsenal have grown. Beyond that, it will show us just how much the young players have grown.
When the game isn’t quite clicking, or the minutes are stacking up and legs get tired; when the team is on the road a lot late in the month and Southampton, the most Jekyll-Hyde team in the league, is playing well — who steps up, demands the ball, and makes something happen? Who puts the life back into the team?
It doesn’t have to be the same person every time. It doesn’t have to be captain Martin Ødegaard every time. We just need to see that someone steps up on their day and shows that mature edge to seize the game by the scruff of the neck, makes that Figo-esque move, and buries the opposition.
It’s a major opportunity for Martinelli, Ødegaard, and Saka to take another leap forward and something tells me we are going to see Saka break out in a major way.
I’d be lying if I said I weren’t a little nervous about this month. The season has started so well, you want to see this 2.57 points per game run continue. You want to see Arsenal stay atop the table for another month. What it would do to the confidence to have the team be leading the race heading into a short November. Could they actually be on top of the table come Winter break? It would be an amazing sight.
But most of all, I’m keeping my eyes out for those signs of considerable growth and continued maturity from these young players that suggest they are on their way toward truly competing for the league. Few teams to none dominate the league for 38 matches. There will likely always be those frustrating runs of fixtures. But the best teams, the most mature teams, have the players that step up and make something happen. So how much have Arsenal grown?