January 18th – Arsenal 1 Sheffield United 1

Welcome back my friend(s). I’ve been solving the worlds other problems since the last decade. With limited success. But we’ve finally procured an actual manager. And one that can express an intelligent thought. So, I say “let the rebuild begin”. None of this rubbish that Emery heaped on us. None of this shifting tactics (if there were any) or playing players in the wrong position.

For this new decade we finally have our Torreira back. And we’ve found the real David Luiz. Unfortunately, we still have the real Mustafa. Somethings can’t be changed.

We had the benefit of Exit (Emery Exit) and now we pray for the real Mexit. None of this royal crap here just a plan to remove Mustafa from our squad. He tried so hard today to give the ball to the opposition.  Maybe it was because they were playing in yellow that confused him. But let’s hope Sokratis recovers for Tuesday. You know this manager is intelligent enough to see what everyone sees, namely, that we need another center half as backup.

Today was another brick in the wall. Another step in the one direction. Yet more progress down Abbey Road. Having to recover from the regression of the last 18 months will take some time. But we finally have a group of players that look like they are functioning within a team.

In the previous decade I might have offered a view that favoured Ancelotti and that Arteta was too big a risk. While, of course, I was right I did neglect the importance of alliteration in the decision making process. Following on from AW we meandered off to UE; preferring to go with a manager that fit our stadium sponsor. Not bad in terms of vowels and the start of the alphabet. But how can you go wrong with MA? It’s even the upside down mirror of our greatest ever manager (sorry HC, you are excluded as you had no vowels).

Back to today. I had low expectations. SU are a very fine team; remarkable in fact. Disciplined but attacking. I challenge you to name a single player in that team. They comprise no-name, run of the mill, unexceptional players. Yet, as they have demonstrated, they are a better team than us (and most of the league). And then to see both Mustafa in the line-up and Dean as the referee combined with Tony Gayle as one of the commentators seemed like fate was telling us how this would end.

So though we threw away the 2 points there were periods in the second half where we looked quite threatening. We were fortunate to go in at half-time with the lead, but we did have chances to go further ahead. By the time they scored we seemed more comfortable than we had the entire game. In fact, a la Chelsea, we nearly handed them the three points. Whereas with Emery we had to always come from behind with MA it seems like we have to struggle to hold onto leads. In due course, and with a better center-half, we will fix this.

Leno is beginning to worry me. Under the Emery regime, he often was our best player. But, starting with Chelsea, he’s starting to make mistakes in judgement. And his distribution from the back, while far superior to Cech, is too risky. And, too often, he’s too slow to make decisions. And that lack of pace in distribution permeates to the defense which all too often is trapped in by their forwards.

Maitland-Niles has improved dramatically. His distribution is not perfect but his defending has improved. For example, against Palace he tied up Zaha completely. He and Pepe still have to work on their combinational play. But, in the absence of Hector he’s performed admirably.

Saka is a revelation. He evolves from game to game. Obviously the boy can’t defend but then nor can Kolinsac. And he’s sure to get ripped apart by any decent winger but his forward play is intelligent an, unlike AMN, he can cross a ball.

How good is Arteta? His so good he’s made Xhaka look good. Having him rotate in the left center-half/left back position to receive the ball when we’re in possession has allowed Xhaka to get on the ball and influence the tempo of our game. He looks more stable and creative. Of course, he’s still slower than a dead horse and can’t tackle any better than legless, armless paraplegic. But he combines well with the most wonderful Torreira. This boy is dynamite. He is the white Kante. He is the Uruguayan Parlour. He is the only defensive midfield player this club has. And now it looks like we have some level of protection for our defense.

MA has even brought some life back into our expensive version of Erickson. Ozil was prescient in deciding to wait out Emery, rightly figuring the manager would depart before he would. Today was not a great day for him. There was little room for him to work in. But he’s better than injured Dani and the best we currently have. And thankfully we’ve off-loaded baby-faced Smith-Rowe; let him grow some facial hair before we bring him back. His the current version of Henri Lansbury. He’ll find a nice career in the Championship.

