WLYA Writers Q and A: Premier League return, expectations for remainder of season, Arteta’s impact
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
As Project Restart is now officially organised and the Premier League and Arsenal return in exactly two weeks from now (with a petrifying trip to the Etihad to commence the return), I thought I’d sit down with the site’s writing team and ask them a load of questions to get their views on things. Bit generic yes, and we did sort of rip off a recent LTArsenal article, but fuck it.
An insight into how our aspiring writers are feeling ahead of the return, what they expect from the ‘new normal’ in football and just some general Arsenal things. What is there not to like? All those involved will have their social media plugged at the bottom of the article and there will be a Part 2. Enjoy.
1) Wys lads, hope you’re all safe and well (and social distancing). With the Premier League set to return, how do you really feel about the prospect of watching Arsenal again and in this weird state without a live atmosphere?
Alfie: The lack of football has genuinely had me questioning my own existence, so it’s return has certainly got me counting down the days. Yes, it will lack one of the fundamental elements that makes the game such a spectacle, but I’m definitely in the ‘something over nothing’ category. Watching the Bundesliga has been fun from a nerdy tactical perspective, but not having an emotional connection to the games you’re investing in definitely reduces the enjoyment. So yeah, I can’t wait.
Daniel Finton (Deputy Editor): What up, pimps? I’ll be honest, at first I had my reservations over whether or not football would be just as enticing a prospect without supporters but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the sport’s return and moreover the quality and intensity it has returned with through that of the Bundesliga. The state which we return to may be a weird one, but that’s gunna be how it’s gunna have to be for the foreseeable future to be honest. There will be a transition period where growing pains are inevitable. Brace for it.
Rob Worthington: The idea of being able to watch Arsenal again on a regular basis is really exciting. Though it’ll be weird to watch the boys play in front of an empty stadium, I’m pretty accustomed to watching behind closed doors football now as I’ve seen quite a bit of the Bundesliga since its return. Saying that, I can’t wait to return to The Emirates when it’s safe to do so.
Vinay Shankar: Really excited to be watching Arsenal play again despite the current circumstances. It's a matter of adaptation to the prospect of watching a game without a live atmosphere and the Bundesliga starting early has helped me adapt. Home atmosphere is going to be a big miss but considering we have a lot of big away games left, it might work in our favour.
Charlie Maywood: Honestly, I’m counting down the days to watch live Premier League football again. Although it is only 10 games until the season ends once more, I have been highly anticipating the return of watching Arsenal again. It will be very strange with the lack of fans, who are arguably the most important thing the sport has but, I believe it will be a great watch throughout the final ten match days as we’ll find out who has trained the best during lockdown and which teams can adapt to the unprecedented conditions.
James Whiffing: I honestly can’t wait to watch the boys play again, I’ve been so bored in lockdown (as everyone else has been). It’ll be weird to see us play without fans too, but I’d rather that then nothing. We also need to ensure that the players and club staff are safe obviously, it can be dangerous bringing sport back. But like I said, as long as the Premier League make it safe to play again, then I’m excited to see them play.
Max Champness: Obviously I’m absolutely buzzing for the return of Arsenal later in the month- this break in the season has taught me to never slander international breaks again! In terms of the empty stadium; it will be unusual to watch, and I hope the broadcasting channels add artificial sound to bring a bit of the spectacle back.
Alex Trad: In all honesty, football behind closed doors will more than appease my lockdown boredom upon the Premier League’s return. A vibrant atmosphere both spurs the home side toward victory and largely tests the away outfit’s mental resolve. As such, Arsenal could by and large reap the advantages of an absent away stomping ground. Irrespective of our stellar form at the Emirates Stadium to date, the Gunners’ league misfortunes in recent seasons owe in large part to our perennial away day woes. As for remotely watching Arsenal mark their return to the pitch after many months of isolation- I am, of course, delighted and very much counting down the passing minutes until June 17th!
2) How have you been coping with the lack of football and Arsenal in general in this period?
Alfie: Better than I thought I would to be honest. Although I haven’t been able to watch any football, the discussion around the sport has continued (particularly in my role), so it’s not as though there’s been a complete absence. Having said that, I am desperately in need of actual football I care about at this point, so the Prem is returning at a good time for me.
