All season long, pundits have talked about Arsenal’s precarious position atop the Prem and how it would only be a matter of time before the best, deepest, most-expensive, and most-experienced squad in the history of manking would inevitably overtake them and resume their own rightful place. Now that this is on the verge of happening, Arsenal are somehow guilty of bottling it. Those pundits can’t really have it both ways, but when has that stopped them?
Such is the depth that Pep has at his disposal that only four players—Ederson, Rodri, Haaland, and De Bruyne—have made more than 25 starts. Had a bad dream? Rest. Clip a toenail too close to the quick? Rest. Suffering existential angst? Rest. Had a dodgy kebab? Rest. And so on. Those 71 different lineups mean that no one has to suffer fatigue, get exposed to injury, accumulate yellow cards…
Added together, Man City’s players have missed a grand total of 49 Prem matches to date. This, despite advancing to the League Cup quarterfinal (three matches), progressing to the Champions League quarterfinal (nine matches to date), progressing to the FA Cup semifinal (four matches to date), and, of course, those 30 Prem matches for a grand total of 46 matches played. So far.
By contrast, we over here at Arsenal have seen players miss more than twice as many matches—117—wihle playing far fewer matches: eight Europa League matches, one League Cup match, two FA Cup matches, and 31 Prem matches for a total of 42. Arteta has had to rely on a core of eight players who have made more than 25 starts: Ramsdale, White, Saka, Magalhaes, Martinelli, Xhaka, Odegaard, and Saliba. At a risk of insulting the remaining players in the squad, there just aren’t enough players for Arteta to turn to when someone goes down, and this means that key players log heavy minutes, exposing them to injuries, fatigue, ennui…
Is it any accident that our plucky little campaign has run aground in recent weeks? While we no longer have the fixture congestion of our rivals, we’ve gone weeks if not months without Tomiyasu, Saliba, Smith-Rowe, and Elneny. Jesus missed a third of the season. Zinchenko was rested against West Ham. Even a back-bencher like Nketiah has missed numerous matches. At the other end, Man CIty are—surprise!—fully fit, injury-free, and charging into the run-in without any qualms, niggles, or existential crises.
Tell me then how Arsenal have “bottled” it while having to rely on a core group of eight players who have logged more than 2,500 Prem minute (not to mention the other competitions) while Man City have just one player who’s logged more than 2,500—Ederson. They’re all as fresh as daisies while our players might feel like they’re pushin’ up daisies.
If we do fail to win the Prem, it won’t be because we somehow bottled it. It won’t be because Arteta’s substitutions came at the wrong times or sent on the wrong players. In the end, if Man City do what they’ve done for the last five seasons, it’ll be because Pep has at his disposal an XI chock-full of world-class talent, a bench that could on its own finish in the top four, world-class physios, trainers, masseurs, dieticians, and on and an ad infinitum.
It might be nice if someone did something about those 113 charges of financial wrongdoing in the next few weeks. Somehow, I doubt it. Pep’s been playing with a stacked deck for quite some time now, and it might also be possible that he’s been dealing from the bottom of the deck as well. All the while, he’s playing with house money.
This whole time, we’ve been fighting against all odds to get to and stay where we are. If anything, it’s a miracle that we ever got to this point, much less stayed there as long as we have. Our rivals are not merely another squad of mortals; they’re more like a force of nature like gravity, E=MC2, or Thanos in possession of all of the Infinity Stones. Strike that: Pep is Thanos with all of the Infinity Stones and a backup set of Almost-Infinity Stones.
What can anyone do in the face of such wanton destruction? We’ve stood up against it bravely for thirty-odd matchdays. If we can find a way to stand firm for just seven more matches, we’ll sip from ambrosia so sweet that the pantheon of Greek gods themselves will look upon us enviously.
One last note before you go: you can enter a raffle for a £25 Arsenal Direct gift card by commenting on this and other posts in April. Yes, it’s a direct attempt at bribing you to join the conversation. The more often you comment, the better your chances at winning. Have at it!