Pepe is getting there. I remember when we brought in the nimble-footed Pires. It took him six months to adjust to the English game. It’s going to take Pepe longer. His still too easily eased off the ball; he must be stronger. But Pepe is inventive and creative. And he clearly scares the other team (witness the thug Chilwell – have you ever come across such a misnamed player? – against West Ham). His young and, under the guidance of MA, will continue to improve.

Lost in the transition from the gormless, wanker Emery to the boy-genius Arteta has been the kidnapping of our Cigarette. He no longer can score goals. Though he works hard and the linkup play has improved someone has stolen his scoring shoes (or other body-parts). Without Aubameyang, that’s not a great place to be. Today Aub would have had two goals before Martinelli scored.  This kid is a phenom. As poorly as he played today – by his own high standards – he still scored our all important goal. His scoring record is remarkable. In ten years time he’ll still be younger than Aub is now. He will either become our highest scoring player of all time or our highest priced player to leave Arsenal for RM or Barca.

It’s good to see that MA trusts Nelson; this kid also has potential. And it’s also good to see that MA recognizes that we need to polish Guendouzi before we give him more playing time. Hopefully, under his tutelage, he’ll be able to harness that potential and, eventually replace Xhaka – but in time. Not now. And I much prefer seeing Willock on the bench.

I still remain more concerned about the relegation zone than Europe. There are too many teams in the middle of the table but within range of the bottom three. We are a losing streak away from that pressure – which MA does not need. But Europe is out of reach. Our own BrExit. But we’ve seen, over the years, Liverpool, Chelski and Manure miss out on Europe for one year. It won’t be the worse thing in the world if we use that time (and lack of money) wisely. In another year we’ll have gotten the high wage bill players off-loaded and our youth players will be that much better. Of course, we could get lucky with the FA Cup or the NoHoppa Cup but I doubt it. This squad is not as poor as Emery made them but it still needs time and grooming.

For Christmas I asked Santa for a new manager. Thank you Santa. We now have our team back. As they say, the future lies ahead of us. And, I believe, the history is in the past. For the first time in 18 months I’m finally excited to watch this team. I know they are not good enough. But once we can get rid of Mustafa, then I can at least know that this team has the ability to entertain and has a personality. They work much harder and play a style of football that we have enjoyed for the last 20 years (or a large part of).

But clearly with Chambers injured, Tierney always injured and Holding and Bellerin very slowly recovering we are in desperate need of some additional defenders. The existence of Mustafa is the clearest evidence of that. But I trust that MA can see this.

I don’t expect miracles from this team. But I have seen enough of MA to know we are finally progressing. I trust this won’t be an Emery false-dawn. We will have many blips on this new road. Possibly starting at Chelski on Tuesday. And we should regret throwing away the two points today. We had weathered their storm. But we have yet to learn how to see out games. I’m sure MA will put it down to mental and physical tiredness. That’s part of the limited squad and multiple injuries.

And even if the unlikely happens and MA fails we can at least sleep at night knowing we don’t have DarthVader managing our team. Since the bleak one has turned up with that other lot, they have ever so slowly started to resemble his dire, defensive teams of the past. That lot are clearly in danger of missing out on the Champions League. And that can only lift our spirits and brighten our day. The financial pressure will be immense. And the pressure on DarthVader will increase. And then so will his destructive, manic outbursts. I am so looking forward to this. We could only hope it all ends in tears and financial ruin for them.

In the meantime, I will focus on us getting another 11 points so we can finally be a snug, safe mid-table team. Emery has knocked out any ambition I might have once harboured. Maybe it’s too soon to equate MA to Klopp. But Klopp took 4 years to get to this remarkable season. That Kraut is one of a kind. But MA has the opportunity to redefine this team and this club. He needs time. And, as long as we incrementally progress and as long as we can get rid of Mustafa, he’ll get it.

It’s good to be back. We have plenty of suffering ahead but at least we can now dream again. Today was by no means painless. Too many mistakes and too little creativity. But we can at least regain some optimism. Baby-steps for our babies in red.

– LB7

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