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July 2021
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Narrow escapes are always part of being successful, but they’re not everything

By Tony Attwood

When there is mention the unbeaten season and my thoughts immediately turn to the last match of the season, going one down, the rescue and victory, staying for an hour in the ground, and then driving through London and finding that everywhere there seemed to be people out and about waving scarves and flags.

The whole city seemed to be in celebration although there were of course lots of fans of other clubs skulking under the table and behind the sofa or watching Thunderbirds while pretending nothing had happened at all.

We focus of course on our experience and that final moment, forgetting that although we were unbeaten some of those games really were far more nerve-wrenching than exciting.

So in moments like this, thinking of last night, we remember the goals, the clinching of the victory from the jaws of Jaws, and the sheer relief that the season is still alive.

But that is not all there is, because there has to be worry too.  Just as winning the FA Cup last season does nothing for this season, so even if we were to win the Europa that would do nothing for us next season save give us a place in Europe.   If the League form continues to leave us in the doldrums those games will be hard to win.

And suddenly with such thoughts, my mind went back to Liam Brady the glorious gem in Terry Neill’s side who won the cup with Arsenal in 1979.  Brady then left in 1980 because what he was getting at Arsenal was simply not enough.  235 games and one trophy, yet he was a genius.  Italy beckoned.

The screams at the time were all about how could the club have been so stupid as to let him go, and where was his loyalty, but that was not it, for he simply had wanted more than the club could offer.

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And I think these thoughts because of our current wonderful crop of youngsters: Saka, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Willock.  At first they just want games, but then they want trophies.  And have no doubt they will be surrounded by people telling them that they won’t win anything with Arsenal, that Arsenal’s glory days have gone, and that their career is short, and if they don’t move on now they are going to regret it for the rest of their lives.

Thierry Henry stayed at Arsenal for as long as he did because a) he believed in Wenger, and b) Wenger delivered the trophies.  Henry eventually did go to Barcelona of course, but that was after 274 games, and in 2007 by which time it was obvious that Arsenal could no longer compete with Chelsea and Manchester United.

This season we might win the Europa, and that might encourage our brilliant youngsters to stay a bit longer, but if we don’t and we have a season out of Europe, we need to remember that the loyalty that we feel to Arsenal is not shared by our players.  They don’t want to look back on their careers later in life with a sense of what might have been.  They want to look back with a sense of achievement.  The sense of achievement that Lehmann, Henry, Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg, Lauren, Campbell, Toure etc etc have through being part of that amazing team.

So our best players will move to where they think they have a greater likelihood of gaining immortality.  To stay with us they need to feel Arsenal is not just rising back to the top, but doing it quickly.

Mr Wenger gave Arsenal unimaginable success (and yes the second double was unimaginable for over half his second season) and made everyone look at Arsenal afresh, and made the players realise that Arsenal was a very special place to be.  But that early success was unusual.

It took Chapman five years to get Arsenal on track and win his first trophy.  It took George Graham three years.  For Wenger it was two years.   Arteta did it in year one.

As a result, if we don’t win the Europa this season, I am sure Mikel Arteta will nonetheless survive, not least because I suspect the owners realise that another rapid turnaround of management is not only going to be costly, but does not guarantee improvement.  When Emery left in November 2019 we were missing sixth spot and a European position just on a goal difference – but that was enough to get him sacked.   Now sixth looks impossible and what we also know is that no one remembers the runners up in the Europa League.

I don’t think that Arteta will be sacked this season, no matter what happens, and he might well be able to hang on to his brilliant young players, but I think we’ll all know that after that he will have to deliver trophies.  Next season, with these brilliant younger players, that really has to be the moment where we regain the “not a trophy” positions.  Even if it wasn’t in the past, it will have become a trophy now.

