Humans are creatures of habit: a morning coffee and a quick scan of the daily news headlines before cramming into an overheated London tube. Watching the best sides on the continent battle it out in the Champions League before seeing Arsenal travel to Belarus had become part of that.
This is a sad week.
Missing out on Tuesday and Wednesday night football around Europe has sadly grown into routine. But, at least, there was Thursday Europa League action to make do with.
After seeing off Norwich in the Premier League last time out, this part of September was supposed to be filled with midweek action. It isn’t. For the first time in 25 years Arsenal are not playing in Europe. It doesn’t sit right.
As Arsenal embark on their first season for 25 years without Champions League or Europa League football, the week is sad an empty just waiting for Burnley
Failure to qualify for any continental competition last season, there is an emptiness in passing through the days twiddling the thumbs for the next domestic encounter; a damning indictment of the rate of decline.
Antonio Conte won the title with Chelsea when his side didn’t have Europe. That was seen as the silver lining of Arsenal’s failings. Securing the title was never within any realistic sight, but what the extra time on the training pitch and the removal of travel across the continent could have on the team offered a glimmer of hope for a relatively successful campaign.
So far, not so good.
What Mikel Arteta can accomplish with his side now that Premier League sides are embarking separate campaigns won’t be felt until later in the season. Taking advantage of a situation once unfathomable to not only Arsenal but the rest of Europe will play a deciding role in his future.
Nobody watching on from the terraces sees it as a positive – yet. Arsenal and European football go hand in hand, whatever the level. Whether it is a blessing in disguise or not won’t be known until the group stages are in full flow and Tottenham come back from NŠ Mura in Slovenia looking leggy while Arsenal are a bouquet of fresh daisies.
Arteta will be torn. His methods are yet to bear fruit and the additional training sessions will/should do wonders for getting his players fully on board. Equally, he captained this club in the Champions League. He understands the prestige.
From a fans’ perspective it can only be temporary. Sure, the younger generation will have been spoiled by annual Champions League dabbles but it’s all many have ever known. All age groups are left slightly hollow.
The manager has never had a more welcome opportunity to right the wrongs of his, and the club’s doings. He’s played his part in the decline albeit having been handed a ticking time bomb when he took over he reins, and with a huge investment eyed to reverse the slump, the improvements from week to week can’t be indistinguishable.
Fans are hurting.
Hearing the Champions League theme already cuts deep. Not being involved at all puts incredible emphasis on what happens in the Premier League, even more so than before. Arteta has to give the fanbase something to cling on to, to look forward to. Otherwise these weeks will only get longer.