“There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves. We have to react. On Sunday,” says Arteta, “we have a really important game, and then we’ll look at Zurich.”
“We have to be much better than we were [against PSV]. We knew what they were trying to do and the way we executed certain actions, the way we competed, it wasn’t good enough.”
It’s the quote of a manager well aware of a team’s — and very possibly his own — inadequate performance midweek with an opportunity to lock up the group stages once and for all. But it’s also words that will only carry so much weight with fans that are rightfully concerned with not only that match in an isolated fashion, but that match as a member of five consecutive less-than-steller performances.
It’s well understood that any team in sport has both a floor and a ceiling when it comes to their play’s level of potential. I firmly believe we as fans are still discovering exactly where this Arsenal side’s floor and ceiling lie as well as just how much space is in between the two.
When I talk about this team’s ceiling of potential, I really am just looking at this current season. As far as this project’s potential, the foundations that have been laid suggest this is the very onset of a team that is capable of competing for top honors across the next decade. The youthful star power exists and is growing, the windows continue to be used for building out more competition and depth internally, and it will be about how Arsenal navigate the comings and goings of players to extend this window of opportunity while taking it to the next level.
But when we look at the start of the season and the matches that saw Arsenal dominate their way to the top of the table, and then contrast them with the previous five matches, the picture starts to form. On a real positive, Arsenal are still demonstrating that ability to possess the ball at levels we haven’t seen for a long time. The problem, quite clearly, has been just how average or poor Arsenal’s finishing and dangerous chance creation has become — and what that does to the side as a whole.
When Arsenal lack that venom, it not only frustrates the Gunners, it supplies confidence for other teams to hit back and believe in themselves. Tie that in with a recent proclivity to put together even worse second-half performances, and teams like Southampton, Leeds, and PSV are finding footholds, rather than feeling dismembered and distraught.
People are pointing to plenty of reasons as they search for answers: fatigue, the natural ebbs and flows of form, injuries to Zinchenko removing a real technician for the side. All are fair things to dissect, and most likely all are playing a role in this latest decline to varying degrees, but that’s not going away unless this side steps up and rediscovers the gear that has eluded them.
What all means is that this a person can’t help but this today’s match with Nottingham Forest will tell us a lot about this team. A lot about where their median level of play lands them; a lot about their ability to overcome this season’s first prolonged slide; and probably a lot about where their fitness puts them. It’s not only an opportunity to right the sheep, heed the wake up call, or whatever other idiom you want to use that says, “hello, wake it the hell up boys and play to your potential”, it’s a chance for them to send a message to the fans that we can all breathe a little.
A good performance and win is probably expected, but recent game definitely throw that into questions, but when you support a club that has gone through a rebuild, has a young team growing in their own game and stature, and don’t wield that blank check financial power — although ~£400m isn’t something to spit upon — runs like this are going to happen. Matches against PSV, who give them some credit are not a bad club in world football even if we should beat them, are going to happen. Are you title contenders, top four guarantees, or top four dogfighters?
Now, Arsenal, is the time to tell fans a little bit more about who you are, and good bad performance against Forest, the match stands to do so.