From the Emirates. It’s nice to have an unprovable theory. It’s easy to insist that England would’ve won Euro 2004 if Wayne Rooney hadn’t got injured (which, by the way, they definitely would). If Abou Diaby hadn’t had his injuries, he would’ve won a Ballon d’Or. If Santi Cazorla hadn’t missed most of the 2015/16 season, Arsenal would’ve beaten Leicester to the title.
It’s brilliant. You get to have a thing you believe, you can talk about it till the cows come home, and nobody can ever – for definite – say ‘no, that’s not true, look’.
The flip side of that coin, of course, if the provable theory. Because that can very quickly become a disprovable theory, and then a disproved one, and then you have to admit that you were wrong. And admitting you’re wrong sucks.
A lot of Arsenal fans have been running with a dangerously provable theory in the last few weeks. Everything would be better if Arsenal just made a couple of changes, see, and if Arteta used the squad properly. And when’s Mohamed Elneny being given a run in midfield?!
Tuesday night’s strong-but-rotated lineup against a decent Leeds side meant that a handful of those fringe players (all of whom appear to have had their reputations vastly improved by not being given the chance to do anything wrong) got a chance to earn themselves a Premier League starting spot.
Cedric got booked and punted a corner straight out of play. Elneny and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were far from gamechangers, although Maitland-Niles was the better of the pair. Eddie Nketiah was lively in the first 15 minutes and disappeared until he was gifted a goal.
Gabriel Martinelli was the pick of the rotated men, no surprise from someone who’s been in the first team when on a run of fitness in the past, but there wasn’t anything that screamed ‘pick me’ from the incoming men apart from his energy on the left wing.
They won. But Leeds are 17th in the league, and made a few changes. A teenager was making his debut for them. Arsenal were meant to win, this was their chance to actually impress…and with goals from a set-piece scramble and a defensive cock-up, they didn’t do it.
This is a phase Arsenal seem constantly stuck in. ‘Maybe the players we have are good enough, and we’re not using them quite right. If we give those £15-25m bench players a go again, maybe this time it’ll work.’ And then they try it. And then it doesn’t work.
It’s not a case of rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic, because Arsenal aren’t iceberg-struck, sinking fast bad (although ‘women and children first’ isn’t inaccurate when it comes to relative quality).
It’s more like renting your first dinky little student flat, and every couple of months you decide to move your furniture around to ‘create a bit more space’. But it never actually works, and that’s why you’re stuck in this constant cycle, here in April going back to a setup – wardrobe next to the door this time – that you’re fairly sure failed in November.
You keep going back to the well of overhauls and tweaks because ultimately, your room just isn’t big enough. Arsenal keep going back to the well of ‘maybe we give Elneny a run?’ because the collection of footballers they’ve assembled just isn’t good enough. It’s a comforting lie to tell yourself, that if you just do a couple of little things then this time it’ll work, because the only other option is just to accept that things…will just be bad for a while.
Things will just be bad for a while. Arsenal don’t have the players to be good. A look at the squad options is a good reminder that the rebuild has some way to go yet.