Arsenal 3-2 Watford: Reflect, Forget and Move on
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
The rebuild can finally commence. After a horrid and traumatic season full of turbulence and turmoil on and off the pitch, the 2019/20 Premier League campaign is finally over, and from tomorrow, we can begin to mould our squad into something more adequate.
Three head coaches, two captains and one worldwide pandemic. This season has been simply ludicrous. Hollywood producers could not have written it. After the upbeat optimism following an encouraging transfer window, we spiralled into uncontrollably bad form under Unai Emery, before relieving the Spaniard of his duties. Following a brief spell under Freddie where things got seemingly worse, a new Spaniard in Mikel Arteta was appointed. Initial signs were good, but our form fluctuated, and it became evident that our new head coach could not work miracles with an average bunch of players. A pandemic then brought an abrupt halt to all proceedings for over three months, before we finished the season in unconventional style- in the summer months and behind closed doors. In the midst of all of this, our own manager was diagnosed with this deadly virus, our captain told our own fans to “fuck off” and our players collectively agreed to a 12.5% pay cut. Absolute. Madness.
Today’s finale against Watford was certainly emblematic of our season on the pitch. Defensively, we looked absolutely all over the place, conceding chance after chance, with Watford creating clear cut openings on a perpetual basis. Offensively, we relied on set-pieces, poor opposition defending and Aubameyang’s proficiency in front of goal to carry us through the 90 minutes. A lack of fluidity and creativity in the final third once again saw us fail to create many high quality chances ourselves. The game ended with Watford notching up an astounding 4.13 xG. Yes, FOUR POINT ONE THREE. For all of Arteta’s good work since his arrival, this performance stank of a team that is hungover from its previous manager’s confusing and suicidal philosophy. We must massively evolve the playing staff.
The comforting reality is, a lot of those who were involved in today’s matchday squad are far from guaranteed a place in next season’s squad. In fact, many are very unlikely to be here come the beginning of October. Of our current 28-man first team squad, very few are certain to remain at the club over the coming months. Emi Martinez or Bernd Leno, Kieran Tierney, Cedric Soares, David Luiz, Pablo Mari, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli are arguably the only ones in that category. There may be other names who we’d ideally not move on, but in a rebuild sacrifices must be made, particularly if you’re working with limited financial resources.
We must begin our rebuilding process immediately, and the recruitment must be absolutely exceptional if we want to compete next season. Dealings are going to have to be smart, cost efficient, both contact and scouting driven, with a focus on buying young players who can develop, but mostly established ones who can come in and make an instant impact. It’s going to be a long and painful process, which may take a few years to really start functioning, but the faith must remain. Trust the process. In Mikel Arteta, we have a young coach full of innovative tactical ideas and the persona to rebrand the culture at a football club- the personality to cultivate a winning mentality. We need the players to match this vision and the capabilities to impose it.
Of course, we still have a Cup Final to play next week, which has a lot riding on it, and will inform how we can approach this transfer window. It’s imperative we claim our 14th triumph in this prestigious competition, in order to finance this rebuild as well as to attract higher calibre of players.
To me, it’s become exceedingly obvious where we should allocate the majority of our limited budget this summer. It has to be in finding creative, offensive players. Arteta has demonstrated in the last week or two that he can adapt to the average defenders he has at his disposal, and can introduce a defensive structure to form a relatively resilient backline. Comparatively, he can do as much work on his offensive system as he likes, but without the requisite creative quality there, we’ll struggle to create chances. Finding a central attacking chance creator and a wide creator is absolutely essential.
Regarding this season, it’s important we recognise our mistakes (which were mostly founded on poor decisions over a number of years leading into this campaign in terms of squad composition) and move on. After a full audit is done, it must be forgotten. This was absolutely diabolical in every way, and the underlying metrics even suggest 8th flatters us. Putting this behind us and getting it out of our system is crucial. We can’t allow mid-table mediocrity to be engrained in our mindset, because it can be easy to sink into it- and once you’re there, it’s very hard to recover.