Hey, bank holiday Monday here. Not that it feels like it, but that’s what it is.
Like most of you, I’m sure, Saturday’s performance has left me feeling pretty disheartened. Not just because we lost. I think we can all rationalise and compartmentalise defeat – and we’ve had plenty of practice this season, let’s be honest.
It was the manner of it. It was the return to the kind of display I thought we’d put behind us. Maybe there was always going to be one of these in the post at some stage, but it did at least hammer home how important Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are to the way we’ve played of late. It showed us we can’t start both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in this system – and reminded us that the club’s poor recruitment strategy, spending £100m+ on two strikers within six months, is still an issue we’ve never fully reckoned with. It told us that what Granit Xhaka does is useful, even if I’d still like to see us upgrade on him in the summer. It demonstrated that for all his talent, which was on full display in the West Ham, that Martin Odegaard needs runners to be that effective.
I think the most depressing part for me was the manager being somewhat bullish beforehand about how we wanted to play the game. Liverpool are still an excellent team, as they showed us with genuine ruthlessness, and I don’t really expect us to play them off the park, but to play without any courage, any conviction, and to not be able to do anything about it was really depressing for me. We just didn’t compete, and you can’t expect anything other than what we got when that happens.
I guess that’s what prompted Arteta’s post-game apology, and if I look through my half-full glass, I hope this is something we got out of our system and don’t repeat between now and May. I hope it dented their pride and they react in a positive way. The half-empty glass sees it as a broad version of the self-destruct button which has plagued us so often. Sometimes we focus on the individual errors in games, which are still a problem, obviously – but a performance like that is just a gigantic, collective version of a mistake which costs us a goal.
It’s something Arteta and his players have to get on top of before Thursday, and I don’t think anyone should be looking at Slavia Prague and thinking we’ve got some kind of easy way to the Europa League semi-finals. Perhaps, in our Champions League days, they’d be the kind of meat and drink team we’d deal with easily, but it’s now over four years since we played a game in that competition. Our stock has fallen, and Slavia Prague are a good side who knocked out Leicester already this season. A performance even vaguely like Saturday’s would put us in big, big trouble. More on that game during the week though.
Elsewhere, David Luiz has undergone knee surgery and, according to the Arsenal update, ‘is expected to be back to full fitness and available for selection in the upcoming weeks.’
It’s quite vague in terms of time-frame, but it sounds as if he could be back before the end of the season, assuming there are no complications. Whether there’s anything left to play for by then remains to be seen. I find Luiz a complicated player to assess, because I can’t ever let go of the fear that somehow he’ll be involved in an incident which is costly. There have been so many in his relatively short time at the club that it’s impossible not to worry.
At the same, I can see that he is, on his day, our best central defender, and clearly a very popular guy on the training ground. By all accounts he’s a lovely fella, very good with the young players and all the rest, and while I don’t necessarily think he’s fundamental to how we want to play, his passing range is important. I don’t think any of our other centre-halves have anything close to that ability, and those limitations were exposed against Liverpool – Gabriel in particular struggled on the ball.
The question about what you do with Luiz in the summer is one for Arteta and Edu. On paper, I can see why they might want to keep him around, but stepping back, offering a new deal to a 34 year old who has recently undergone knee surgery seems like a thing you shouldn’t do if you’re a serious club looking to correct some of the mistakes of the past. When you’re a club that signs players who arrive in knee braces or with a broken back, you have to think about how you do things.
In the meantime, I wish Luiz a speedy recovery, and we have to keep everything crossed with regards to Kieran Tierney and and his knee injury. I’ve seen speculation about ligament damage but until such time as we get an official update, let’s just hope it’s not as serious as it might be, because that would leave us with a significant issue to deal with.
Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. As ever James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you this morning. If you have questions or topics for discussion, send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.
Podcast will be out mid-morning or thereabouts, until then, take it easy.