By Tony Attwood
There is an article in the Telegraph that has the headline “New-look Arsenal have been undone by the same old problems during late-season stumble” which I have read with some interest, as I was hoping the piece would tell me what author Sam Dean thinks are the “same old problems.”
Of course Sam Dean, the author, does not possess any particular background that could give him an insight into Arsenal’s problems but the phrase is interesting because Arsenal is a club that has been through a lot of changes.
As we know, in 2018 Arsene Wenger left after 22 years during which time he won the FA Cup as many times as Liverpool have in their entire history, won the league more times than Tottenham have in their entire history, and became the only manager to achieve an unbeaten season.
Then in November 2019 Unai Emery was sacked by Arsenal after achieving the second-highest win ratio in matches for Arsenal in the club’s entire history! Was that the “same old problem”? Was Arteta about to be sacked?
The article is 618 words long, and I have read it several times, but I still can’t work out what the same old problem is. So I’ve taken some of the issues raised in the piece and added some of my own to discover the truth: What is Arsenal’s “same old problem”?
First, nervousness. Aaron Ramsdale we are told was “jittery” and “Everywhere Mikel Arteta looked he would have noted the anxiety and concern.”
That was a problem yes, exacerbated by the importance of the last two games, plus the confidence of Newcastle in their game due to their recent results. The article asks, “Was it fear? Was it the pressure of it all? Only Arsenal’s players will know the true reason for this late-season stumble.” Which is odd, because if only Arsenal players know, how can the author define this as the “same old problems”?
Certainly, the “same old problem” wasn’t the age of the team because the writer also says, “The youngest team in the league has not always looked its age this season.”
Or was it that Arsenal fans as a group expect too much? That could be what the writer is hinting at when he says, “It is, however, important to retain some perspective, no matter how difficult that might be for Arsenal’s supporters.”
So maybe it is all our fault – although why he singles out Arsenal supporters I don’t know. Asking football supporters for a sense of perspective is rather like asking Manchester City or Newcastle supporters for a sense of morality in relation to their owners’ attitude toward human rights.
The article continues by noting that Arsenal’s “progress is real this season, and finishing fifth instead or fourth (as now seems inevitable) does not change that for Arteta or any of his developing players. Bukayo Saka, Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard should all be better next season, and Arsenal will invest again this summer to ensure the squad is strengthened.”
So are the same old problems simply that “the squad needs to be strengthened”.
Well maybe, except one could say that about the 18 clubs in the league below the top two. And most will try and strengthen the squad this summer. And Arsenal have been doing that, having spent more than any other club last summer – so is the writer saying it was all a waste of money?
Actually no, for he writes, “Questions will once again be asked about their decision to allow so many players to leave in January, without any new faces brought in,” and maybe finally that actually is the point – although a mistake in one transfer window can’t really be the “same old problem”.
In fact we have both the youngest squad, the smallest with just 21 first team players. This is because we had a huge clear out in January, and some of that was because…
Well, it is the thing that doesn’t seem to be mentioned much anymore but it really has been Arsenal’s problem under Arteta. It is the manager’s falling out with certain players, preferring not to have them at the club, even if no replacement could be found.
Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil, Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira, Hector Bellerin, Willian, Maitland-Niles, Sead Kolasinac, Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers, and possibly even William Saliba.
Let’s pause with that last name…
William Saliba is a centre back who signed in the summer of 2019 and became Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year for the 2021-22 season. He’s played 52 games for Marseille and won two full caps for France. Marseille most definitely want to keep him.
Saliba, speaking with a L’Equipe reporter a couple of months back said Arsenal “are often in contact with my agent. They send me messages. They watch my matches. They tell me to continue like this.”
So what would I consider the same old problems? Well, none actually because they are new problems. Having rows with top players from Guendouzi to Ozil to Aubameyang, and leaving Saliba in Marseille look (in retrospect) not very helpful to Arsenal’s cause.
Thus maybe finally we can understand; arguing with players and leaving Saliba in France are the problems. But really it is very frustrating when newspapers run headlines and then leave the reader to work out what on earth the headline means. I really with they wouldn’t do that.
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