How will Arteta approach the remainder of the season? Project Restart Preview
By Alfie Culshaw (Chief Editor)
After 3 months of absence from the sport we love so much, 3 months of redundant transfer speculation, 3 months of relentlessly reminiscing over past successes in a desperate attempt to provide content for the site, the Premier League is finally just days away from its long awaited return (8 to be exact).
As I wrote at the beginning of this unprecedented halt in the footballing calendar, football provides a form of escapism for so many. Without it, it can be tough, and it has been. With so much going on in the world at the moment, the Premier League should be a welcome return and serve as a slight distraction from the doom and gloom of 2020, albeit lacking the fundamental element of a live attending crowd.
For many weeks and months in this pandemic, Football was not at the forefront of my mind. It felt somewhat secondary and unimportant in relation to what was going on. On the contrary, prior to the lockdown, it felt like one of the most important things in my life. A defeat would hurt deeply and a victory would feel euphoric. Whilst the prospect of watching a team I have an enormous emotional connection to is certainly exciting, I’m wondering how much results will determine my mood once again. Will an Arsenal goal be met with the same joy as it was prior to football’s abrupt halt? Will a defeat be met with the familiar yet cruel and damaging realisation that we aren’t that good as I cry myself to sleep? How emotionally invested I am in the game for these remaining ten fixtures is probably what I’m most curious to discover. I sincerely hope nothing has changed.
Moving from the emotive side of the game to the nerdy technical side of it, it’s going to be extremely intriguing to see how team’s come out of this break, how they approach their fixtures and what sort of football we see from now until the end of the season. Fitness is certainly going to be the key aspect in thriving in the early weeks. That, and of course having a deep squad filled with a plethora of quality, particularly given the new five substitutions rule.
The clubs who have put the most effort into maintaining the player’s sharpness in this period are likely to start more quickly. According to many reliable reports, Arsenal enforced stringent workout routines for the entire squad whilst they were confined to their own homes, as well as supplying them with the necessary equipment to maximise the effectiveness of these home sessions. Adding to this, the players have supposedly been in very good shape since returning, and are eager to get going again. Whether this is actually a sign of them being fully match sharp we don’t know yet, but it sounds encouraging.
The fitness levels of individuals ties in nicely to how Arteta will approach the opening weeks of the restart. We have four games in eleven days from the 17th onwards, so rotation will be absolutely necessary. Very few players will be capable of featuring in all of them having not played in 3 months, so the Spaniard will have to prepare to utilise the entirety of his squad. It’s also worth noting we have less time than the majority of sides to prepare, given we start with our game in hand, which could work both ways. It may allow us to grow back into the season more quickly, possess increased match sharpness comparative to other sides, or it could cause fatigue and perhaps muscular injuries ahead of future fixtures.
How Arteta approaches the season conceptually is another interesting element. Do we realistically have the ability to qualify for Europa League football, let alone the Champions League? 5 points off of 5th placed Manchester United, which could well be a Champions League place, seems a plausible gap to cut, but considering our difficult run in and the number of sides in the mix, it seems like a tough ask. Tough trips to City, Wolves and Spurs await, as well as difficult home games against Leicester and Liverpool. Unfortunately, I just can’t see us making the top five.
So, does Arteta prioritise an FA Cup charge, which would not only obviously award him with a trophy in his opening season, but also qualify us for Europe once again? Or do we really want Europa League football? Without the prospect of some adventurous, fun away trips to Eastern Europe (long live the days we could party in the streets of Barysaw), it really doesn’t seem that attractive. A full season without European football would also enable us to fully focus on our Premier League campaign. Of course, the financial implications of missing out on European football could be potentially devastating given the likely climate we’re operating in, but from a fan’s perspective, there is little to no pull of participating in the BTEC Champions League next season.
The noise coming from the club is that we’re intent on pushing on in the League and finishing as strongly as possible. Excactly what you’d expect the club to be publicising. Where Arteta’s realistic priorities are and what he thinks he can actually achieve in the rest of the season with his group of players could be quite different. Does it really make a difference whether we finish 7th or 10th? We get a couple extra million, that’s it. An FA Cup win would probably be all the sweeter (albeit lifted in front of some cardboard cut outs in an eerie Wembley).
How we come out of this period and how Arteta approaches it is going to be incredible enticing. In fact, writing this article I’ve realised how excited I actually am by all of it. Even the little things like Arteta’s first press conference back and the Arsenal twitter page releasing the team an hour before kick-off are going to seem surreal. I can’t wait.