It’s Tuesday and I have to say, the joy and pride from this weekend’s win has yet to wear off. Throughout the season, this Arsenal team has continued to set, break, reset, and break again the boundaries I thought they were capable of at this stage of growth. I think many of us have felt the same.
It’s why early in the season fans were cautious about how much belief they put in this team’s ability to truly be called ‘title contenders’. It’s why many fans didn’t accept that potential as a fact, until after the World Cup break.
Bitter naysayers and downplayers and ‘haters’ like to throw around the money spent, and like any other large Premier League team, Arsenal have spent, but it’s willfully obtuse to suggest that a large percentage of that money wasn’t attached up front due to player’s potential. Potential that few will have through would show this much promise this early.
It was this cautious belief that caused me to write an article at the beginning of the season that stated Arsenal’s ‘title contention’ status rested fully on the shoulders of Saka, Martinelli, and Ødegaard. Dependent on their ability to make astronomical leaps in their goal production and carry the emotional burden of leading a team under those circumstances, I didn’t think they were ready to do that.
I have been gobsmacked at how wrong I was. Or at least at how fast they proved themselves ready.
On a technicality, they haven’t lead us to a title and, arguably, some of the big moments still caused too much inconsistency, but not to a degree that I would use to call myself correct, quite the opposite. I now see a team that has made immense leaps from boys trying to make a name for themselves to men ready to lead this club and everyone associated with it to honors and glory.
This became a fact no later than the end of February when they took their loss to City on the chin and bounced back in fine form.
And since they have demonstrated growth in technical ability, production, consistency, output, and many other factors, we are left to inspect much closer for more moments of growth. To look for those foreshadowing moments of maturity.
I think that’s what made me so proud of this weekend’s win, the growth in maturity to do it.
In yesterday’s post-match blog, I described the match as:
It was ninety minutes of fire, fight, and feisty behavior. The crowd was raucous with a blood-thirsty energy as the Magpie supporters attempted to turn St. James’ Park into a hostile colliseum fit for gladiatorial sport. The onus fell on Arsenal to deal with the heat, temper it with a calm composure, and defy Newcastle wishes to seize an important result.Arsenal Fight the Fire and Deliver Rewarding Win Marked as Revenge
In the paragraph after that, I talked about my lack of surprise that this was the atmosphere because it had worked for Newcastle so recently. In fact, fairly or not, Arsenal have earned themselves a reputation —perhaps as a club— that can’t handle matches like this, can’t hack it when things get fast, physical, and hostile. To make matters more difficult, there were a lot of no-calls that I doubt a team gets outside of their home stadium.
I think this belief has proved to be a misconception a few times this season. Arsenal’s league-best Away record, goals scored statistic, and goal differential shows a team that can walk into foreign territory and walk away with a result. Yet, I still had plenty of nerves and fears about this match script being one that could cause our players to hide from the action and look to push the responsibility of initiative onto the plates of teammates around them. That a few crunching, physical tackles — or uncalled ankle scrapes and elbows — would start a chain reaction.
Instead, we witnessed a team rise to the fight, remain calm and composed, and look to retain their identity of play. We saw a team mature enough to take the sting out of the critical junctures, slow the game down, and not dissolve into trying to match Newcastle’s physical play — a mistake that I believe would have played into the Magpie’s hand.
One non-youth player that helped was Jorginho. He was outstanding on the day. Which brings us to another point of growth: Arteta.
In a project like this, so many of the ‘under the microscope’ aspects have to do with players. Often we forget that much of this project’s foundations were built around the idea of two growth trajectories converging – Arteta as a manager and these young players hitting their prime.
Dissatisfied fans like to suggest Arteta does no growing, throwing out each hiccup or failure as the culmination of all his work, but the reality is Arteta has grown immensely this year. He’s put out a team that has an opportunity to tie the most Premier League points this club has ever achieved, he’s launched this attack into the upper echelons of the league, and still there is room for improvement. That should be an exciting aspect of this team.
Versus Newcastle, I thought he got every aspect of the match correct. From starting lineup, to tactical plan involving a slower game, to recognizing when and where subs were needed, in the big moments, he got everything right. He proved himself worth of the spotlight on the big stage.
Next up for him will be developing the next stage and iteration of this team, as well as, demonstrating for us whether or not he has the ability to get a team to play multiple iterations of itself. Can he, like Pep, get his team to play a variety of tactical set ups to create mismatches and competitive edges against teams? It seems the best coaches are those that have that ability to continually tweak and iterate upon themselves. They zig while the league zags.
All in all, it was nearly impossible to not feel immense pride in this team on Sunday. How could you not love walking into enemy territory and getting one over on a crowd intent on making life for our boys hell? It was such a composed, mature win, I think we all hope it’s a sign of this team’s ability to handle any hostile environment the league has to offer.