Daniel: As the deputy editor for this site and freelancer for others, I have not found the break refreshing at all. Football is my passion and without it I have no excuse present to avoid ‘social obligations’. However, I did find myself reaching a point of complacency with the beautiful game prior to its abrupt halting. Given its ready availability at most points I was slowly but surely turning into that one girl from Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory, Veruca Salt, a spoiled brat. Now, I am more appreciative of the sport as a whole and well, “daddy, I want it now!”
Rob: It’s been quite tough I can’t lie! I’ve often found myself scrolling through Twitter and Instagram for hours on end scouring for any Arsenal-related information. I’ve also spent a lot of time watching highlights of classic matches on YouTube and through Arsenal Reloaded. If you can’t tell already, I really miss Arsenal. Mind you, I’ve really enjoyed watching the Bundesliga and watching RB Leipzig regularly makes behind doors football somewhat entertaining.
Vinay: Being a massive sports fan in general, the lack of any games was really tough initially but finding ways to pass the time has softened the blow to some extent.
Charlie: I’ve been coping by watching lots of films and TV series’, and also re-watching a lot of old football, some modern and some from decades ago. Watching clips from peak Wenger years has definitely caused me to go into a deep depression, as has Sky’s ‘The Premier League Years’. It needs to come back.
James: I’ve just been playing football with my brother and (more recently) a couple of my mates, and watching the Bundesliga too. Not a lot else tbh.
Max: It’s been a struggle; I’m not going to lie. I’ve been desperately trying to make the most out of the limited transfer speculation and other news about Arsenal, but there is only so much to read about. The Bundesliga has been a welcome addition.
Alex: As early as three months ago, the longest periods during which Arsenal partook in no competitions were the dreaded international breaks and, of course, the summer interludes that separate the business end of a campaign and its immediate successor. Nearly three months have passed since our 1-0 win over West Ham. Large portions of my days in confinement have, in fact, been consecrated to exactly what I am doing right now- writing pieces on Futebol Clube de Arsenal. Somehow, seven months of ineluctable pain has done little to suppress my compulsive need to discuss matters relating to my football club. Cannot quite decide whether that is a good or a bad thing...
3) What are your realistic expectations for the remainder of the season for Arsenal?
Alfie: Don’t want to be boring, but it’s virtually impossible to predict. No-one knows how we’ll come out of this, what shape our squad is in, how quickly we’ll get back to full sharpness, how well Arteta deals with this sort of situation etc. We could quite easily drift towards mid-table mediocrity and also quite easily drift into European places. Who knows?
Daniel: The return to action is certainly a question that is difficult to predict. Sadly, I personally think we may struggle upon football’s return. Though a number of players look set to come back from what were supposed to be ‘season ending injuries', I do not think Arsenal are one of the club’s that will come back sharply. The likes of Manchester City and Liverpool will come back poised and ready to strike, like that of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, but in truth, I don’t think we’re that quality of gravy. Arsenal are more a bland bowl of porridge.
Rob: If we avoid injuries I don’t think Top 4 would be out of the question for us. However, being realistic I’d say we’re going to finish in 6th or 7th and perhaps win the FA Cup if that competition reaches its conclusion. I’m excited to see how the rest of the season pans out.
Vinay: Top 4 is obviously the ideal goal but finishing in the top 6 and reaching the semi-finals/final of the FA Cup would be the most realistic expectation. The away games against City, Wolves, Tottenham and the cup tie in Sheffield will be the deciding factor in terms of our final position.
Charlie: Realistically, if we can maintain our pre-lockdown form, I believe we will finish in a Europa League spot. I’d love to say Champions League but the number of teams in between us and the current top four makes me feel we probably won’t do it.
James: For me, Arsenal just need to keep pushing for the top 6 and keep the pressure on the teams above us; if we do this then we can eventually overtake the likes of Spurs, Sheffield United and Wolves if they drop points. Realistically, we should be looking at a top six spot, although we are only 8 points off Chelsea: anything is possible!
Max: I think it will be tough for us to progress up the table, due to the stiff competition at the top. We’re currently 9th with a game in hand, but still have to play 5 games against teams above us in the league. I am hopeful that we’ll improve further under Arteta, and the 5-point gap (+ our extra fixture) makes it unlikely but not impossible.
