Now is the winter of our discontent.. is the opening line of Richard III by Bill Shakespeare. King Richard, the deformed, is describing the scene in England (and Wales) at the time. The War of the Roses was in a period of peace and Richard’s brother Edward IV was king of England. The winter of our discontent is often misunderstood but it means that the country’s discontent, the war and fighting, were in a lull. And as it is with the Arsenal for the moment.
Richard goes on to describe how he will once more stoke discontent, and through villany make himself king of England. I don’t intend to follow in Richard’s footsteps and foment discontent here among the Arsenal faithful, not the least reason because I don’t feel like being killed in battle by Henry Tudor. Sorry, I should have put “spoiler alert”. But yes, Richard 3 was killed by Henry 7 at the Battle of Bosworth field.
As an aside, for my American or non-British readers who don’t know much about this time, the legacy of the War of the Roses lives on in a rivalry between Manchester United and Leeds United with Man U playing the part of Lancaster and Leeds the part of Yorkshire. Which is pretty funny when you think about it: the War of the Roses was fought because of a split in the House of Plantagenet, which is a royal lineage that goes back to France and Geoffrey the Handsome. Plantagenet is a French word which refers to a plant which you might know as “broom” or “lupine” but which all folks who live in the Pacific Northwest refer to as “scotch broom”. It’s an invasive species here and on warm summer nights you can literally hear the seed-pods crackle as they split to drop their seeds. Geoffrey wore “plantagenet” blossoms in his hat, hence the name of his house and issue.
I quite like the idea of an invasive species taking over England (which the Plantagenets did, kicking out the previous rulers, who were also French guys) and then battling it out to see which guy got to be king of the English.
I picked the quote because it was at the front of my mind this morning. Today is the first day of winter and from now until the tropic of cancer (or June solstice) the days will grow longer. Much of my discontent comes from the dark days of fall; dark mornings where the sun rises after 0800, and dark nights where the sun sets at 1630. I walk the dog in the dark, I leave work in the dark. Weeks of working indoors during the darkest part of the year grinds me.
It is also the winter of my discontent with the Arsenal. For three weeks now, Arsenal have been playing like they are coached by a different man. Since his ineloquent statement after the Everton match that the players weren’t attacking like he wants, Arsenal have been attacking like he supposedly wants. 14 goals in 4 games, 22 shots on target (saved or scored) in the last two matches.
And the change is there to see, materially, in the way that Arsenal play now. There are players overlapping (Tavarez got an assist for one of Eddie’s goals yesterday) and just as important, we are playing the ball vertically, quickly, up to players like Ødegaard and Lacazette, with one of the other two DM-like players making runs forward, and with the wide guys like Smith Rowe and Saka encouraged to attack their defenders. This is fun football.
I suppose you could grumble that the quality of the opponent plays a big part in why we are doing so well. That is certainly a truth. Leeds United were decimated by injury and Sunderland looked very much like a League One side. Southampton are also “not very good” and West Ham’s David Moyes has never beaten Arsenal at Arsenal. So to paraphrase the Lego Movie theme song, “everything is awful”.
Furthermore, next up is Norwich City who are so bad (how bad are they?) they are so bad that they should just go ahead and be relegated right now. Just save everyone the trip to Norwich and possible exposure to the Corona.
Meanwhile Tottenham have been granted a two week training camp with new manager Antonio Conte and they were allowed to quit the Europa Conference League (further lightening their schedule). All of that looks to have helped them considerably. They have Harry Kane getting away with Red Card fouls, and scoring goals. They have three games in hand over Arsenal (Burnley, Brighton, and Leicester – all away) and folks could point out that Arsenal would be behind them if they win all three. Big if there.
But this is not the time for that sort of worrying. This is the WINTER of our discontent! Let it go and bathe in the joy of Eddie Nketiah scoring not one but TWO back-heel goals yesterday. Let the fact that Pepe scored and assisted two goals wash away your sins! We should rejoice in the smiles and happy faces at the club right now.
Of course, we could also check our expectations. There are some tough games coming up in the new year but I just go ahead and expect us to get just two points from those three games. That’s not me being “negative” but rather just managing my expectations. If we get more points, great!
In fact, I expect Arsenal to have more than one or two wobbles between now and the end of the season. And I expect Arsenal to finish 6th this season, anything above that is a great success but not something I’m counting on. We are still a young team, still learning our way. I’m just letting the season happen as it does.
I don’t want to get too excited (because every time I do, I feel like I get the rug pulled out) but I do wonder if three things help explain the big change these last few weeks. 1. The reintroduction of Xhaka. 2. Martin Ødegaard’s return and subsequent return to form. And 3. Dropping Auba.
Xhaka had a rough first game back but I have to admit he’s been very good in the last few matches. He covers that LB position so much better than Lokonga has been this season and he’s very smart about when he makes runs forward. He’s the kind of player who follows instructions which is a coach’s dream.
Øde has also been key. I know a lot of folks think he’s too skinny or whatever but I rarely see him hiding from the ball and he’s able to absorb pressure in tight situations which is also huge. Him and Lacazette have a good bond up top and between them I think we utilize “zone 14” much better.
And then there’s the big pink elephant in the room: Auba. Look, I remember Henry’s last year with Arsenal. His rule as captain of the team was very hard for a lot of the other players, he was super demanding, and often belittled players on the pitch. He seems to have carried this attitude into his coaching and frankly, while I laugh at his antics sometime, I think it’s a bad way to coach. Now, I’m not saying that Auba is in any way like Henry – in fact he seems the opposite. BUT! I have to admit that since Arteta dropped him, the players seem to be, almost enjoying the football more? In the way that the players looked when Wenger finally sold Henry.
That’s just me armchair psychoanalyzing (which will tick off at least one of you) but if I just look at squad utilization, dropping Auba freed up a spot for a younger, more energetic, player. Not that Auba didn’t put in a shift, he really did work his ass off out there and he did everything that Arteta yelled at him. So, I don’t know. I’m kind of contradicting myself here a bit (which is ok) but I do wonder what effect that dropping Auba has had on the team. They look super happy on the pitch, the attacking play is much better, and we are attacking a lot more than we were just a few weeks ago.
I might have to admit that dropping Auba was a good move. Even if I don’t like how we did it. But see! Like I said, this is the WINTER of my discontent.