PETER CROUCH: Arsenal have always been flaky, with leadership an age-old problem, but Mikel Arteta is not messing about and the club finally have a long-term plan… the future is bright for the vibrant young Gunners
- There is something building at Arsenal with Mikel Arteta’s long-term vision
- The average age of the side in the 4-1 victory at Leeds on Saturday was 22
- Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Kieran Tierney could grow into leaders
- Arteta could not tolerate the ill-discipline of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Immediacy is everything in this world. No time to wait for anything. Hit two red lights on the way to do the big shop? Just turn round, no point going. Drew at home against mid-table fodder? Call the season off. And sack the board while you’re at it.
What has been developing at Arsenal under Mikel Arteta operates outside of that short-termism sphere. There might not be another club in the Premier League that is so wedded to laying down foundations and planning on getting it right in two years’ time.
It’s easy to become carried away with any team who win a few on the bounce. It’d be easy for me to proclaim that Arsenal will sneak into the top four.
Mikel Arteta (above) is not messing about in trying to change the culture at Arsenal
The bigger picture is where they are headed over a longer period of time. This is beginning to feel strategic, and that is not something that could previously be said for Arsenal as a club. Arteta’s idea was to decrease sharply the team’s average age, adding hungry players with room to grow who see a future under him.
At an average of 24 years, it is the youngest squad in the Premier League. The average age against Leeds was 22. Only one of Arsenal’s last 18 goals has been scored by a player over 23 — Alexandre Lacazette against Southampton. When you commit to this sort of rebuild, the manager requires time.
It’s youthful, it’s vibrant. Look at some of the younger players they have bought recently. Aaron Ramsdale (23), Ben White (24), Kieran Tierney (24). They have formed part of a settled back five over the last three victories and all of them are looking as if they could grow into leaders.
Striker Alexandre Lacazette has embraced the senior responsibility in the young squad
They need some of those given the disciplinary issues surrounding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Gabriel Martinelli is obviously a superstar in the making. Let’s see where this 20-year-old can go in a full season without fitness problems. He can be anything he wants. Martinelli can do things that nobody else can. Such quick feet, calm in front of goal. Pace, under-rated strength as well.
His second goal at Leeds United massively impressed me. He is fouled when bursting into the box and still has that presence of mind to stay up. The composure to do that and dink the goalkeeper is a difficult thing to do, trust me. That is the sign of real quality.
Highly-rated forward Gabriel Martinelli, 20, has composure, quick feet, pace and strength
But on Leeds, this is partly why I warn against giddiness of what Arsenal can go and do this year. I was working at Leeds’ seven-goal demolition at Manchester City in midweek and they are miles off it. Defensively… what do you even say? Madness. Injuries or not, a complete shambles.
Last week, West Ham had a bit of the game at the Emirates and might have earned a result, but what I see with Arsenal is that there is something to work with. More solid, more of a threat, and they are seeing out games. It’s not perfect — Arsenal are not where they should be historically. There is a long way to go until they reach City, Liverpool and Chelsea.
But there is something building. That is why we should be looking at Arsenal in 2023 and wondering where they might be if they keep all these youngsters and continue to add shrewdly in the transfer market.
Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Kieran Tierney have formed part of a settled back five
Ramsdale’s rock-solid performances in goal for the Gunners have not been surprising
Has Ramsdale surprised me? No, he hasn’t. A few might have raised eyebrows but he had the feel of a decent signing. Two full seasons under his belt at Premier League level, at his age, is not something many young goalkeepers are given. That — more than the results at Bournemouth and Sheffield United — is the true indicator of his talent.
White is growing, Gabriel coming into his own and I love Tierney. As a fan, you always want a Tierney. He has everything at left back, equally strong going both ways, his attitude seems spot on. There is a future captain. Supporters take to him, those pictures of him in short sleeves and shorts in training when it’s sub-zero outside go a long way with that. If ever you need to prove a point, stick some shorts on at Christmas. Maybe someone should suggest that Granit Xhaka does it!
They have needed grit over the past week and that is the response Arteta would have craved.
Without knowing the intimate details of Aubameyang’s situation, if you are club captain, your attitude and application have to be better than the rest. Everybody has to follow your lead.
Arteta could not tolerate the ill-discipline of former captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Aubameyang was last week banished from Arsenal training amid his rift with the Gunners boss
Aubameyang is obviously one of the lads and that usually helps inside a dressing room. I always preferred that to being led by a teacher’s pet.
But I would also respond well to Arteta’s management here — ill-discipline cannot be tolerated. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that something has been brewing between them.
So the manager will relish the reaction, with Lacazette looking like a man who is working hard, taking on that senior role. I’ve liked the way in which he has conducted himself. It’s important because leadership is an age-old problem for Arsenal. We all know that.
Flaky was always the word you would use to describe the club, and we can debate how long that has hindered them, but Arteta is not messing about in trying to change those issues. He deserves credit for it because that is your starting point.
Void season if non-League can’t have fans
A message to the powers that be: if tough decisions are to be made on coronavirus, please do not lock non-League fans out and make us finish the season without them.
At Dulwich Hamlet, and for many of our rivals in the sixth tier, it would actually be better if the season was voided completely if it ever comes to those really hard choices.
It’s one or the other: carry on with fans if safe or don’t finish the season. The alternative is pointless and financially disastrous. If there are no fans inside Champion Hill, we will haemorrhage money every week. You’re looking at losses of £30,000 a game. That is before you take into account the risk placed upon players and staff if we were to stage games behind closed doors — should the situation escalate that supporters cannot attend.
Playing games behind closed doors could be financially disastrous for many non-League clubs
The key here is swift, decisive action. In the past there were too many late changes to the schedule at short notice.
Last season, we were fined £8,000 for failing to fulfil four fixtures in February and the season was declared void anyway.
The club had £836.55 in the bank account. Do these people not realise how much £8,000 is worth to us? We cannot have the same problems again.
Chelsea heading in right direction under Tuchel
Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea are where you would expect them to be this season
There has been a lot of talk about Chelsea over the last few weeks. Where has it gone wrong? How are they coping with injuries and coronavirus? Some have even suggested that Thomas Tuchel — the man who delivered the Champions League trophy — needs to work on a different plan.
But I actually think they are where you would expect them to be, just under a year since Tuchel took over.
Third is where they should finish. They are not as strong as Manchester City or Liverpool, both teams having built over a far longer period. Chelsea will compete for league titles if they continue in the direction they are going but I didn’t have them down as being capable of sustaining a challenge against those two titans this year. They can win it, of course, but nobody should have that expectancy.
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