Morning all. A quick Saturday blog for you.
Thanks to the easing of some restrictions, I played my first game of 5-a-side since last year. Man it was fun. Ran around (a bit), scored a few goals, made a few saves. The first touch was a bit heavy at times. I’ll tell you something, my fitness is not what it was though.
And this morning, how do I feel? Absolutely fine, I mean I do have a sore back, as well as aching limbs, torso, muscles, tendons, cartilage, organs, bones, extremities, blood vessels and digits. Apart from that, everything is in tip-top shape.
It’s one of the things during this lockdown that I have missed the most. Friday’s 5-a-side provided a nice end to the ‘regular’ working week, so to have that little bit of normality back is really great.
Now, onto Arsenal stuff, and yesterday the news broke that David Luiz has decided to leave the club at the end of the season. His contract expires in June, he’s not being offered a new one, so he had the chance to get the story out there first. Reportedly he’s concerned about the culture at the club, and while that sounds perfectly believable given the season we’ve just had, it comes across to me as spin from his side of the fence.
Last week Mikel Arteta said that the club needed to be ‘ruthless‘ this summer when it comes to rebuilding the squad, and if he and Edu are true to their word, giving a contract extension to an increasingly injury prone 34 year old with a track record of red cards and penalties to his name during two fairly indifferent seasons with the club is the exact opposite of that. We are where we are for all kinds of reasons, but Luiz was part of it, and no amount of distancing himself from it via leaked stories to the press will make that less true.
By all accounts he is a really nice guy, popular in the dressing room, and a good influence around the club – particularly with the younger players. He arrived in a hurry after we’d driven Laurent Koscielny to the point where he went on strike – something so out of character for the Frenchman after 9 years of service that I’m still of the opinion there’s a lot about that situation we don’t know. The Brazilian was brought in to fill the gap in experience the former captain left behind.
Here’s the thing about Luiz: he is a lovely footballer, his passing range is excellent and his years in the game at the top level aren’t by accident. That he flitted between midfield and central defensive tell you plenty about his ability, but also that he’s more a footballer who can do a job as a defender because of those qualities, rather than an out and out defender in his own right, if that makes sense.
His first season at the club saw him concede a record five penalties, get sent off twice, and when the chips were down for Unai Emery, he was one of the most visible examples of how you can tell from a player’s performance when a manager has lost the dressing room. He got lots of chances under Mikel Arteta, and I suspect that had Covid not happened, his spell at the club would have amounted to just one very expensive season. There was that bizarre interview where he blamed lack of clarity over his future on the red card he picked up in a shambolic substitute performance just after lockdown.
To be fair, he played a significant part in our FA Cup win, that experience was important, and when Luiz is good he’s very good. You just don’t know when something is going to go wrong with him though. This season he’s been involved in fewer damaging incidents, and while I maintain the red card against Wolves was really harsh, you can’t ignore just how often things like this happen to him. He’s like a moth to the flame of red cards and penalties. A 6’3 self-destruct button with an eye for a pass.
It’s time to move on. For us as a club, and for him. Experience can be important, but persisting with players who are in decline is damaging. For me, Luiz is one of those, and that’s natural at 34. Leaving aside the concerns you might have about the motivation of a guy who has been there, done that, and worn all the t-shirts during a long, successful career, there are the physical issues that nobody can escape.
As for losing someone considered a ‘leader’, I don’t worry about that at all. The same when it comes to the reported uncertainty over the futures of other senior players like Granit Xhaka, Bernd Leno, Hector Bellerin etc. Yes, they have experience, but under their ‘leadership’ we’ve endured the most frustrating season many of us can remember. I don’t say that to slag them off, or anything like it, but any football team – indeed any organisation – can become stagnant without change and renewal. New leaders will emerge from within, and new leaders can arrive via the transfer market. We can’t be scared to let go of things which have contributed the position we find ourselves in now (and I realise that can apply at every level of the club, not just the players).
Nevertheless, while the transfer market remains complicated for all kinds of reasons, the easiest and most common way to implement change is making space in your squad for the next generation: a new generation. We spent £28m in William Saliba, it’s time for him to have a chance. We spent more or less the same on Gabriel, that’s an investment in our future that has to be given an opportunity to work.
When Arteta spoke about recently about the level of certain players, you can think of plenty who might fit the bill. Good, but not quite good enough – whether that’s talent or consistency. When a player gets to Luiz’s age, that also applies. As hard as you might try, time waits for no woolly headed man, and for me it’s the right decision to not renew him and to start building for what we hope will be a brighter future.
Right, that’s it for this morning. I’m gonna drag my carcass out with the dogs to try and loosen up a bit, and I’ll be back with more tomorrow.
Enjoy your Arsenal-free Saturday.