Friday Top 5: Positives from Arsenal’s painful season

Friday Top 5: Positives from Arsenal’s painful season

Afternoon all. I am now back home following my hillside spa retreat. I learnt a few things:

  1. Giant iguanas who emerge from the bush and sunbathe next to my cabin all day make me happy, for they are slithery and have amusing faces.
  2. Meditation labyrinths are silly (as previously discussed).
  3. Doing nothing other than sit in a pool and receive massages for three days is remarkably enjoyable. I should do it more often.
  4. Mosquitoes are bastards.

Granted, I was already aware of some of the above – namely numbers 3 and 4 – prior to this week. But it never hurts to be reminded of certain universal truths.

Onto sporting matters, and this weekend the 2019-20 Premier League season will finally come to an end. As an Arsenal fan, it has been a trying, testing campaign full of disappointment and despair. Going into the final day, the highest position we can finish is eighth, and even to achieve that modest objective we need to beat Watford and hope a couple of other results to go our way. Yes, there is an FA Cup final to look forward to, and in the recent past that competition has been effective in easing the pain of poor league performance. But there can be no dressing it up: this has been our worst league season for 25 years and the sooner it is forgotten the better.

Instead of dwelling on the plainly obvious low points that we Gunners have lived through this year, I thought for this week’s Friday Top 5 I would try to shed some light on a few of the positives that can allow us to hope that future years can be better. It wasn’t an easy task, coming up with five good things to have happened in the past year, but I think I just about managed it. Here goes:

Bukayo Saka

This time last year, Saka was just a talented Academy player with four senior appearances – including a solitary league showing – to his name. He is now a vital part of Mikel Arteta’s squad, registering more assists (12) than anyone else, scoring four goals, and playing in more positions than I can remember. The Hale End Academy product, who will wear the number 7 shirt next season, is already being linked with an England call-up despite his relative inexperience. After months of concerning speculation, the 18 year-old recently committed his future to Arsenal by signing a new long-term deal. Considering the other options surely available to him, that was an encouraging show of faith in the club and its manager. We have a potential superstar on our hands, and he is one of our own.

Mikel Arteta

While the results have not been universally excellent since Arteta arrived – old habits, such as poor defending, die hard – it is easy to be encouraged by the work the Spaniard is doing. Plagued by limp performances, low morale and shoddy results, the team was an absolute mess when he took over from Unai Emery in December. Despite exceptionally difficult circumstances brought about by a global pandemic, Arteta has had a huge impact. We are more organized, defending as a collective unit and working off the ball. In Xhaka and Ceballos, we finally have an effective midfield pivot capable of controlling games and influencing both penalty areas. And with more accountability, the culture around the club is changing for the better. Time will tell if he is the long-term solution, but the early signs are positive.

Gabriel Martinelli

Given everything that has happened since Martinelli last kicked a competitive ball back in March, it is easy to forget the impact the 19 year-old was having on our season. He arrived last summer from the Brazilian regional leagues to little fanfare, but instantly forced his way into Emery’s, and then Arteta’s team through the quality of his performances. He scored 10 goals in 26 games before the lockdown, including longshots, headers, predatory finishes and storming runs from his own half. In just 60 professional games, he has already booked 20 goals. He also offers fantastic work rate and, typically of South American forwards, excellent pressing off the ball. The long-term knee injury he sustained last month was a blow, but all the ingredients are there for him to have a long and fruitful career at Arsenal.

Spurs

There is no better medicine to ease an Arsenal fan’s suffering than the comforting knowledge of similar plights at Tottenham. A year ago, Spurs had just reached the Champions League final after finishing in the top four for the fourth consecutive season. After a poor start to the season they sacked Mauricio Pochettino, their best manager certainly in my lifetime, and replaced him with Jose Mourinho. I hate Mourinho as much as I hate Spurs, so this feels like a good fit. Thankfully, things have got worse under the moody Portuguese, who is slowly but surely imprinting his dire defensive style onto the team. Starved of service and discouraged by the club’s gradual descent into mid-table mediocrity, Harry Kane will have to look for pastures new sooner or later. And the world will be good again.

Liverpool

To be clear, I am not trying to suggest that Liverpool winning the league is in any way good for Arsenal. I get about as much pleasure from their victory as I do from stubbing my toe. But their league triumph is a reminder of how quickly things can change in football. In 2016, Liverpool finished in eighth place after sacking Brendan Rodgers and hiring Jurgen Klopp midway through the season. Four years on, they have become the darlings of Europe, winning the two biggest prizes in club football with swashbuckling attacking play. Their turnaround is down to their great manager and solid recruitment (and investment) in the right areas. In Arteta, Arsenal might have one piece of that puzzle already in place. Its now up to the board to back him with shrewd transfer dealings. Over to you Mr Kroenke.

Right, that’s all for today. Have a great weekend all, I’ll be back here on Monday.