Arsenal’s long road ahead…
Arsenal’s season is coming to a close, not with the crescendo that we all hoped for but with a big dose of disappointment. We were so close to it. There are so many individual moments, games that scream “what if?”. There were so many mitigating circumstances in my view; VAR, refereeing decisions not being consistently applied, the England captain tax, inexperience throughout the first XI. And yet we still came so close.
It wasn’t quite the heroic last hurrah vs Newcastle that it ought to have been, however I think it’s so easy to forget how young this team really is. The two main factors that contributed to our demise were a complete fixation on the first XI alone with little or no squad management, as well as not strengthening in January. “WHAT SQUAD!?” you might scream, however I think little things such as ensuring the guys who are on the bench aren’t completely iced is key in a long chase like ours.
Think of the moment vs Wolves at home where Pepe comes on and helps to change the game. From that point you might want to try and ask him to start a game here or there and give Saka a break. Maybe we sneak a win vs a Brighton/Southampton with a more motivated Pepe vs someone who really looks like they’ve lost all interest as they know they won’t get a fair crack.
Those two main reasons I feel have cost us dearly this season and this piece is designed to talk about the real consequences that we will undoubtedly have to deal with over the summer.
There are groups of clubs within the Premier League who will attain top level talent and I think it looks something like this:
- Man City & Liverpool (Great money, great managers)
- Chelsea (Great money, good manager)
- Sp*rs (Champions League football, good manager)
- Man Utd (Great money, good manager)
- Arsenal (Good money, good(ish) manager)
- Newcastle (Obscene money)
Now the one thing I want to add here is that I’m writing good(ish) for Arteta as this is how it is likely to be externally viewed. I think he is a good manager and has the potential to be great, however players are very much in the “now” and missing out on CL football has cost us 2 rungs on the above table.
If we consider January, I’m sure that the powers above considered the risk of over investing into yet another failed transfer and probably thought Europa League with this squad was achievable. And to that end they have succeeded. However, they will have looked at the landscape and seen two huge factors that changed; Newcastle stayed up and we’ve now missed out on a huge £50m+ windfall from the lack of CL football.
This will really put some players into direct conflict of where to go; we have to remember that players look at their careers as “jobs” in the same way we do. If we are content and happy in a job but a flash new company comes to us directly and offers to double/triple/quadruple our salary we’d be silly to not at least think about it. And therein lies our large conundrum over the summer. Having CL football next season would have put some clear daylight between ourselves and Newcastle, Sp*rs and to a certain degree Man Utd, however now all of these clubs are very much in our world. We are now in a position where spending big will help us to tread water a little longer rather than swim the channel.
So what does that spend look like and what do we actually need?
I calculate that we need at least 7 players to have a squad that is ready to compete in the league as well as European football (any type). We certainly need a RB, CB (Saliba?), LB, CM, Wide forward, CFx2. Not to mention if we have any players that will leave that will need to be replaced. Cedric and Tavares aren’t good enough to fill in as we’ve seen, however it was Taveres’ first season so we could still see some improvement there. Partey can’t be our only viable CM option.
Pepe looks lost and needs to be moved on. Lacazette is leaving as is Nketiah so we need a mass overhaul and £50m of CL money would really have helped to secure at least 2 of those positions if scouted well (think links to Hickey for example). This begs the question, how much more investment will the owners decide to give us considering we’ve just missed out on a large pot of cash? I guess the silver lining for them is that they didn’t spend a whole bunch in January and didn’t get into the top 4, rather than we spent a whole bunch and still didn’t get into the top 4. Therefore does that mean we get a bit more freedom in the market? A tricky one to navigate for sure.
Think about last summer though. We brought in Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Tavares, Odegard & Lokonga. That cost us £150m. We need at least the same level of investment if not a bit more to challenge above where we got to and it feels like that is asking a lot of the board, however it is an absolute necessity if we are to progress. My largest fear is that we only minimally add to the squad. If we only end up adding 2/3 bodies and have the added burden of European fixtures it could really harm the development of the young team.
In reality the lack of Champions League football feels like it could set us back a couple of years, however it’s important to remember that this was potentially already the plan. And I don’t mean the plan was to miss Champions League football, but the plan was to get to at least Europa League football. I’ve seen a fair few tweets suggesting that Champions League football would have been the rocket fuel needed to propel the project forward, and I think that’s quite accurate. It would have accelerated it rather than been the minimum requirement, however in the new financial landscape of next season I do fear that Champions League was in fact the minimum. Of course I know far less about the financial power available than the board, so my musings on where we could be next season may be way off the mark added to the fact of hindsight being 20-20 vision.
Afterall, Norwich could indeed give us the miracle that would genuinely make it not only a more exciting summer but a hilariously brilliant end to the All or Nothing documentary. I mean, Michael Masi may as well have been in charge of some of the Sp*rs games, the amount of “luck” they’ve had has been ridiculous. Will we get our Michael Masi moment for the cameras on Sunday? Let’s hope so.
In any case, this feels different from 2019. We’re all in love with the players and the squad as a whole. There is more unity around and progression is there to be seen. There is a long road ahead of course, however we’ll find out whether we can add a bit of rocket fuel to the ship this weekend and sing North London Forever long into the summer…