Oof, what a mess. I saw a few comments after the defeat to Brighton that this was as bad as they’ve seen Arsenal play. I’m not so sure that’s true: memories have a knack of morphing over time, or fizzling out altogether.
I do vaguely recall a game – early in my Arsenal-supporting days, towards the end of the Don Howe era – against Birmingham City that had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It was devoid of anything. It was a vacuum. If I’ve just dragged up a memory that you’d happily consigned to infinity then please accept my humble apologies.
You won’t be surprised to hear it ended utterly, splendidly goalless.
The end of the George Graham era was similarly turgid. It was a time when Martin Keown had a go in midfield, ably supported – or at least willingly supported – by Ian Selley and Dave Hiller. At least I think that happened. I’ve consigned it to infinity.
It was a time when Glenn Helder seemed like a knight in shining armour who might drag us single-handedly from drifting towards the relegation zone.
The so unsolid crew
So we’ve been bad before, but there are differences. Back then, we were if nothing else solidly set up. We just didn’t, to put it bluntly, have enough good players.
Now, we have plenty of good players. I’m reassessing this statement with every passing game, as some of them perhaps aren’t as good as we thought they were, but we still have a lot of talent (enough to have got us to a European final, and to within an agonising point of fourth last year).
Yes, we have a lop-sided squad, a central defence in name only and a midfield that can’t score goals. We lack structure badly. But the Brighton and Norwich games showed me that, for the brief periods when we got our dander up, there’s life in the old dog yet (with apologies to the mixed metaphor police.)
Missing with confidence
Confidence is a real problem – probably the biggest. They’re rock bottom in that regard, and unhappy as a result. It’s tricky to fix. There’s been no new manager bounce yet.
The optimist in me thinks that every training session will make a difference. There needs to be a clarity of message so that the team doesn’t flit from one system to another. And when small incremental improvements happen, there will be small, incremental improvements in confidence. Some of the issues in this squad are so systemic that whoever takes over permanently might not be able to make an immediate difference.
Wanted: feather ruffler
Who will it be? There’s a lot of talk about Arteta again, but why would he be any better prepared than Ljungberg? Is the ‘Pep factor’ that much of a differentiator – or is it his personality that get people talking about him as a future manager? Neither he nor Freddie have experience at this level.
Some of the issues lay at the feet of the players. Arsenal seems unhappy and a bit cliquey. There are some big characters in there who we’ve tried to move on, but can’t. Whoever comes in will need to be able to command respect and make some very difficult decisions. Which is why, maybe, it will end up going to someone more experienced at managing big names – someone like Allegri.
We have a very tricky fixture list that may prolong the agony. But with my optimist’s hat back on (at a jaunty angle, naturally), with a few more weeks of a new message and with the fresh winds of the new year, things will pick up again.
It feels like we’re starting from scratch on so many levels. Structurally, defensively, in terms of personnel. It’s needed to happen for a while, but it would be nice to come out the other end of it sooner rather than later…