Alex: Prior to lockdown, we mustered three wins out of three against mid-table opposition. Recovering such hot streaks in the weeks to come, however, may prove difficult coming for Mikel Arteta’s men. Arduous outings at Spurs, Manchester City, and Wolves, as well as the home visit of table-toppers Liverpool yet remain on the horizon. In all neutrality, I believe we will narrowly miss out on not only Champions League qualification, but European football altogether. Beyond the sizeable revenue losses and limited recruiting potential we’d inevitably endure, being spared of 1000-mile round trips to Uzbekistan on Thursday nights is, for me, a blessing in disguise.
4) Honest thoughts on the impact Arteta has made and how he can develop this team moving forward?
Alfie: The impact he’s made has been very impressive, considering the side he inherited and the time in which he inherited it. He’s imposed a strict on field tactical structure, which has enabled us to improve defensively, although perhaps at the expense of our offensive play. He’s also rejuvenated the atmosphere in and around the club, amongst fans, staff and players- I essentially just expect him to build on this from here.
Daniel: Arteta’s impact has been there, but he has not taken the world by storm by any means. Though I am impressed and confident he will do well at the club, I think it is too soon to make a definitive assessment. The defensive structure seems improved but what if that is just temporary? In all honesty, I am under the impression that it doesn't matter who is put at the helm. They will fail because the board refuses to back the club financially. The early signs of the robotic looking, well-spoken Spaniard are promising, but there are already clearly holes in the Arteta lifeboat. Sadly, they were present before he was even appointed.
Rob: I really like Arteta. I haven’t once thought that the job is too big for him and he’s impressed me from day one. He carries himself really well, he speaks really persuasively in interviews and we’ve also seen some nice changes on the pitch. The defence has improved drastically and we’ve seen signs of offensive improvement too. I think he’ll need a lot of new additions to mould the team into his liking as a number of players currently in his current squad don’t really fit the 4-3-3 system I envisage him deploying in the future.
Vinay: Clarity of thought while doing press conferences and interviews stands out every time for me. He knew what the short-term and long-term changes that had to be made at the club before he was appointed and the impact has already been telling. Relationship with the fans, enforcing discipline, clear communication with the players and the plan to make the club as one single unit are just some things he's started to address. Patience is going to be key from the fans and with the addition of a few pieces to the talented group of youngsters, I believe we can actively start competing at the top again. It's going to be a step-wise process with the first step being qualification for UCL followed by consistently finishing in the top 4 before reaching the ultimate goal of winning big honours.
Charlie: I’ve been very impressed by the impact Arteta has made at the club as you could probably tell from my previous answers. Our defending has clearly become much more stable and we are playing a much more progressive tactical style now. I can see us being a great success under Arteta and he has clearly employed modern tactics which has already improved the football we play with the same players Emery was using. If he gets appropriate backing from the board which we need, I’m certain he can eventually take us back to the top. He is the regenerated Pep.
James: Since he has come in, the change that Arteta has made has been huge; he has changed the morale of the players and the fans, and the way we play. I also really like the Guardiola-like traits of the play style he has implemented on the team (the possession football and similar tactical structure). I genuinely see him being Arsenal head coach for a long time and I think he can make us into a side that will challenge for titles and trophies, but only if he gets the backing of our owner (which I sadly doubt will happen).
Max: I’ve been hugely impressed with Mikel Arteta so far. As an advocate for his appointment, I’m thrilled to see him in the role. In the short time he’s had, I think a drastic impact has already been made on our backline and man for man, the players look more energised and generally are performing better.
Alex: The early signs of Arteta’s reign all point to a successful appointment by Arsenal’s hierarchy. Despite his vast inexperience and young age for a gaffer, Mikel has managed to steer the Gunners away from greater league misfortune- as was the downward trajectory under the previous regime. Most of the squad seem on board with his aspirations and are committed to his long-term project to bring Arsenal back to the summit of English and, ultimately, European football. Personally, I am looking forward to what he has to offer on a managerial level. With the adequate finances and support from our board Mikel’s ambitions could well and truly be achieved within a number of years, such is the extent of my faith in our cult hero-turned-gaffer head coach.
5) What do you think of Tottenham?
Alfie: Absolute shite.
Daniel: Shit, dung, defecation, excretion, crap and shite.
Rob: I think you misspelt ‘shit’?
Vinay: Not worth talking about.
Charlie: What do I think of Tottenham? Fucking shit mate.
Max: I’ll go with a slightly less-conventional answer: they’re a small club who will forever remain in our shadow.
Alex: Shit. We move.
That's all for part one. Part two will be released tomorrow with all the writer's answering the remaining questions. Thanks for reading.