Every Arsenal fans will breathe a bit easier to start the week after watching Manchester City lose to Tottenham and keep Arsenal exactly where they were to start the weekend — five points clear with a game in hand.
On some level a person could argue that losing to Spurs away from home isn’t as deep of a cut as losing 18th place Everton, but three points dropped are three points are three points dropped — especially considering Arsenal have already taken the double over Spurs this season.
No one wants to thank Spurs for anything, so I won’t, but it is a real reminder for those that found themselves trapped in the “woe is we, our chance of winning the title is gone” hole of depression that teams lose games. In fact, only two teams in the Premier League have shown they don’t really lose and that’s Arsenal and Newcastle, who may not lose but, by god, will they draw.
Dropping points is never a good thing, even if you declare it a “much needed wake up call”, which it can be, but the more worrisome aspect of this loss could be the blueprint it sets forth for others to follow. Everton deployed a 4-5-1 system that effectively overran Arsenal in central areas, stayed compact, and shifted with relative ease to double team Saka and Martinelli on the wings. It created a mid-block not dissimilar to what Newcastle used to quiet the Gunner attack and effectively deprived Arsenal of their usual patterns of play and attacking angles.
Don’t be surprised to see other teams sitting lower in the table, desperate for a point, give it a whack. Which means Arsenal will have to come with a solution.
Chalking this match up as a “wake up call” is only a good thing if the waking up occurs. It’s for this reason that Arsenal will need to realign themselves, reinvest, and respond versus Brentford.
“This journey is going to be difficult and challenging,” said Arteta after the Everton match, “and there’s going to be bigger stones in the middle that we’re going to have to overcome. And now we’re going to prepare really well in the week to get to Saturday in the right emotional level and right spirit to be perfect.”
“The best way to do it is to understand who we are, why we’ve gotten to where we are and then start to do all the basic things right, play the way we want to play, and how to do it better individually and collectively. Then you’ll earn the right to win games.”
January, as a month was an onslaught of activity. Even though players say they don’t pay as much attention to transfer activity as fans do, and they probably definitely don’t, the players are aware the club is in for a title charge and looking to make moves happen. Couple that with a month filled almost entirely of difficult opponents and you can see just how little room for breathing there was.
Maybe that caught up to them, maybe this weekend’s result has nothing to do with that, but Arsenal have an opportunity to make real strides toward the title in February. The opportunity continues against Brentford at The Emirates, and Brentford have only managed 2 wins on the road this season. They fight for a lot of draws (5 draws, 50% of away matches), but thats still a significant drop from their home form.
Following that, Arsenal have Manchester City at home, and if they can’t get themselves up for that match, lord help us all. Getting a result at home versus them would catapult this team into the stratosphere.
Then, to close the month, two away trips to Aston Villa and Leicester City respectively. I’d be lying if there wasn’t a fear that Leicester fire Rodgers right before our match to give us another ‘new manager bounce’ match, but both teams present matches this side should beat with some degree of comfort, even on the road.
Overall, I feel good about Arsenal’s opportunity to bounce back. We have seen so little failure from this team this season, maybe we intrinsically are pouring over them, looking for a sign that foreshadows a stumble. So we see this hiccup and want to make a mountain out of a simple molehill. The inclination is to get ahead of a stumble and make changes that prevent it from becoming a fall, but overreacting has the ability to make stretch this period of faltering to multiple games, which Arsenal can’t afford.
After this weekend’s loss, there is a lot of buzz from some Arsenal fans calling for significant changes to the lineup. I’m unsure if it’s simply because Arsenal haven’t lost games this year and fans have forgotten how to react to these results or if it’s because fans feel a level of insanity at the idea of doing the same thing that just failed at Everton, but Arsenal and Arteta will have have to avoid overcorrecting themselves.
This team, which has remained more consistent in selection this year than just about any of the last 30 seasons for Arsenal, has put Arsenal on top of the table and multiple matches clear. It doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity for specific players to take advantage of the opening and pry their way into the lineup, but there is an point in which that level of rotation stands to send Arsenal’s level of play closer to what we have seen in the cups than the level we see in the league.
People suggesting we rotate Tomiyasu, Tierney, Trossard, and even rotate out Xhaka are suggesting four pretty significant changes to the team, and it feels rash.
Ben White has been off the mark these last two games and Martinelli hasn’t been nearly as effective since Jesus left the lineup and Nketiah stopped offered that rotational threat with the left wing. Both are things Arteta may have to make a serious decision around, but beware the idea of changing too much and unsettling the play.
Personally, I would consider making one of those changes and leaving it at that.
But this is where we as fans just don’t know. We spend two hours with the team a week, compared to the staff that spend, literally, twenty times more time with the squad in a week, and we form our opinions from the outside looking inward. We aren’t in the locker room, nor on the pitch, nor in the meeting rooms, and that’s okay. Being a fan sometimes comes in the form of conversations like these. It’s this participation that keeps us coming back. But that doesn’t mean Arteta will be wrong for making no changes to the team that has been near flawless this season.
Cool heads prevail. And cool heads are what Arsenal lost in the late stages versus Everton. It’s what this young team can lose when the going gets tough. But reclaiming their composure and responding to adversity the way they have all season will put them back on track.
They find themselves in the drivers seat, but the road remains long. Brentford is next and it’s a big opportunity to respond to the loss and gain some confidence heading into the marquee matchup with Manchester City on 15 February.
Nice and short today, everyone enjoy the start to the week!