5 comments to Narrow escapes are always part of being successful, but they’re not everything

  • We’re in a tight spot, here, Tony. By “we”, I mean the fans who wanted Arsène to stay – because if we get too critical of the current manager and/or of Edu/Vinkatesham, we’re in danger of putting ourselves in the shoes of AFTV/the WOBs/the AAAs/the Guardian “journalists”/the “pundits” who spent their time trying to undermine Arsène’s work at the club. I, for one, do not comment as much as I used to the games of the team, because of what I could write about Arteta’s management – of the academy scholars you mentioned in this post, particularly. Not only because the kids might feel their careers won’t be as successful as they expected them to be, should they stay in the current version of the Arsenal Football Club, but simply because they are being brutally cast off, one after the other. At the end of this “Massacre in Hale End” season, we will have lost (at least) Maitland-Niles, Willock, Nelson, Nketiah, Balogun, Okonkwo – not to mention the fact that according to the managing team, the most urgent thing to do during the latest transfer window, was to bring in a guy who would, slowly but surely, elbow blossoming SmithRowe out of the team; all of which begs the question: “under such circumstances, why even bother with keeping Hale End open?”. Of all seasons, the current one should have been used to give the lads playing time, a real opportunity to bloom, instead of which they’ll soon be gone, and we’ll be left with a 32-y-o CF, a 32-y-o ex-winger, a 30-y-o full back, etc, etc (all of whom are decent, respectable players, of course, that’s not my point, my point is where do we go from there?, what’s the plan?, where are we heading? is there any strategy more “short-term” than this one?). If only we were treated to thrilling, attacking, football, but how many times this season has boredom not been on the menu? I had been looking forward to watching this exceptional generation come of age in an Arsenal shirt, and it is an understatement to say that I feel sad and bitter about the way they’ve been – and are being – treated …

  • Mikey

    So we play the away leg in the next round at the same ground we played the home leg in the last round. I can’t imagine that’s happened too many times before!

  • mick shelley

    Olympiacos will do nicely thank you very much.
    We can exact revenge for last seasons defeat.

  • Dublin Gooner

    Well nothing like a bit of doom and gloom.
    Another perspective: Arsenal is one of the top payers in Europe. Players play for money first. Where can you go from Arsenal and get more money and be certain of silverware? Man City and that’s about it.
    Looking abroad, Barca and Real have never had it so bad financially. PSG an option but who wants to play in the French league long term?
    So, I’d like to think we have every chance of keeping our youngsters at least a couple of seasons, by which time we might be back in the Champions league and winning domestic silverware.
    The club has started buying big players. Let’s give them a chance.

  • jjgsol

    I must agree with Le Gall and disagree with Dublin Gooner.

    At their young age, the academy players are interested in money first. I doubt if they are expecting trophies until they are older, and already more wealthy.

    No doubt, they are also being pushed in that direction by their agents.

    However, they will only get the money they want if they play regularly. If they do not, and clearly, with the exception of Saka, and in the short term ESR, they have no chance with Arteta, who will always go for older, supposedly more experienced, players to do his bidding, notwithstanding the irony being that the younger players are more likely to do exactly what they are told and when they are told to do it.

    However, there must come a tipping point when the youngsters think to themselves that doing what they are told has not helped them to get more playing time, and thus, more money, and they will want to leave for more playing time, money and freedom to express their skills in a less rigid and suffocating environment.

    They may also accept less money in the short term at a new club, if it gives them the chance to get more playing time and developed their skills so that the money they want comes on the next move.

    There is the risk that the new club will not give them the opportunities and they will sink into oblivion and the lower leagues, but setting that risk against little chance of development and further progress with us, they feel it is worth the risk.

    We are now a boring, unadventurous, uncreative mediocre middle division team, with no prospects other than more of the same.

    Why would any of the players now sent out on loan want to come back to this and the stifling atmosphere created by Arteta to preserve his style of play at all costs?

    I dare say that they will not, and ESR will join them soon, as he is marginalised and finally abandoned. What he does is an anathema to what Arteta stands for and he will work hard to negate the positives that ESR brings by tinkering with them so as to make them non-existent and sterile.

    Mediocrity has one benefit. It destroys our expectations so anything positive look like something special when it is nothing of the sort.

    That you Arteta. You are doing a great job for our opponents.